Reporting Marcia Kramer
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Governor Andrew Cuomo put New York lawmakers on notice Wednesday in his first state of the state address.
He’s calling for an overhaul of business as usual. His list of targets includes spending and crooked politicians, reports CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer.
Cuomo’s speech was a break with tradition done in the hope that he will be able to break another tradition — the obstruction and corruption that has made Albany a national joke.
“Change is possible in Albany, believe it or not, and I say amen because we need change in Albany,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo’s first state of the state speech was all about change in Albany — how the state spends money, how it has to spend it differently, and how it must reinvent new ways to do things. Even the governor’s high-tech presentation Wednesday was a change.
“The State of New York spends too much money. It is that blunt and it is that simple,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo had lot of ideas for doing things differently, including:
* $100,000 in incentive grants for local governments to combine services or combine governments.
* $250 million in grants to teachers who improve classroom performance.
* $250 million in grants to school administrators who do it better.
* Right-sizing state government by combining departments, commissions and agencies.
* Redesigning Medicaid to make it more efficient.
But the idea that rang truest to the more than 2,000 people in the audience was his demand to clean-up corruption and rid Albany of the scandals that have beset it in recent years — characterized by the poster boy of corruption, former Sen. Pedro Espada, who was recently indicted. Cuomo said he wants a total ethics overall.
“This has been aberration, this recent pact. ‘The dysfunction of Albany.’ ‘The gridlock of Albany.’ ‘The corruption of Albany.’ This is not the true story of the New York State Legislature. It’s not who we are. It’s not what we do. It’s not why we are here,” Cuomo said.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a staunch opponent of corruption, had this to say:
“There’s a $10 billion budget deficit. We have a new governor. He has a plan. Let’s get behind him,” Koch said.
But with a Legislature like ours, there are always hijinks. Four Democratic legislatures left the Democratic caucus to form an independent group so Cuomo will now have three sides to deal with.
“We must turn this crisis into an opportunity to fundamentally remake our state into the progressive capital of the nation,” Cuomo said.
‘We must transform the state of New York from a government of dysfunction, gridlock and corruption to a government of performance, integrity and pride.”
Cuomo then presented his concepts for addressing $11 billion in deficits the state is facing and reforming a failed ethical culture that claimed a governor, a comptroller, two majority leaders and several legislators in the past four years. Cuomo also proposed using tax breaks and energy subsidies to keep and attract private-sector jobs that have been leaving the state for decades since his father, Mario Cuomo, was governor.
“Business built New York, and we are declaring that New York is once again open for business,” Andrew Cuomo said.
Cuomo said his budget proposal due Feb. 1 will address the state’s current and future deficits without raising taxes or borrowing. Instead he would seek a one-year freeze on state workers’ pay through union contracts that expire at the end of March.
He also says he will cap state spending at the inflation rate and reduce the number of agencies, authorities and commissions by 20 percent.
Cuomo also says he will cut the cost of the state’s Medicaid program for the poor, considered one of the most generous programs in the nation and now serving a quarter of New Yorkers.
He wants public financing of campaigns and will push to legalize gay marriage and protect abortion rights.
“There are no easy solutions,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the address and supports Cuomo’s efforts to fix New York’s finances.
“We have tremendous challenges ahead for us, so we should not miss the opportunity,” said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver gave his vital support to Cuomo’s effort to cut spending, establish a 2 percent cap on the growth of property taxes, enact nonpartisan redistricting of election districts for the next 10 years so majority parties don’t protect their power, and other key proposals.
He also said he will support Cuomo’s plan to cut state spending.
All of that, however, remains subject to difficult negotiation. But Silver’s support for the concepts is essential for any chance of finally pushing through the long proposed ideas.
“At this crucial juncture in our history, let us – the leaders of our New York – adjust the sails together and set our great state on a course toward hope, prosperity, and the promise of better days,” Silver said.
But in many ways, Cuomo is making the same pitch governors have made since Democratic Gov. Hugh L. Carey declared the end to the “days of wine and roses” in 1975 and then helped save New York City from bankruptcy. Even former Gov. Mario Cuomo spoke in his 1983 inauguration speech of taking a “responsible approach to our fiscal difficulties” after years of turmoil that prompted questions about government’s role.
“Unlike Carey, who had a solvent state trying to salvage New York City … Cuomo inherits a state that is in desperate fiscal straits and no one has ever bailed out a state,” said Bruce Gyory, a political consultant who teaches about national and state voting trends at the state University at Albany.
“New York state desperately needs a successful stretch of governing,” Gyory said.