Governor Vows To Make Teachers More Accountable, Fix Police-Community Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York must raise the minimum wage, cut small-business taxes, ease the burden of high property taxes and invest big in transportation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in a sprawling address that laid out a long list of priorities for 2015.

In the first State of the State address of his second term, the Democratic governor also called for efforts to make public education more accountable and vowed to address concerns about police misconduct and officer safety.

“New York state is back, and New York state is leading the way forward,” Cuomo said at the outset of his speech.

“New York is now a state of opportunity once again and our goal today is to reach even higher,” Cuomo said. “That’s what our 2015 Opportunity Agenda is all about — economic opportunity, education, public safety, government reform and fairness for all.”

Most of Cuomo’s agenda is contained within a $141.6 billion state budget proposal released Wednesday. The budget now goes to state lawmakers for review.

To spur the economy, Cuomo is pitching a small-business tax cut and the creation of a new state office to streamline licensing and permitting. He’s also proposing $1.5 billion for upstate economic development. Seven upstate regions would compete for the funds, which would be disbursed in $500 million prizes to three winning regions.

He also proposed raising the minimum wage at the end of 2016 to $10.50 an hour and allowing New York City to raise it to $11.50. The wage is now $8.75 and is set to increase to $9 at the end of this year.

“If you work full-time, you should be able to pay the rent and pay for food and not live in poverty,” Cuomo said. “That’s the basic promise of employment, and we’re not there yet.”

Supporters of a higher wage have pushed for a bigger increase, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who attended the event in Albany, has asked for state authority to raise it to $13.30.

To help homeowners struggling under high property taxes, the governor has suggested a $1.66 billion program that would provide property tax credits to homeowners whose property tax burden exceeds 6 percent of their income, so long as their income is below $250,000.

An estimated 1.3 million taxpayers would get an average credit of about $950 when fully phased in over four years. The credit would be up to 50 percent of the amount that taxes exceed the 6 percent threshold.

“This is real, meaningful, significant tax relief that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Cuomo said.

On education, Cuomo is proposing changes to the teacher evaluation system that he says will make public schools more accountable. He proposed revising teacher evaluations with half their scores based on their students’ scores on state tests, up from 20 percent, and half based on classroom observations.

The governor has proposed making it harder for teachers to get the job protection of tenure and easier to remove educators who are incompetent or engaged in misconduct. For tenure, he wants a requirement of five straight annual ratings of effective or highly effective. Tenure now can be granted after three years. He would simplify the removal process, eliminating the requirement that administrators first attempt to rehabilitate teachers.

“We must protect our students by removing the critically ineffective teachers form the classroom,” the governor said.

He proposed lifting a charter school cap to authorize 100 new schools throughout the state, and he proposed a tax credit for those who donate money to public or private schools. Teachers unions oppose additional charters — as well as the proposed tax credit, which they say will undermine the public education system.

“I understand there’s going to be political problems on both sides of the aisle and they will be besieged by lobbyists. I understand the political consequences,” Cuomo said.

As CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported, some of the governor’s education proposals angered teachers union president Michael Mulgrew.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a very tough session with the governor saying he’s going to fix education by attacking the people who work in school buildings,” Mulgrew said.

Cuomo is also backing the so-called Dream Act that would extend state financial aid to students in the country illegally as part of his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. Cuomo says that he “strongly believes” New York should continue its tradition of welcoming immigrants and honoring their contributions to the economy by enabling undocumented immigrants to apply for state college tuition aid.

The legislation narrowly failed in the state Senate last year and it was left out of the budget agreement crafted by legislative leaders and Cuomo. Advocates, including Cuomo, had vowed to keep trying.

Cuomo also proposed an approach to infrastructure that balances upstate and downstate needs.

For upstate, that means $500 million for broadband access, along with a promise to avoid toll hikes on the Thruway. Cuomo also vowed to set aside $1.2 billion for the Thruway and the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

“There will be no increase on the Thruway toll for the next year,” he said.

For downstate, Cuomo is proposing money for a rail link to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, $250 million for four new Metro-North stations connecting the Bronx to Penn Station and $750 million for new buses, subway cars and upgrades for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The new 1.5-mile rail line would connect LaGuardia Airport to the current Willets Point station that serves Long Island Rail Road commuters and the No. 7 subway line. The five-year project would cost an estimated $450 million.

The governor also took on the thorny issue of trying to fix police-community relations in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict in the Eric Garner chokehold case, Kramer reported.

To woo cops, he called for more money for bulletproof vests and bulletproof glass for police cars.

For those upset about the Garner case he called for reforms allowing district attorneys to release grand jury reports when there’s no indictment and for the appointing of an independent monitor to review such cases, Kramer reported.

“The social agenda I was a little concerned because I don’t want it to look like just double jeopardy, but triple jeopardy. I get a little concerned when you get a couple swings at the bat,” NYPD Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter said.

“You don’t want to talk about double jeopardy, but when you have a grand jury that finds you not guilty how do you open up and give a second turn to do that?  I’m against it,” Republican state Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn said.

State troopers arrested 22 protesters who sat and linked arms at the entrance to Cuomo’s address.

Some of the demonstrators were yelling, “Black lives matter!” a reference to the death of Garner in a confrontation with police in Staten Island in July.

State Police said the protesters were charged with disorderly conduct. Troopers typically arrest protesters in the statehouse complex for blocking entrances or hallways and charge them with disorderly conduct, a low-level violation.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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