ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced more details Tuesday on the proposals in his State of the State Address.
The annual address is in modified format this year, presented electronically as a sort of miniseries instead of a single live event.
As with the grand overview Monday, Cuomo laid out the challenges of the COVID era, challenged New Yorkers to meet them, and offered a vision for a post-pandemic New York both different and to his mind better than the pre-pandemic New York.
His proposals for making this happen were fewer and more tightly focused than the sweeping address Monday: COVID testing, revival of the arts economy, subsidized or free broadband Internet access and a better, more inclusive economy.
Cuomo’s theme is Reimagine, Rebuild, Renew, which fits the wartime terms with which he frames the pandemic. He compared the situation to Reconstruction of the South after the U.S. Civil War.
“Now it’s time to start looking ahead with the same toughness, the same smarts, the same unity, the same discipline, and the same love that brought us through last year,” Cuomo said Tuesday.
He has repeatedly offered a sweeping progressive agenda for post-COVID New York as recently as Monday but centered Tuesday’s remarks of a handful of components.
Reopening the economy is an imperative, as is halting the spread of COVID, Cuomo said.
To accomplish both simultaneously, he plans a massive expansion of the rapid-testing system piloted at The Buffalo Bills game Saturday, through which tests were administered to the 7,000 on-site spectators — a crowd inconceivably large during the last nine months of COVID restrictions.
Early indications are that the system was a success, and it holds promise for similar large events and large venues, he said.
In collaboration with site owners, Cuomo said, “We will open hundreds of these new pop-up rapid testing sites statewide to bring this effort to scale.”
A huge part of what defines New York, particularly its cities, is their arts, entertainment and cuisine, the governor said. The arts and culture industry employs nearly 500,000 people and generates $120 billion in economic activity here, he added, but up to 50 percent of performers are now unemployed.
“We must act,” Cuomo said. “We cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on the arts and provide a living wage for artists. We will not let the curtain fall on their careers, or on the future of our cities.
“Today, I’m announcing that New York state is launching New York Arts Revival — a public-private partnership to bring back the arts.”
This will include a series of pop-up performances and events across the state starting Feb. 4 at outdoor sites and indoor venues configured for social distancing.
The Creative Rebuild Initiative, meanwhile, will put more than 1,000 artists back to work and fund dozens of community arts groups, Cuomo said.
These will be joint efforts between the states and philanthropic partners, he added, and testing of ventilation in large indoor spaces will determine what the safe options are.
During the pandemic, high-speed internet access proved critical as never before, with education, work and medical visits being accomplished extensively from home. But only from the homes of people who have broadband service.
This is one of the social injustices laid bare by the pandemic, Cuomo said.
Some subsidies are available, he said, but they are hard to access and don’t help enough with the more-than $50 per-month average cost of basic broadband access.
Cuomo proposes a first-in-the-nation mandate that internet service providers offer high-speed service to all low-income households for $15 a month, and that they advertise that fact. For those who can’t afford the $15, he wants to establish a subsidy program through a public-private partnership.
“Without broadband, the public education system that was supposed to be the great equalizer becomes the great divider,” the governor said. “In this new world, remote learning doesn’t exist if the child doesn’t have access. And too often the child left behind in remote learning is poor, Black or Latino.”
Along the same theme, Cuomo said the post-COVID economy must be not just tall but wide — beneficial to more New Yorkers, especially those previously left behind.
“Lastly, to reopen New York, I am launching a Commission on the Future of the New York Economy,” he said Tuesday. “The post-COVID economy is still taking shape. We know it will be different, we just don’t know precisely how different. This Commission will help draw a roadmap to find opportunities for New Yorkers to get back to work, in jobs that pay well, in industries that will grow rather than disappear in the coming decades.”
It will examine the inequalities and structural racism that COVID exposed, Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, he added, New York is launching a jobs-of-the-future campaign to expand training and education for low-income workers and add partnerships with workforce development organizations in underserved communities. And he hopes to expand SUNY’s new Online Training Center, to enroll New Yorkers in free employment certificate programs for high-demand jobs.