Promising to fight back against the Trump administration and deliver justice for New Yorkers, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled an ambitious agenda for the first year of his third term that seeks to improve the state's economy, bolster its infrastructure and provide health care protections.
Speaking Monday at the New York City Bar Association, Cuomo called for making the property tax cap permanent, maintaining income tax levels for millionaires and cutting tax rates for middle-class New Yorkers.
Following a federal judge's ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, the governor proposed codifying the health insurance exchange into state law and passing legislation to prevent insurers from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions.
"New York believes health care is not a luxury. Health care is a basic human right," Cuomo said.
To address climate change, Cuomo proposed adopting the "Green New Deal," a plan backed by progressives to create jobs, boost renewable energy use and lower or eliminate carbon emissions.
Cuomo aims to make New York carbon-neutral by 2040 and eliminate the state's carbon footprint.
"This is not an issue of present and convenience," he said. "It is an issue of future viability."
Cuomo's push to address climate change was praised by Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. He said the governor's proposals "evoke the environmental leadership New York has long been known for."
On infrastructure, he called for increasing the state's investments from $100 billion to $150 billion — a move that could help create 500,000 new jobs, he claimed. He wants a "dedicated funding stream" for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees the New York City subway system. He once again backed congestion pricing and pushed for reorganizing the embattled authority.
Gun control measures are on his agenda, too. As the federal government advances a ban on bump stocks, Cuomo proposed a state-level prohibition on the devices that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire at similar rates as automatic weapons. A "red flag" law, which would provide a mechanism for law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals determined to be a risk to themselves or others, is also a priority for Cuomo. And he wants to extend the waiting period for gun purchases from three to 10 days.
Some of Cuomo's proposals have been mentioned in past State of the State addresses, but he wasn't able to advance them in a divided state Legislature. With Democrats controlling both houses beginning in January, he views this as an opportunity to achieve these reforms.
He wants to reform the state's criminal justice system by ending cash bail and legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana. He eyes passage of the Reproductive Health Act and Contraceptive Care Act, two bills backed by pro-choice advocates, within the first 30 days of the new legislative session.
Cuomo endorsed passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would add gender identity and expression as protected classes in the state hate crimes law. He reiterated his support for the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases, and he backed the Dream Act to provide state financial assistance to college students who are undocumented immigrants.
Election and voting reforms are among Cuomo's top priorities. He has proposed many ideas before, but wasn't able to win support of state Senate Republicans when they held the majority. In 2019, he's hopeful that electoral changes can be made.
His proposals: Automatic voter registration; allowing early voting and voting by mail; consolidating the federal, state and local primaries; and making Election Day a state holiday.
To combat the influence of money in politics, he called for closing the LLC loophole — he's received millions in campaign contributions from LLCs during his tenure as governor — and proposed banning corporate contributions to political candidates.
Cuomo didn't shy away from education in his remarks. As he did last year, he urged school districts to direct state funding to poorer schools with greater needs. He sought to dismiss criticism that the state hasn't done enough to support public schools. Education groups, which include New York State United Teachers and other interest organizations, are calling for multi-billion dollar aid hikes in 2019.
"The question is the local distribution of aid," Cuomo said. "That's what we have to focus on if we're actually going to move from political pandering to progressive policy."
Affordable housing and "gig jobs" — freelancers or independent contractors, for example — round out Cuomo's agenda. Cuomo wants protections for those who work paid gigs, and more investments in affordable housing. He proposed rent regulation reforms, including ending vacancy decontrol.
The goals may seem lofty, but Cuomo is confident they can be achieved. Democrats won control of the state Senate and will hold 40 of the 63 seats in the chamber beginning in January. Many of the bills he mentioned aren't new ideas, but they have been held up by state Senate Republicans in the past. That won't continue with Democrats in the majority.
While Cuomo seems energized by the opportunities with a Democratic state Legislature, he didn't rule out the possibility of conflict. He acknowledged that legislators have different interests — New York City is different than Buffalo, he said — and there will be challenges.
"Differences always exist," he said. "It's the ability to find the common ground that is the responsibility of true political leaders. That's what is going to make Albany different than Washington."
Before and during his lengthy speech, Cuomo invoked former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Before Roosevelt was elected to four terms as president, he was New York's 44th governor.
The theme of Cuomo's speech was, "What would FDR do today?" Roosevelt, he said, was a powerful personalty and a champion for common men and women.
"He felt the pulse of the people," Cuomo remarked.
With FDR as his inspiration, Cuomo hopes he can guide New York through tumultuous times. He touted his prior achievements — passing marriage equality, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to name a couple.
In his third term, he wants to build on those successes.
"New York state is on the right track, and we have to stay on the right track," he said.