ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his state of the state address Wednesday, and got emotional as he talked about his late father.
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo died three years ago on New Year’s Day.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Cuomo also unveiled a self-described ambitious agenda. Its centerpiece was a demand that the state Legislature rewrite the tax code — redo the current income tax and payroll system – to undo the worst effects of federal tax changes on New Yorkers.
Cuomo’s remarks came during the first day of the legislative session. He began by outlining the year past.
“Looking back to 2017, it was a tough year by any measure, but also New Yorkers once again rose to the occasion,” the governor said.
Cuomo pointed to the terror attacks in New York City and anti-Semitic threats made against Jewish community centers, as well as flooding and frigid temperatures. He thanked first responders and those who volunteered to help the Puerto Rican people in wake of Hurricane Maria.
“The history books are going to show that thanks to actions of the officials assembled here today, our state has made unprecedented progress. Our economy is stronger today, and we are once again the nation’s beacon for social progress,” he said.
Cuomo said the state now faces a three-front war, the first of which being sexism and discrimination.
“Society has rightly expressed its outrage, but outrage is not enough. Enlightened government must seize the moment to attack these social diseases that are long institutionalized and culturalized and end them once and for all,” he said. “Women and minorities still face abuse and prejudice. We must acknowledge it, stamp it out, and we must stamp it out here and now.”
The governor announced several initiatives aimed at addressing the recent flood of sexual misconduct allegations, including a proposal that no taxpayer money be used to pay for public officials’ sexual harassment or misconduct cases.
“Our country is finally taking a long look in the mirror as to how we treat women, and we are disgusted with what we see, and we should be. Our challenge is to now turn society’s revulsion into reform,” he said.
He also called for criminal justice reform, calling up the brother of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide after spending years on Rikers Island.
“Let’s be painfully honest: The truth is that our Lady Justice is still not colorblind and her scales are still not balanced. Our bail system is biased against the poor, too many jails are cruel and inhumane, and our court system is too slow,” he said.
Addressing homelessness, the governor said progress has been made over the years, “but now the problem has come back with a vengeance.” He said the state will withhold funding from local governments that fail to provide adequate homeless outreach programs.
“What does it say about us as a society that we now pass men and women lying on the streets with the same ease that we pass light poles and mailboxes?” he said. “It has become part of our new normal, but it is abnormal and it is wrong.”
The second phase of Cuomo’s agenda deals with modern challenges, like terrorism, environmental change and the opioid crisis.
“In this year’s budget, you will see more and better trained police and more state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, because government’s No. 1 job is to protect its people,” he said, adding that improving Penn Station is a priority. “Let the world know that they may consider New York a premiere target, but it is also the best-protected state on the globe.”
He said the state is committed to providing more drug prevention, education, enforcement and treatment, but will also pursue a new approach: following the supply chain.
“Big corporations may own Washington, but they don’t own New York. The opioid crisis was manufactured, literately and figuratively. Unscrupulous distributors developed a $400 billion industry selling opioids and they were conveniently blind to the consequences of their actions. They pumped these pills into society and they created addictions. Like the tobacco industry, they killed thousands and they did it without warning,” he said. “We will make them pay for their illegal and reprehensible conduct. We will sue them and we will stop spread of opioids, because too many lives have been lost, and the time for action is now before we lose another single life.”
He also spoke about protecting labor unions and protecting our election process, namely from interference by donors, foreign money and social media advertisements.
Cuomo went on to discuss the need to improve the New York City subway system, calling it a matter of funding. The governor has appointed a Fix NYC commission to make recommendations, including one option of implementing congestion pricing.
“These are difficult choices, but difficult choices don’t get easier by ignoring them,” he said. “They only get harder.”
While the specifics are still being worked out, they will likely include charging drivers a fee to enter Manhattan’s central business district below 60th Street and a hefty surcharge on app-based services like Uber and Lyft, which have swelled to nearly 70,000 — more than five times the 13,600 licensed yellow cabs.
Lastly, the governor addressed the budgetary challenges ahead, which he said have been “compounded by the federal assault on New York.”
“Our federal government has hurt our state’s economic position both nationally and internationally. By taxing our state and local taxes, they made us less competitive and they are helping other states at our expense,” he said. “They are continuing their divisive politics and evolving it into an even more divisive governing.”
“It is crass, it is ugly, it is divisive, it is partisan legislating, it is an economic civil war. And make no mistake — they are aiming to hurt us,” he added. “This could cause people to leave the state of New York, and it could reduce our ability to attract business. We must take dramatic action to save ourselves and preserve our state’s economy.”
Cuomo said the state will challenge the new tax code in court, as well as launch its own repeal and replace effort.
As to Cuomo’s move to restructure the tax code, pundits called it smart politics.
“By taking that on, he’s taking something that a lot of people care about,” said Larry Levy of Hofstra University. “It’s smart for a politician in New York, but somebody who might run for president.”
Republicans say Cuomo’s “war” on the tax changes is not necessary.
“Eighty-five percent of the people in New York, when they see their next paycheck, will see withholding down and the amount in the check go up,” said Edward Cox, chairman of the New York state Republican Party.
In addition, Cuomo also called for a number of public works projects. Among them were the start of construction of an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport next year, a new Metro-North Rail Road station at Woodbury Common, and a new 407-acre park in Central Brooklyn along Jamaica Bay.
Another proposal called for a possible extension of No. 1 train subway service from lower Manhattan to a new Red Hook station through an underground tunnel.
As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, people living in public housing in Red Hook have been clamoring for that connection for years, but newer residents say they don’t want it.
“What you see happening in every neighborhoods is they extend the services and the next thing you know, everything just kind of blows up. Next thing you know, all a sudden you’re looking at all these high rises, and we get kicked out of our neighborhood,” said one man named Eli.
Another man named Michael moved to Red Hook from Park Slope 12 years ago, because the rents were more affordable. He said with all the money needed to fix the existing subway, he doubts he’ll see a train in his neighborhood any time soon.
“I definitely don’t think it’ll happen any time soon, but you know we’ll see,” he said.
The governor also wants the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to look into relocating operations at the Red Hook container terminal to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park.
In other proposals, Cuomo also called for term limits for state officials – eight years and you’re out. He further called for cashless tolls on Port Authority tunnels and bridges.
When it comes to tax reform and congestion pricing, there are still a lot of details to work out.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)