Foss: Can Cuomo fulfill his agenda?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday - Credit: Governor’s Office

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday - Credit: Governor’s Office

Categories: News, Sara Foss

Every year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lays out an ambitious agenda in his state-of-the-state address. 

This year, though, might be his most ambitious yet. 

In previous years, the governor’s support for legalizing marijuana and mobile sports betting – what I think of as the vice agenda – might have taken center stage. 

Instead, the focus was on bigger and more urgent concerns: defeating COVID – a challenge Cuomo likened to winning a war – and reviving the state’s cratered economy. 

The governor presented an array of proposals aimed at accomplishing these two goals. 

Among other things, he proposed opening a network of COVID rapid-test sites around the state, creating a New York State Public Health Corps to help distribute the coronavirus vaccine, and launching an aggressive transportation and infrastructure rebuilding program. 

Cuomo also proposed plenty of items that emerged as more pressing concerns during the pandemic, even if they aren’t directly tied to the pandemic.  

His call to close the digital divide, and ensure that all New Yorkers have access to broadband Internet service, is in part a response to the inequities exposed by the transition to remote work and school. Kids without broadband Internet at home struggled to keep up with classwork, while adults found it harder to access basic services that had moved online. 

As always, the governor’s state-of-the-state agenda contains some good and interesting ideas. 

We do need to vaccinate millions of New Yorkers, very quickly. 

We do need to use the tools at our disposal, such as rapid COVID tests, to lift restrictions on businesses and give them a much-needed shot in the arm. We do need to invest in our aging infrastructure, before it crumbles to pieces. 

That said, I couldn’t help but view Cuomo’s lofty plans with a measure of skepticism. 

Take closing the digital divide, and the governor’s proposal that would mandate Internet providers make high-speed Internet plans available to low-income people for $15 a month. 

I’m all for closing the digital divide, and for lowering the cost of high-speed Internet, especially for those who can least afford it.

But we’ve been down this road before, with mixed results. 

The state launched a Broadband for All program in 2015, with a goal of bringing broadband to all New Yorkers by the end of 2018. 

But that goal was not met – look no further than Duanesburg in rural Schenectady County to find a local community where a significant number of households are still without broadband – and the state’s digital divide persists. 

Will this new push to close it succeed where the previous effort failed? 

Only time will tell. 

But I have my doubts.  

Another area where the state is falling short is in vaccine distribution. 

In recent days, the process has sped up, and approximately 632,473 doses have been administered. And while it’s nice to see improvement, that’s still too slow, putting the state on track to reach herd immunity sometime in 2022. 

Perhaps a new public health corps, charged with distributing the vaccine, is the accelerant that’s needed. 

But it’s worth remembering that the state’s contact tracing program, which aimed to identify the close contacts of those who tested positive for COVID-19, was beset by problems. So there’s really no reason to assume a state-run public health corps won’t suffer similar stumbles. 

In his state-of-the-state speeches, Cuomo identified big needs and offered up big solutions. 

Whether he’ll fulfill those promises remains to be seen.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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