State of the State highlights
NEW YORK—Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented his $175 billion budget and agenda for 2019 to the state legislative body, which for the first time in 40 years is predominantly Democrat. “I believe we can have the most productive 100 days in state history,” he noted regarding that majority.
“We’ve got a lot to do,” Cuomo said. He added that despite the work that’s ahead, there’s a lot of good news to report on the state as well.
Cuomo indicated that there are currently 8.2 million private sector jobs in the state, the highest job number in history, while the unemployment rate is at its lowest at 3.4 percent. “That’s something to be proud about,” he remarked.
He listed a number of building projects that have taken place across the state, including the Long Island Artificial Reef project, the largest ever, which has recently been completed. The reefs improve the ecosystem while helping the fishing industry.
“After 70 years of talking about expanding the Long Island Rail Road, we are putting in a second track and a third track [as well as] 100 projects along that way.” He said the second track will be finished this year and the third track should be completed in 2022. His budget calls for $150 billion to rebuild transit systems and infrastructure.
Cuomo addressed the cashless tolling, which is already in place in a number of bridges and highways, saying it would be expanded statewide by 2020. And there’s another statewide initiative he expects to be completed this year: high-speed broadband.
He said New York has the lowest tax rate in a number of areas: lowest middle-class tax rate since 1947; lowest manufacturers rate since 1917; and the lowest corporate tax rate since 1968.
Moving forward, Cuomo said he hopes with new leadership, progress can be made in a number of areas in a shorter time period. He voiced his concerns about the need to protect affordable health care.
“We need to codify the ACA and safeguard the protections for preexisting conditions in our law so the federal government cannot change those protections, period,” he said.
In terms of women’s rights, he said he would like to see an Equal Rights Amendment passed. He is also in support of a Reproductive Health Act and Contraception Care Act, as well as a constitutional amendment that would protect a woman’s right to choose in a way that can never be altered.
He said he’d like to make voting a lot easier and suggested a number of changes in the voting procedure, including making Election Day a holiday for all. “Let’s give every person the right to vote,” he remarked.
He plans on addressing the drug crisis gripping the entire state. The governor said he would invest $200 million to fight opioid addiction such as providing better comprehensive care.
Cuomo also called for the legalization of adult-use cannabis. He referred to a detailed study put out by the New York State Police and the Department of Health. “They say the benefits outweigh the risks,” he noted.
Touting the success of the SAFE Act, a leading NYS initiative on gun control that was passed several years ago, Cuomo called for another first, the Red Flag Law, which permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. In addition, he called for a ban on bump stocks and for a longer waiting period to buy a gun from three to 10 days.
Cuomo said the time is now to pass legislation for the Child Victims Act and for the Dream Act. “It’s been too long,” he added.
Also on his agenda this year: rent regulation reform; bringing sports betting to upstate casinos; beginning to implement real campaign finance reform; and enacting a public code of conduct for lobbyists. Regarding the latter, he noted that it would help to eliminate conflicts of interest.
Cuomo said he’d like to increase the smoking age to 21 and see all carcinogens listed on various products. He hopes to expand the bottle law as well as eliminate all one-use plastic bags. “Ban plastic bags once and for all,” he stated.
Continuing with his environmental initiatives, a shellfish restoration program would get $3.6 million. And $2.5 billion will be invested in clean-water infrastructure. That announcement pleased a number of environmental groups.
“This is what national environmental leadership looks like,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The governor’s budget is a huge win for our environment and public health,” she added.
Cuomo said that the budget allows for state Medicare to be increased by 3.6 percent and school funding will increase by 1.6 percent. Seventy percent of the $27 billion funding for education would go to poor schools. He calls this plan the “Education Equality Formula.” He also expects to make the 2 percent cap permanent.
There will be $7.6 billion set aside for higher education. The governor said that 55 percent of CUNY and SUNY students are now attending college tuition-free. And he has raised the threshold of free college tuition to $125,000 per family annually.
However, despite all of the good news, Cuomo said there is still a $3 billion deficit, which is primarily a result of the new federal regulations that limit the amount of SALT money to be deducted from taxes.
“New York is the No. 1 donor state in the United States,” said Cuomo. “We send more money to Washington than we get back.”
He said he intends to sue the federal government over the move that has cost many in the state, primarily on Long Island, a 30 percent increase in taxes as a result.
His remarks drew praise from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who released a statement shortly after the governor’s speech. Bellone noted, “While Washington remains plagued by a shutdown, Governor Cuomo has unveiled the antidote to that dysfunction with the most aggressive agenda that New York has ever seen.
“Governor Cuomo understands the challenges of working families in suburban counties all across our state. Whether it’s working to make the property tax cap permanent, rebuilding our aging infrastructure, extending labor protections to local government employees or stopping the federal SALT tax increase, the winner of 2019 is clear: Long Islanders.”
However, not everyone in Albany shared that sentiment. “Gov. Cuomo tells us that our state is booming, year after year, but the highest exodus rate and worst economic outlook in the nation paint a far different story for middle-class New Yorkers,” said freshman Assemblyman Michael LiPetri (R-9th District) in response to the governor’s speech.
“Long Islanders are sick of being the piggy bank of the state, suffering through crumbling roads, underfunded schools and questionable water quality, while our taxes continue to rise,” he said. “I agree with the governor that affordability, especially in our region, should top the list of priorities, but we’ve been fooled by his empty rhetoric before.” However, LiPetri noted that he would work with both sides of the aisle to make progress happen.
Cuomo said he is very hopeful that his agenda will indeed come to fruition. Referring once again to the Democratic majority in the state, he said, “We have a moment in time. We are in control. And I believe that together, we can do it.”
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