Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a State of the State address on Monday that was unlike any other in his three terms in office. There was no crowd of luminaries gathered to hear his vision for the upcoming year, nor rounds of clapping following each of his policy proposals. Yet, the governor nonetheless found some ways to heighten the drama by offering an “overview” of his policy ideas that will be further detailed in additional presentations this week.
“The artwork in this room reminds us that we have been at war before it memorializes epic battles,” Cuomo said as he began his address in the War Room in the state Capitol. “Today I’m called on to answer what is in most years is a straightforward question – but at this time is anything but: What is the state of our state?”
A deadly pandemic continues to rage across the state. New York’s economy has shrunk by billions of dollars over the past nine months. The governor and state lawmakers meanwhile have to pass a state budget by April 1 that must answer the big question of how to plug the multibillion-dollar budget hole while getting the state on the road to recovery.
The legislative agenda already highlighted by the governor hardly represents a reinvention of state government by itself, but it does include some proposals that would represent significant breakthroughs in state politics if they were passed.
A newly proposed New York State Public Health Corps would help the state distribute coronavirus vaccines. Legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing online sports betting would be big changes for a state where such ideas have failed to pass the state Legislature in recent years. Additional State of the State proposals would codify executive orders made by the governor during the pandemic that affect telehealth, tenants and voting rights. Here is a roundup of the proposals highlighted by the governor on Monday.
A lot of details remain to be worked out among Cuomo and state lawmakers over how the money from marijuana sales would be used and who would get first dibs on selling legal weed, which the governor’s office estimates could generate $300 million per year. The governor proposed establishing a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee recreational marijuana sales and the state’s existing medicinal marijuana program, but Cuomo has yet to satisfy demands from activists and lawmakers that a specific amount of revenue from marijuana sales be directed to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.
Cuomo proposed making some of the executive orders that he has issued during the pandemic permanent to expand telehealth. While the Medical Society of the State of New York did not like another proposal to make changes at the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, nurses have not expressed any qualms over Cuomo’s idea to give them priority admissions to CUNY and SUNY campuses. Another proposal aims to incentivize New York businesses to manufacture medical supplies. The state also wants to create a New York State Public Health Corps, in partnership with Cornell University, that will train 1,000 people to help with vaccine distribution efforts. Cuomo also said he wants to eliminate health premiums for 400,000 low-income people but did not provide additional details.
Voters would have 45 days rather than 30 days to apply for absentee ballots, under new legislation proposed by the governor. The state would also extend early voting hours and allow county boards of elections to count ballots as they arrive rather than waiting until after Election Day, which delayed election results from the June primaries and November general election. The state Senate is slated to pass similar proposals Monday, though it remains to be seen how fast the Assembly will consider that legislation.
Cuomo proposed codifying several existing executive orders that affect renters across the state. One would impose a commercial eviction moratorium through May 1. Another would ban fees on late payments, while a third would allow tenants to use their security deposits to make rent. Another proposal would impose penalties on utilities that shut off services during an emergency.
While he did not offer details, the governor did mention a new idea for addressing record levels of homelessness. “We should convert vacant commercial space to supportive and affordable housing and we should do it now,” he said Monday.
Cuomo is proposing to connect the newly opened Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan with the High Line park. “We will commence the most aggressive construction and transportation development program in the United States of America,” Cuomo said of his infrastructure plans. “New air, road and rail systems, upstate and downstate, more affordable housing, and more economic development (will) create jobs, jobs and more jobs.” He added that universal broadband and expanded green industries will also be emphasized this year, though he did not include additional details.
Cuomo has expressed doubts in the past about whether the state constitution would allow mobile sports betting, but he now appears to believe that a workaround can be arranged. If his new proposal is eventually approved, the New York State Gaming Commission would issue requests for proposals from potential gambling operators, which would have to partner with one of the casinos already licensed by the state.
New legislation would make it harder for people convicted of misdemeanor offenses to buy guns. Courts would be able to force domestic abusers to pay for moving costs and damage to housing caused by their abuse, under another proposal.
The state Office of Children and Family Services and the state Council on Children and Families will consider efforts to streamline regulations and laws on child care providers per the recommendations of a Child Care Availability Task Force established by Cuomo several years ago. This includes reducing administrative hurdles in background investigations for people who are applying for jobs at OCFS or in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Cuomo also said that he will make the state invest $40 million to help reduce child care costs for 32,000 families. Another $6 million will fund new grants to create programs in areas with few existing child care options.