Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was true to his promise of a progressive budget during his annual State of the State on Tuesday. He attacked the administration of President Donald J. Trump, promising legislation to protect women, minorities and the LGBTQ communities, and focusing on investments in education, health care and a middle-class tax cut.
“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Gov. Cuomo said as he began his address. “We are facing a federal government that is assaulting our rights and our liberties and our economy, literally our economy.”
Gov. Cuomo now has Democratic control of the New York State Assembly and Senate. For the past six years, the Republicans controlled the Senate on the strength of a group of Democratic defectors. Without the Republican block, Gov. Cuomo is embracing the progressive tone of the Assembly.
“We are the most progressive government in the United States,” he declared. “I really believe you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The first part of Gov. Cuomo’s speech was largely occupied with his so-called 20-point Justice Agenda, which he outlined in December.
Gov. Cuomo rapidly outlined a host of these progressive policies, including a constitutional amendment protecting abortion, advocating for new gun control measures and eliminating cash bail, among a host of others.
He re-iterated his support for legalizing recreational use of cannabis by adults, the Child Victim Act, which extends the statute of limitations on child sex abuse, and a number of voting reforms.
“Why do the polls open at noon in a primary in upstate New York, but 6 a.m. in downstate New York?” he asked.
The bulk of the Governor’s speech, however, was occupied with the $175.2 billion budget, which includes a roughly $3 billion gap between expected revenue and expenditures.
“Now on the finances for the state we start with a $3 billion hole, largely because of federal policies,” Gov. Cuomo said. “New York is the number one donor state in the United States of America. We send more money to Washington than we get back, and we send more money that we don’t get back than any other state in the nation.”
Budget holes aside, the governor focused on four “largest cost priorities” — education, healthcare, the MTA and infrastructure, and a middle-class tax cut.
Gov. Cuomo expanded on his criticism last month of the way state funding for education is being used. He said that 70 percent of state funding goes to poorer districts.
“The assumption we had was if we fund the poorer school districts, they would turn around and fund the poorer schools in their district,” he said. “That was a bad assumption.”
Gov. Cuomo said that consistently poorer districts funneled funding to richer schools and proposed an education equity formula that would ensure the poorer schools within the poorer districts would receive the most state aid.
Despite being a major element of his budget, Gov. Cuomo skimmed over health care relatively briefly.
The governor called for the state to implement some aspects of the federal Affordable Care Act into state law, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He has stopped short of backing an Assembly bill, the New York Health Act, that would implement single-payer health care in the state.
During the State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo mostly addressed funding levels.
“The health care (funding) has been about at the inflation rate, the education funding has been over the health care, inflation rate,” he said. “This year I propose a 3.6 percent increase to both health care and education.”
The governor spent far more time on the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which he said carries about 9 million people a year,
“Almost half the people in the State of New York ride the MTA, believe it or not,” he said.
The governor blames a division of responsibility that gives neither the governor or New York City control over the MTA for its failure to keep up with capital investments. He suggest instead congestion pricing — a consistent electronic toll on all vehicles entering Manhattan — and a 50-50 State-City split on any additional capital funding needed to restore the MTA.
Gov. Cuomo also proposed a $150 billion investment from the state on infrastructure over the next four years, including $4.4 billion in upstate road and bridge repairs.
Finally, he returned to his attack on the Trump administration and the latest tax bill, which capped federal income tax deductions for local property tax payments, known as SALT, at $10,000.
“It is a 30 percent tax increase for many new Yorkers, 30 percent,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We pay the highest property taxes in the nation.”
Gov. Cuomo proposed making the two-percent tax cap on local tax levies permanent and making the state income tax more progressive, changing from a flat 6.85 percent to 5.5 percent for income from $40,0000 to $150,000 and six percent on income from $150,000 to $300,000 while raising rates on higher incomes.
Local Republican elected officials expressed scepticism at the governor’s speech
The governor wrapped up with calls for environmental legislation and ethics reforms.
The governor is looking to make New York run on 100 percent clean power by 2040 and wants to invest in offshore wind, tourism — including parks — and implement a ban on plastic bags.