Governor Pushes Ambitious Agenda In Long Speech

By John Celock

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used an over hour-long address Wednesday to layout an ambitious agenda for the state.

Cuomo speaking to lawmakers in a combined State of the State address and budget presentation outlined a laundry list of items, including an overhaul to the state’s education system and a focus on economic development, law enforcement and infrastructure. Cuomo had combined the speeches after the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo (D), earlier this month.

“New York State is back and New York State is leading the way forward,” Cuomo said at the beginning of the address to the state Legislature. “None of that would have happened without the work of the people in this room.”

Among the education proposals Cuomo put forth was new efforts to remove ineffective teachers from schools, expanding charter schools in the state, renewing mayoral control of New York City’s public schools and passing the Dream Act for students who are not legally in the country.

Cuomo focused part of his education agenda on the need for teacher evaluation systems in the state to have a method to reward high performing teachers, a proposal sure to set off battle with the state’s powerful teachers union. In addition he said he wants legislation that would allow for schools that receive failing grades three years in a row to be turned over to “turn around experts.” In addition Cuomo said he wants to give students from failing schools a preference in charter school lotteries.

“This was never about creating an education bureaucracy or creating an industry that supports ancillary organizations,” Cuomo said. “Let’s remember the children.”

Cuomo also outlined a proposal that would pay the college tuition of top students from the State University of New York and City University of New York in exchange for them working as public school teachers in New York State for five years.

Cuomo, a former state attorney general, placed a renewed focus on the relationship between the police and the community, following a series of protests in New York City following the decision of a Staten Island grand jury not to indicate police officers involved in the death of Eric Garner. Among the police proposals endorsed by the second term Democrats including a statewide commission on police/community relations, the release of race and ethnic data for police actions statewide and measure to keep police safe.

In the police safety area, Cuomo proposed the purchase of new bulletproof vests and body cameras for local police departments statewide.

Stressing that a top priority is “jobs, jobs, jobs” Cuomo used much of his speech to focus on a series of economic development measure that at times seemed like a grocery list. Among the proposals Cuomo rattled off was cutting the state’s small business tax rate from 6.5 percent to 2.5 percent, assisting entrepreneurs in the state, linking community colleges and local industries, investing in upstate tourism, developing the state’s wine industry and raising the minimum wage. Cuomo reiterated his support for a $10.50 minimum wage statewide with the minimum wage being $11.50 in New York City.

Cuomo noted his focus on upstate New York and noted his focus on economic development in Buffalo and western New York, including his $1 billion for Buffalo projects early in his term.

“The days where downstate flourishes and upstate suffers are over,” Cuomo said. “Western New York, Buffalo was the single greatest economic problem in New York. Western New York and Buffalo had been down for so long they didn’t believe they could come back. Now they are writing about Buffalo internationally as a turn around phenomenon.”

Cuomo used the speech to praise several western New York leaders including Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz (D), Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown (D) and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster (D) for working with his administration.

Cuomo has placed a major focus on Buffalo throughout his term, including tapping Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), a Buffalo resident, as his second term running mate.

Cuomo also focused on other areas of upstate, including the North Country and the Rochester area. He noted the contributions of former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy (D), a former Rochester mayor, in his speech. Duffy now heads a business advocacy group in Rochester.

Cuomo proposed redeveloping the New York State Fair as part of his speech. The annual event is held in late August in Syracuse.

“The state fair imagines yesterday’s New York,” he said. “Let’s reimagine the state fair. Let’s invest $50 million and reimagine the state fair.”

Cuomo did not go into specifics about his state fair proposal.

The governor used the end of his speech to recite a list of positives about the state’s history and note that the state could continue to be a national leader.

“New York is the state that leads and it always has,” Cuomo said.