Reactions to the school massacre in Connecticut and the devastation of Superstorm Sandy are expected to be central to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address Wednesday.
The address, which traditionally is heavy on promises and light on specifics, will get the ball rolling on the governor’s legislative agenda for the coming year. He is expected to highlight new gun control proposals, an increase in the state’s minimum wage, the need to rebuild New York City after Sandy and work to improve the state’s economy.
In recent years some of Cuomo’s expressed priorities, like same-sex marriage, have become law. Other topics, like mandate relief, have spawned studies but not a lot of relief. And some really big ideas, like a convention center and hotel complex in Queens, died almost before Cuomo could finish the slide show that is a hallmark of the speech.
Regardless, advocates, businesses interests and anyone else with a stake in state government will be carefully listening for buzz words from Cuomo that might indicate priorities.
This year’s remarks will carry even more weight than usual, since legislative leaders are not scheduled to speak before the governor. The speech is set for 1:30 p.m. at the Empire State Convention Center.
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus will be listening for talk of state relief aimed at Hurricane Sandy.
Because the Congress — specifically the House of Representatives — has been slow to approve relief funding, Shimkus said it is possible the governor will commit to state aid in the interim. Even if these costs are temporarily shouldered by the state, he predicted it would be felt in every corner of New York.
Schoharie Mayor Gene Milone will be waiting to hear mention of Irene and Lee, the two storms that hit New York in the late summer of 2011. His county is still struggling to recover from the damage and Milone said it would help if the governor kept the issue front and center, in addition to Sandy.
Shimkus is doubtful the governor will address the further implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires the state’s health exchange to begin operating this year. His members in the chamber are really concerned about the makeup of the exchange, describing it as a “huge, huge issue.”
If Cuomo were to shed some light on what this exchange would look like, Shimkus said it would give businesses more stability in planning for the future.
He also hopes the “I Love New York” program, which was re-energized by Cuomo last year with television commercials that included racing at Saratoga Springs, gets some sort of mention. Any sign that the state is committed to this investment is a positive sign for Shimkus.
In Cuomo’s previous two addresses he has refrained from weighing in on the highly controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. He isn’t expected to comment on this issue now, continuing his mostly ambiguous stance on the issue. That will leave partisans waiting for real answers.
Schoharie’s Milone is hoping Cuomo will acknowledge the rights of individual municipalities to reject fracking. Schoharie is one of a scattering municipalities that have banned the gas drilling technique in their area.
“Everyone has been waiting for a decision from [Cuomo] on the issue,” Milone said.
On the other side is Mark Galasso, the mayor of Cobleskill and head of Lancaster Development, but he isn’t expecting Cuomo to lay out any comprehensive plan. Galasso would just like the governor to commit to a position that allows for safe fracking.
Chamber of Schenectady County President Chuck Steiner will be listening to the governor’s tone, specifically in regard to New York Works, which is Cuomo’s broad job initiative. The program consists of a task force that oversees and coordinates the state’s economic development efforts, which includes billions invested in infrastructure.
“I’m very bullish on that whole effort,” Steiner said.
He wants the governor to continue to trumpet this program and the general philosophy that “New York is open for business,” one of Cuomo’s repeated catch phrases.
This emphasis on a friendly business environment was echoed by Galasso. He feels like the state is on the right track, so if Cuomo continues to espouse messages from the first two years it will be sufficient for him.
“Hopefully he will name drop some specifics,” Galasso said, indicating the state’s regulations and taxes as areas that could be addressed. He’s not optimistic about specifics.
Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring is hoping the governor will mention “equity” in relation to the allocation of state aid, whether its for municipalities or school districts. The Schenectady school district has argued that its currently not getting its fair share of state aid.
Additionally, Spring would like to hear talk of “redistribution,” which could be a good sign for school districts in comparatively needy areas, like Schenectady.
Mark Dunlea, executive director of the Hunger Action Network in New York State, an anti-hunger coalition, argued that this address is a chance for the governor to start conversations that aren’t happening at the state level. He said he would like to hear the governor acknowledge poverty, hunger, homelessness, income inequality and a lack of jobs in the state.
The prospect of raising the state’s minimum wage, he said, will likely be addressed. “That finally seems to have become part of his sound bites,” Dunlea said.
He would like to hear the governor propose a public jobs initiative, a raise in the welfare grant and a plan to end child hunger. More specifically, he would love to hear more funding announced for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program.
The speech will also likely feature a familiar refrain about state mandates — directives to localities but made without state funding support — which is on the minds of businesses, school officials and local governments everywhere. Milone is hoping the governor will identify some mandates that might help Schoharie County and Spring wants more flexibility for local school spending.