New York Governor Puts Ethics, Progressive Wish List On Agenda

By John Celock

New York’s governor outlined a laundry list of progressive proposals from a minimum wage hike to paid family leave, along with an ambitious infrastructure program and new ethics proposals in his annual State of the State Address.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used his address, which doubled as his annual budget presentation, Wednesday to outline an extensive legislative program for 2016. The speech, which included many of Cuomo’s familiar themes of infrastructure and economic development, comes after a year in which the state’s top two legislative leaders were arrested and convicted of corruption crimes, leading to the ethics proposals.

“2015 was an ugly year on many levels,” Cuomo said of the past year, which also included the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo (D).

Among the ethics proposals outlined by Cuomo would be a limitation on outside incomes for state lawmakers, extending the state’s open public records law to the state Legislature, closing the campaign finance donations for LLCs, new ethics requirements for lobbyists and banning those convicted of public corruption from receiving public pensions.

“It is perverse that taxpayer money will support those found guilty of hurting the taxpayer,” he said.

Last year, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) were both arrested by federal officials and convicted on corruption charges. In recent years, two other former Senate majority leaders and a former Senate minority leader have also been convicted of federal corruption charges.

In terms of legislative pay, Cuomo wants to cap outside income at 15 percent. He said the original part time Legislature was envisioned in an era when most lawmakers were farmers outside of their government duties. He said the current system where many are lawyers or in businesses with ties to the government leads to problems.

In New York State, the part time lawmakers draw $79,500 a year base salaries, with the chance of bonuses for holding leadership posts.

The ethics proposals came at the end of the speech, which had much of the beginning focused on a laundry list of proposals including infrastructure, education, agriculture, health, paid family leave, clean energy and homeland security.

Cuomo outlined a multi-billion dollar infrastructure program that he has been talking about for several years. Among the projects he highlighted were a new LaGuardia Airport in Queens, building a new Penn Station in Manhattan, a new track for the Long Island Railroad, investment in the LIRR and New York City’s subway and bus system, expanding the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s Far West Side, improvements to Stewart Airport in Orange County and turning McArthur Airport on Long Island into an international hub. Cuomo also touched on his work regarding the construction of a new Tappen Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley.

Cuomo proposed a new round of economic development councils for Upstate New York. The councils, led by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), have been competitions for economic development projects around the state. In addition, Cuomo is calling for freezing tolls on the New York State Thruway and ending Thruway tolls for the agricultural sector.

Cuomo also said he wants to spend more money on tourism promotion in the state.

“What we’ve learned is when people see Upstate New York, they love Upstate New York,” he said.

Cuomo’s education focus included proposing $2.1 billion in new education spending over the next two years, a $200 tax credit for teacher expenses and $6.9 billion for the State University of New York and City University of New York. He also promoted charter schools and said that he wants to focus on educational programs that help reduce crime.

Cuomo found himself heckled on education spending early in his speech by Assemblyman Charles Barron (D-East New York), who called out Cuomo for not putting more funds into education. Barron, a former street organizer and New York City councilman, was escorted from the room by Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle (D-Rochester).

Cuomo told Barron to “have a seat” and the room attempted to drown out Barron’s heckling with applause. Cuomo then said to applause that he would not cede the speech to the loudest voice in the room.

Barron later told reporters that he heckled Cuomo because he does not believe that the governor cares about black or poor people. Barron has long had an antagonistic relationship with leaders including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) and former New York City Council Speakers Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) and Gifford Miller (D-Upper East Side). Quinn removed Barron from the chairmanship of the City Council Higher Education Committee after he opposed her bid for a second term as speaker.

Cuomo said that he planned to expand the presence of the State Police and National Guard around the state to prevent terrorism and embraced a recommendation from former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to centralize the state’s counterterrorism operations within the State Police.

Cuomo who has been in a long running feud with New York Mayor Bill deBlasio (D) took digs at the New York mayor in the speech. DeBlasio has spent his time in office trying to establish himself as a national progressive leader, citing his work in city government. Cuomo said that the state government is the true progressive leader.

“The state’s role as the progressive capital of the nation is important to me and everyone in this room,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo said he wants to work on university Pre-K statewide, along with promoting minority and women owned businesses and promoting prison reform. In addition Cuomo called on lawmakers to make permanent his executive order making the state attorney general the prosecutor for police shootings of unarmed individuals.

Cuomo also focused on raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and creating paid family leave in the state. Last year, a wage board convened by Cuomo established the $15 an hour wage in the fast food industry, and Cuomo has raised the wage for state employees. The small business lobby and state Senate Republicans have expressed opposition to the statewide hike.

Cuomo, a former U.S. housing and urban development secretary, also said that he wants to reduce homelessness statewide and make homeless shelters safer and cleaner. He announced that state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) would be conducting an audit of homeless shelters statewide in order to develop a list of potential fixes. In addition he said that New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer (D) and Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder (D) would be conducting similar audits of the homeless shelters in their cities.

Cuomo also called for automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license. The proposal is a favorite of national progressive groups and was adopted last year by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D).

The speech was vintage Cuomo, who first moved the speech from the state Assembly chamber to the Empire State Plaza auditorium and has long incorporated Power Point presentations. Prior to speaking, a video aired outlining Cuomo’s record since taking office in 2011.

“After many, many bad years for the state that we love the arrows are pointed in the right direction,” Cuomo said at the beginning of the speech.