In his second State of the State Address, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined a three-part plan for confronting the problems the state faces—proposing economic development, mandate relief and a transformation of public education.
"New York State is on the way to coming back stronger than ever before," the first-term Democratic governor said. "By working together in a bipartisan manner and putting the people first, we have established the credibility to govern and to lead.
"Now we must build on what we have already accomplished to begin to undo decades of decline," Cuomo said. "We have big problems, but we are confronting them with big solutions. Now is the time to get to work, building a new New York together."
The three-part plan featured:
- An economic blueprint for growth
- A re-imagined government
- A New York vision for a progressive future
Cuomo said the question in a down economy was how to create jobs while limiting spending and being fiscally responsible.
The answer, he said, was "creative public-private partnerships that leverage state resources to generate billions of dollars in economic growth."
To that end, Cuomo said he wanted to build the largest convention center in the nation at the Aqueduct Race Track venue in Queens and create a master plan for the 18-acre Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan's West Side.
"Tourists spent $50 billion in New York State in 2010," he said. "We know that if we build it, they will come—because New York is the place to be. But we must stay ahead of the competition.
The governor also proposed a $1 billion economic development package for Buffalo, the third poorest city in the nation, with high unemployment and 28 percent of its residents living in poverty.
"Buffalo has the workforce, the talent, the resources and the will to succeed," Cuomo said. "We believe in Buffalo. And we'll put our money where our mouth is."
Cuomo's wish list for 2012 also includes a constitutional amendment to allow gaming in the state, the results of which could generate over $1 billion of "economic activity" in the state.
Of local interest was the governor's pledge to improve or replace more than 100 bridges.
"And we will finally build a new Tappan Zee Bridge," Cuomo said, "because 15 years of planning is too long."
He proposed a reconfigured energy highway system that would address the energy needs of downstate New York while preserving the western part of the state's current allocation of low-cost hydropower.
High on Cuomo's list of energy capability is the production of solar power while protecting ratepayers.
"[W]e will greatly expand the state's solar programs, but as we do so we will keep an eye firmly on costs," he said. "We will increase competitive procurement of large, commercial-sized solar projects. And we will expand rebate programs for residential and commercial small-to-medium systems."
Cuomo acknowledged his agenda was ambitious.
"And we need a government that can make it happen," he said. "This is not a question of tinkering around the edges. We have to fundamentally re-imagine how government operates," adding that a government that performs better and costs less is needed.
He wants to use technology to improve performance and reduce costs, redesign the state's emergency management system and reform education by making teachers more accountable for student performance and schools more accountable for the results they achieve and the money they spend.
Cuomo said he learned a lesson during his first year as governor: "Everyone in public education has his or her own lobbyist."
Except the students, he said.
"This year, I will take a second job," Cuomo said. "Consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy."
Nikki Jones, communications director for the Alliance for Quality Education, was skeptical of the governor's education proposal.
She said his first budget slashed 11,000 teaching positions and cut arts, music and after-school and college-prep courses.
"If Gov. Cuomo intends to be an effective lobbyist for every school child across the state, his budget will incorporate the New York State Board of Regents call for fairness and equity in our schools by prioritizing funding to high-needs schools," Jones said.
Cuomo admitted that a re-imagined government must include mandate relief.
"By next year, pension costs for schools and state and local governments will have increased 100 percent since 2009," he said. "We need to reform the pension system and create a Tier VI," which could reduce the pension costs for newly hired employees.
Cuomo said the joint Legislative and Executive Mandate Relief Council, created in 2011, will begin its work in January. He has requested it hold public hearings.
"We need a robust public discussion on the pros and cons of the mandates," Cuomo said. "The commission will issue a package of recommendations by the end of the session. We need a yea or nay vote this year."
Yorktown Councilman Nick Bianco, a registered Conservative, said rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge was a good idea, but he questioned where the money was going to come from.
"The immediate thing is mandate relief to local villages, municipal government and school districts," he said. "Taxes [are] where it's hurting us. Mandate relief is what we need now and that will help us lower our taxes."
White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach, a Democrat, said, overall, the speech was encouraging, especially about mandate reform discussions and recommendations which could ease the burden on local governments.
"That's a positive thing for us locally," he said.
Building on successes obtained during 2011—specifically mentioned the Marriage Equality Act—Cuomo said he wanted to continue New York's tradition as a progressive state.
To that end, he proposed the creation of a foreclosure relief unit that would help residents stay in their homes and a similar unit to protect tenants.
Cuomo stated his continued commitment to minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as transforming the way services are provided to the state's 2 million disabled residents.
The establishment of a state Health Insurance Exchange is a priority for 2012, Cuomo said. Doing so would affect 16 percent of state residents under the age of 65 who are uninsured and could bring in an additional $18 billion to the state over a 10-year period.
Cuomo said the lofty goals were possible because "we don't fear diversity, we celebrate diversity.
"There is nothing that we can't do when we are together," he said. "Because we are New York."
Assemblyman Robert J. Castelli, R-Goldens Bridge, said the governor's address set the right tone for a state still in a serious economic crisis.
He said Cuomo must next issue an executive budget that continues to cut spending and hold the line on taxes while including needed reforms such as short-term mandate relief.
"The governor will continue to find many partners in the legislature, including myself, who will join him in the fight to transform state government and return us to the status of truly being the Empire State," Castelli said. "I look forward to working with him and my reform-minded colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the weeks and months to come to accomplish these goals."