Five things to watch at the State of the State addresses

Five things to watch at the State of the State addresses

Five things to watch at the State of the State addresses
January 8, 2017

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo begins his State of the State tour around New York, leaving behind the tradition of a single address to lawmakers in Albany, he has already announced several major proposals. Among them are free college tuition for certain students at SUNY and CUNY, a multibillion-dollar plan to overhaul JFK Airport and a new child care tax credit. Many questions still remain over some of the proposals, including free tuition and the JFK overhaul, as it remains unclear how the state will pay for them. The child care tax credit, meanwhile, comes on the heels of Cuomo’s successful push last year to pass paid family leave. Here are five other things to watch out for during his speeches, which kick off Monday morning at 1 World Trade Center in New York City.

1. Ethics reform

Good government advocates were disappointed that the state Legislature failed to pass robust ethics reforms following the convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on unrelated corruption charges. While some reforms were enacted, legislative leaders have repeatedly failed to pass term limits for legislators or close the “LLC loophole.” Cuomo tried to entice legislators by tying a pay raise to ethics reform, but the gambit ultimately failed. In addition, the Cuomo administration has been rocked by scandals as well, with former top aide Joe Percoco and other associates facing corruption charges, and Cuomo will likely include a push for ethics reform to help mitigate that political damage.

2. Job creation

With the long-term decline of manufacturing, upstate New York – like most of the country – has struggled to replace job losses with new, high-paying positions. Cuomo in 2011 created the Regional Economic Development Councils to identify priorities, but the process has been caught up in the bribery and bid-rigging corruption case brought by federal investigators against some of Cuomo’s closest associates. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan recently told reporters one of his biggest 2017 priorities is job creation, and Cuomo is likely to face pressure to advance new initiatives outside of the REDCs to create jobs.

3. 'Raise the Age'

On the first day of the legislative session, groups supporting the “Raise the Age” campaign held a press conference to once again push to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years-old. New York and North Carolina are the only two states that consider those under 18 as adults. The issue has been debated in Albany for several years and Cuomo in the past has supported the issue, but advocacy groups gained an ally when the Independent Democratic Conference, an influential group of state Senate Democrats aligned with Republicans, promised a renewed push for the legislation this year.

4. Legal defense for the poor

Cuomo faced a torrent of criticism in December when he vetoed a bill that would have required state reimbursement to counties providing legal services to defendants who can’t afford representation. Proponents argue the current system creates a financial burden on counties that struggle to cover the costs, and pointed to a 2014 court settlement with the state concluding that the current system is inadequate. A Cuomo spokesperson defended the veto, saying the state Legislature failed to fund the legislation in the budget, and promised the issue would be revisited this year.

5. Protests at speeches

Cuomo was rattled last year when Assemblyman Charles Barron stood up at the State of the State address in Albany and heckled the governor about his economic and poverty proposals. As the governor’s relationship with state legislators continues to deteriorate, many speculated that Cuomo skipped the traditional address in Albany because both legislative leaders had said they would skip the address to protest the lack of a pay raise for lawmakers. Both the leaders and many legislators have said they plan to skip his regional speeches. By traveling around the state, Cuomo may avoid high-profile protests or heckling.

Ashley Hupfl