CAPITOL — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo forcefully attacked the new federal tax bill as “an economic Civil War” on New York and slammed various federal social policies as regressive during his eighth annual State of the State speech Wednesday in Albany.
In an address that traditionally outlines a legislative vision for the coming year, he also described 2018 — when the state will be dealing with an estimated $4.4 billion deficit — as the most challenging of his two terms as governor.
“This federal government is the most hostile and aggressive toward New York in history,” Cuomo said during a 92-minute address, in which he did not name President Donald Trump until the final minutes. “It has shot an arrow aimed at New York’s economic heart.”
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The governor spoke specifically about the economic impacts of the new federal tax law on states like New York, which have high property and income taxes. He laid out options to counter the federal law, including a federal lawsuit over the law’s constitutionality and revising New York’s revenue system.
“We will explore the feasibility of a major shift in tax policy and are developing a plan to restructure the current income and payroll tax system,” Cuomo said during his speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.
The tax law sets first-ever deduction limits on state and local taxes, a move expected to increase federal taxes in states with high property taxes like New York and California — states that some of the law’s critics have noted are more likely to vote Democratic than states that lean Republican.
“They changed the old adage robbing Peter to pay Paul — they are robbing the blue states to pay for the red states,” Cuomo said. “It is crass, ugly, divisive, partisan legislating. It is an economic Civil War. Make no mistake, this could hurt us.”
But while highlighting the potential economic impacts of the new tax bill, Cuomo also set out high-minded goals to address sexual harassment and sex discrimination, racial discrimination and an ongoing statewide issue with homelessness. He accused the federal government of backing away from those issues, while saying that diversity is one of New York’s strengths.
“We must continue our groundbreaking social progress: to advance equality and opportunity for all, because we are all immigrants and we are all equal under the laws of New York and in the eyes of God,” Cuomo said. “We can and must achieve these goals, and we will.”
Cuomo’s speech also laid out potential voting reforms that could allow same-day registration and early voting in New York state, an aggressive plan to promote clean energy projects, and he urged continuation of the shared-services panels that were formed by counties in 2017 to find new ways to reduce costs. In recent weeks, he has outlined 20 general and specific initiatives he plans to put before the Assembly and Senate, both of which convened their 2018 sessions on Wednesday in the Capitol.
“It’s probably the most challenging agenda I have ever put forth, but these are challenging times, and we must respond,” the governor said as his concluded his speech.
Reactions to the speech split, predictably, along party lines.
“The federal government didn’t create New York’s $4 billion projected deficit, give it the designation of worst business environment or as one of the nation’s highest-taxed states,” said state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville.
“It’s a pretty long agenda, and he’s right, it’s an ambitious agenda,” said state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. “A lot more needs to be done on infrastructure, especially in Schenectady and Amsterdam.”
He said the upcoming budget, which Cuomo will propose in mid-January, “will be the most difficult budget we have had to work with. Whatever we do, we have to put people first.”
“He’s running for president,” Republican Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh of Ballston said. “He’s trying to make a case that he should be the leader of our country. He is attacking the federal government, but he is doing it by attacking local government. I didn’t hear anything about (state budget) cuts.”
“The gut reaction is that we still have major issues upstate,” said state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam. “The governor went on this upstate victory tour, but we still have issues: there’s lack of broadband internet access, and the lack of job creation.”
“As chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, I believe it is vitally important Albany finally recognize that our local governments already are sharing serves and partnering together — have been successfully doing so for years,” said state Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon. “Albany needs to do more to listen to, learn from, and partner with localities and address the state mandates and cost burdens it imposes on local governments.”
“New York state government must focus on the fundamentals, like ensuring healthy, locally grown food, safe drinking water and affordable health care for all,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake.
Cuomo’s single direct reference to Trump was part of a passage of soaring rhetoric about the need to overcome divisiveness and promote diversity and acceptance of immigrants.
“It is our Founding Fathers’ essential wisdom, summed up in three words: E Pluribus Unum — “Out of Many One.” So fundamental to the American idea that in 1782, they inscribed the words on the Great Seal of the United States. And that seal and those words are on the flag that has hung in the Oval Office every day since. Right behind President Trump’s desk. To find the way, the president only needs to turn around,” Cuomo said, to one of the most enthusiastic ovations of the speech.