If you’re an elected official and you want to keep being one, you do exactly what Gov. Kathy Hochul did Wednesday in her first State of the State message:
Paint an optimistic picture of a dire situation.
Don’t get into the details on complicated or controversial issues.
Throw lots of money at education, infrastructure, the environment and the poor.
And get the hell off the stage before anyone knows what hit them.
Oh, and promise them alcohol.
Never mind all this talk about a “bold agenda.” The governor’s speech was the safe and smart path to take as she strategizes for a potentially bruising party primary and general election bid to keep her new job.
Her next big hurdle will come later this month when she will have to articulate in greater detail how she plans to pay for all her promises, which include tax breaks for small businesses; better pay for health services workers; a tax rebate for low- and middle-income residents; more housing for the poor; investments in higher education and schools; much more resources to address gun trafficking; investments in addressing mental health and addiction; and billions for health care infrastructure and services for pregnant women.
The governor led off her 35-minute speech by discussing the covid crisis and looking beyond, saying she would focus on helping businesses and keeping schools open, even as covid cases and hospitalizations soar in the state.
Her plan includes addressing a perceived shortage of healthcare workers, improving pay and training, and creating incentives to bring more people into the profession.
She also announced that a $4 billion environmental bond act would be placed on the November ballot. It would increase by $1 billion the proposed $3 billion bond act that was pulled from the ballot last year by
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and would focus on green jobs and environmental infrastructure like windmills and solar.
Hochul also touched on a number of other issues of interest to New Yorkers, including helping reduce malfeasance and corruption involving public officials. She already announced proposed term and income limits for statewide offices. On Wednesday, she went further and promised to replace the state’s toothless, governor-dominated state ethics commission, JCOPE, which is supposed to identify and address unethical behavior.
But she didn’t address sexual harassment in the workplace, one of the issues that led to Cuomo’s resignation, nor did she get into how she might address and prevent other scandals that happened during the Cuomo years.
One very specific business initiative she mentioned was permanently allowing food businesses to sell alcohol with take-out and pickup-orders, known as “alcohol to go.” The practice, designed to help these businesses stay alive during the height of the pandemic, was suspended last year, and many in the hospitality industry have been clamoring for its return.
Overall, there was actually very little in her proposals that one could argue against — another political benefit of keeping it short, positive and fuzzy.
Certainly, not many of us missed her predecessor’s elaborate PowerPoint presentations or his passionate oratory. Hochul went for brief, bland and folksy, which is fine; it works for her.
But the governor might have served New Yorkers and herself better had she extended her speech in order to speak in greater detail and with some passion about the plight of healthcare workers and others during the pandemic; New Yorkers’ overwhelming tax burden, the large out-migration of New Yorkers to other states; the threat to voting rights; civil rights; gun violence and police brutality issues.
At some point, she’s going to have to sell her plans where she proposed throwing money at problems, and she’ll have to face and address the issues she glossed over or ignored.
Gov. Hochul took the politically safe route in her first State of the State message, and for that she’s received widespread applause.
The road to putting her plans into action will not be as smooth.