Governor Andrew Cuomo this week delivered his 2012 State of the State Address in which he outlined a comprehensive agenda that builds on the success of last year.
This included strengthening the state’s legacy as one of the nation’s most progressive and investing billions of dollars in key public-private sector partnerships and rebuilding infrastructure to create thousands of new jobs.
“New York has a long and proud history as the progressive capital of the nation. It’s a legacy that we reestablished last year. We must build on our success this year,” he said.
To battle the foreclosure crises Cuomo announced the Department of Financial Services will create a Foreclosure Relief Unit to provide counseling and mediation services to help New Yorkers stay in their homes.
“The financial crisis has taken a serious toll on homeowners across New York State, with many forced out of their homes and others facing foreclosure,” he said.
Cuomo also announced the state was creating a Tenant Protection Unit to ensure the tough rent regulations enacted in 2011 are properly enforced. It will also investigate fraud and prosecute landlords who fail to maintain essential services.
The governor also vowed to build on last year’s efforts to expand economic opportunities for minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBEs).
With credit access difficulties hindering the competitiveness of many MWBEs, New York will extend credit to give MWBE contractors the backing they need to succeed. The program will support at least $200 million in contracting for MWBE firms, he said.
Cuomo also outline the reinstitution of the ‘millionaires tax’ with long-term changes to the corporate, sales, and personal income tax systems, and to find ways to close tax loopholes, promote efficiency in administration, improve New York’s business climate, and enhance collection as well as enforcement.
Governor Cuomo called for comprehensive reform of the state’s campaign finance system to make sure that all New Yorkers have an equal voice in the political process.
New York ranks 48th in the nation in voter turnout and a smaller percentage of New York residents contribute to candidates to state office than anywhere else in the nation, he noted.
The reform would include matched contributions and lower contribution limits, and increase enforcement at the Board of Elections.
In regard to immigration, Cuomo said his administration will create an Office of New Americans to assist legal permanent residents who come to New York State. The office will provide a variety of services, including helping those with high-skills training and experience obtain the licenses and credentials they need to earn their way; helping those with limited formal education receive access to adult education and job training; and helping new legal permanent residents navigate the path to citizenship.
It will also encourage entrepreneurship and take steps to protect new Americans as they transition to full participation in New York’s communities.
Speaking of new initiatives, Cuomo plans to launch the New New York Leaders Initiative to create opportunities for the state’s next generation to dedicate their careers to public service.
The first component of the initiative, the Student Intern Program, will assign students to a particular branch of government to provide hands-on experience for interns to interact with government leaders and policy makers.
The second component, the Empire State Fellows Program, will be a full-time leadership training program that will prepare the next generation of talented professionals who are members of underrepresented groups for careers as state policy makers.
The New NY Leaders Initiative is designed to renew the connection between young people and the state and ensure that state government is diverse, talented, and prepared to lead the way for decades to come, he said.
Cuomo also vowed to vigorously protect a woman’s right to choose and pledged to fight for passage of the Reproductive Health Act.
The Act protects the fundamental right of reproductive freedom and ensures that the rights of individuals to make difficult and personal health care decisions are preserved.
On economic growth praised the state in working together in a bipartisan manner and putting the people first, which in turn established the credibility to govern and to lead.
“Now we must build on what we have already accomplished to begin to undo decades of decline. We have big problems, but we are confronting them with big solutions. Now is the time to get to work, building a New New York together,” he said.
“Our challenge for 2012 is this: How does government spur job creation in a down economy while limiting spending and maintaining fiscal discipline? The answer is forging public-private partnerships that leverage state resources to generate billions of dollars in economic growth and create thousands of jobs,” he added.
This includes taking a comprehensive approach to casino gaming and recognizing that New York is losing tax revenue, tourism dollars and jobs to neighboring states. As such, the governor announced that he will support a constitutional amendment to allow gaming in New York State.
An estimated $1 billion in economic activity could be generated from gaming in New York State, he said.
At the same time, Cuomo announced the creation of the New York Works Fund and Task Force to coordinate and leverage capital investment- twenty private sector dollars to every public dollar- and put thousands of New Yorkers to work.
The fund will support projects to improve or replace more than 100 bridges including the Tappan Zee, repair work to 2,000 miles of roadways, upgrades to 90 municipal water systems, improvements to 48 state parks and historic sites, and repair work to 114 flood control projects and dams.
In order to follow through on his agenda, Cuomo said a “reimagined” government was essential.
“To tackle this ambitious agenda, we need a government that can make it happen. This is not a question of tinkering around the edges. We need a government that performs better and costs less,” he said.
Cuomo said this starts with fiscal discipline and recognizing that the state is more competitive when taxes are reduced. As such he called for holding the line on spending this year and closing the remaining $2 billion budget deficit with no new taxes or fees.
Noting that by next year, pension costs for schools, state, and local governments will have increased more than 100% since 2009, Cuomo called for reform to the pension system and the creation of a Tier VI retirement plan.
The Governor announced that he will ask the joint Legislative and Executive Mandate Relief Council to hold public hearings and issue a package of recommendations to be voted on this legislative session.
Cuomo also vowed to transform public schools.
“New York spends more money on education than any other state, yet places 38th in graduation rates,” said Cuomo.
To reform the state’s education system, the governor said he will appoint a bipartisan education commission to work with the legislature to recommend reforms in key areas including teacher accountability, student achievement, and management efficiency.