ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged New Yorkers battered by two years of recession to seize the opportunity in Albany's fiscal and ethical crises to build a better state government and prosperous economy.
"We're here as New Yorkers, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, not as independents," Cuomo said Wednesday, his voice roaring above cheers and applause from the audience of 2,000 comprising legislators and the general public at his State of the State address.
"Let this 234th Legislature solve these problems at a time of crisis and bring this state to a place that it's never been!" Cuomo shouted. "We're not just going to build back, we're going to build back bigger, stronger than ever before, that's what we're going to do together!"
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
(Enterprise file photo)
Cuomo's first State of the State speech lasted an hour and was a mix of PowerPoint presentations, some tedious detail of proposed programs, humor, sentimentality and a little of the oratorical flash of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
The younger Cuomo presented his ideas 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 was governor.
"We have to put up a sign that New York is open for business, we get it, and New York is going to be a business-friendly state," he 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.
Cuomo told the story of Geraldine Sullivan of Rochester. She's retired, but rising taxes and declining home values forced her to take a job as a school lunch monitor at 81 years old.
"We have to hold the line on taxes for now and reduce taxes in the future," Cuomo said, with Sullivan blowing him kisses from the audience. "New York has no future as the tax capital of the nation. Our young people will not stay, our businesses will not come. This has to change."
He also said he will cap state spending at the inflation rate and reduce the number of agencies, authorities and commissions by 20 percent.
And Cuomo said he will cut the cost of the state's Medicaid health care 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.
"For too long our state has been spending money and not getting the kind of services that we all need from it," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended the address. "And I think that Andrew Cuomo understands that."
In a brief speech, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos supported Cuomo's economic agenda.
"If we continue to spend $1 billion every week on Medicaid, the state and every county will go bankrupt and property taxes will continue to skyrocket," the Nassau County Republican said. "New York must stop pouring sand in the engine of our economy with new taxes, fees and mandates on business."
But the most anticipated remarks may have been those of powerful Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. 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.
Cuomo used a PowerPoint presentation to describe the dysfunctional budget process as ships passing in the night. Images showed two small warships, skippered by pictures of Silver and Skelos in sailor outfits, pointed at a larger warship with Cuomo depicted in a sailor hat. Then missiles appeared, fired from aircraft at Cuomo's ship.
"And there," Cuomo quipped, "are the special interests groups."
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report.
Supporters, protestors react to Cuomo speech
ALBANY (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's first State of the State speech drew some immediate praise and criticism.
On Cuomo's call to freeze wages in upcoming union contracts:
"The governor offered many ideas which we will consider carefully," said Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association union. "We will agree with some and disagree with others. Where we disagree, there will be healthy debate to find ways to work together. It won't be easy, but good government never is."
On Cuomo's criticism that public schools get the highest funding in the nation, thanks to the Legislature's support, but rank 34th in performance:
"We need to figure out how to meet the economic needs of this state without jeopardizing essential public services, especially providing the quality public education and health care that working New Yorkers depend on," said Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union. "We anticipate working closely with the governor - and the Assembly and Senate - on just how to do that."
On anticipated cuts in Medicaid funding to hospitals, nursing homes and health care providers:
"We all understand New York is facing a very difficult financial challenge and we are encouraged by the governor's willingness to work with HANYS and other Medicaid stakeholders," said Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State. "We are hopeful that Governor Cuomo has ushered in an era where we can now focus on necessary long-term strategies that will yield a more sustainable and more effective system."
On Cuomo's proposal to offer two $250 million funds for competitive grants to reward school performance and cost-cutting, which will be part of his Feb. 1 budget expected to have deep cuts in spending.
"It is refreshing to hear that he plans to invest $250 million in school improvement," said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education. "But he will not succeed in improving schools if he proposes a slash and burn education budget next month."
"We strongly agree with the governor's embrace of competition in public education, as charter schools in New York are daily examples of the success that competition delivers for students," said Bill Phillips of the New York Charter Schools Association. "The governor's idea to use grant competition to reward higher academic achievement and administrative efficiencies is both innovative and necessary."
On Cuomo's lack of attention to the specific needs of the poor:
"Hunger Action Network of New York State was disappointed that Governor Cuomo's State of the State address failed to address the growing problems of poverty and unemployment," said spokesman Mark Dunlea. "Nor did the governor address the huge growing gap of income inequality or the regressive nature of New York's system of local and state taxes."
On Cuomo's plan to let a temporary surcharge on income tax beginning at $200,000 per household:
"We can't afford to pay for tax cuts for the rich by shutting down hospitals and eliminating social services, but that's what letting the fair share tax expire would do," said Robert Tolbert, a leader in VOCAL New York, formerly known as the NYC AIDS Housing Network.
On Cuomo's plan to cap local property taxes at 2 percent growth a year:
"Governor Cuomo's State of the State address really hit home for Upstate New Yorkers," said Brian Sampson of the advocacy group Unshackle Upstate.
On Cuomo's call for stronger ethics enforcement:
"Governor Cuomo has outlined a bold agenda to restore New York's fiscal health and the people's confidence in government," said Stephen P. Younger, president of the New York State Bar Association. "We applaud the governor's positive steps toward raising the ethical standards of those serving the public."