Tax breaks, school fixes top governor's agenda
Cuomo delivers State of the State
ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a broad election-year agenda in a State of the State speech Wednesday that promoted a property tax freeze, borrowing $2 billion for high-tech classrooms and an aggressive rebuilding plan around New York.
Cuomo is seeking a second term this year and the speech gave him a high-profile forum to promote his first three years while unveiling a series of proposals intended to please both social progressives and financial conservatives. The speech to state lawmakers and invited guests at a packed convention hall near the state Capitol touched on both corporate tax cuts and an expanded youth works program, export programs and medical marijuana.
“We have much more to do, but we are energized by a new strength, a new pride and a new confidence. And let us build on that record of success,” Cuomo told a largely enthusiastic crowd.
At a glance
Some of the highlights of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address
• A $2 billion “Smart Schools” bond referendum to help modernize classrooms.
• Support for universal full-day pre-kindergarten programs statewide.
• A new SUNY College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, with former New York City police Commissioner Ray Kelly as special adviser.
• A “Teacher Excellence Fund” to give teachers rated highly effective up to $20,000 in annual supplemental compensation.
• A $2.2 billion package of tax relief for New York residents and businesses.
• Increasing the New York estate tax threshold to $5.25 million from $1 million.
• An “Upstate-Downstate Food-to-Table Summit” to link farmers with new markets.
• Freeze property taxes for some owners and provide a refundable personal income tax credit to give some renters property tax relief.
•Take over responsibility for airport construction from the Port Authority and modernize JFK and LaGuardia airports.
• Upgrade parts of the New York City commuter rail system to protect it from disasters and increase capacity.
• Replace and repair 104 older bridges at risk due to increasing flooding.
• Study improvements in the road network linking Interstate 81 in Watertown to Interstate 87 in Champlain.
The governor had already unveiled a sweeping $2 billion tax relief proposal this week that includes a cut in corporate tax rates and property tax rebates for homeowners in municipalities that meet certain thresholds. He had also sketched out New York’s post-Superstorm Sandy plans to fortify coastal infrastructure.
On Wednesday, Cuomo proposed a $2 billion bond referendum for schools. If approved by voters, schools could use the money for wireless Internet connections, tablets to replace textbooks, interactive white boards and new pre-kindergarten classrooms.
The governor said “it is time to fulfill the state’s goal” of providing access for all children to all-day pre-kindergarten, but he didn’t mention how to pay for it. Universal pre-kindergarten is a signature proposal for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who clapped along with officials at Cuomo’s statement of support.
The governor said his medical marijuana initiative will help New Yorkers suffering from cancer and other severe ailments. He plans to allow 20 hospitals statewide to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer and some other severe ailments. Cuomo’s medical marijuana plan will be enacted by administratively, not through legislation, and will be more restrictive than programs in some other states like California.
The limited plan was greeted by some in Cuomo’s Democratic base, though advocates want a more sweeping legalization of marijuana.
In the speech, he also announced new initiatives designed to attract more international business to the state and to increase exports, a timetable for casino development, starting with the appointment of a siting board this month, and a commitment to upgrade Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York City.
With a series of public corruption cases roiling the Legislature, Cuomo called for increased penalties for official misconduct and tighter disclosure rules that require greater disclosure of conflicts of interest.
Cuomo will have to shepherd his proposals through a Legislature that remains in split control. The State of the State acts as the opening shot of the annual legislative session, which will go on for months.
“We have to examine the details of the tax cuts,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said after Cuomo’s speech. “We have to look at the fairness across the state and make sure we can continue our support of education and health care while giving up the revenues in the areas he’s talking about.”
The Assembly’s Democratic majority has already called for another state minimum wage hike, mirroring Democrats around the nation backing the populist issue.
Republicans who rule the state Senate in a coalition with breakaway Democrats have said their priority is a tax-cut package that includes corporate tax rate reductions and permanently capping property taxes.