In his final 2017 regional State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled proposals for ethics reform, capping costs of prescription drugs and an investment in a new Schenectady Amtrak station.
The governor spoke for about 45 minutes Wednesday afternoon to a full auditorium in the University at Albany Performing Arts Center. The speech marked the sixth and final iteration of his regional State of the State addresses, which he’d delivered throughout New York this week.
Cuomo painted a largely rosy picture of the state’s economic and social standing, pointing to lower unemployment, economic development projects, marriage equality and an increased minimum wage as signs of progress over the past few years.
He highlighted a few ongoing Capital Region development projects, including the Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, which will open next month. As part of an effort to improve transportation hubs in the state, Cuomo announced a $15 million state investment in a new Schenectady Amtrak station to replace the station on Erie Boulevard.
The state Department of Transportation last year set aside roughly $15 million for the new station, but bids for the project came in well over budget.
The specific funding amount was unclear Wednesday, but Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the state would provide at least some additional money to bridge the financing gap so the project can be completed in 2018.
A key proposal during Cuomo's speech called for new ethics reform package, which he said is necessary to improve public trust in state legislators. In recent years, the state has been plagued by corruption scandals, including charges filed in September that implicated multiple close Cuomo aides.
The governor outlined a 10-point plan Wednesday that includes a constitutional amendment limiting outside income for lawmakers, as well as an amendment imposing term limits on elected officials. Other proposed measures include subjecting officials to financial disclosure requirements and reforming the Freedom of Information Law as it applies to the Legislature.
Another proposal focused on protecting customers from “skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs.” The governor’s plan includes creating a state review board that would establish a price ceiling for certain drugs in the state’s Medicaid program. Under the proposal, if a drug company exceeded the ceiling, it would be subject to a surcharge.
The governor also addressed a few proposals he detailed at previous 2017 State of the State speeches. One was the concept for the Empire State Trail, a 750-mile multi-use path that would link Buffalo to Albany and New York City to the Canadian border.
Cuomo touted the trail, which he estimated would cost $200 million, as a possible international tourism attraction.
He also discussed his previous calls to bring ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to upstate New York. It’s unfair, Cuomo said, that New York City has those services while upstate does not. He urged constituents to tell lawmakers “not to come home” until they approve ride-hailing legislation that legalizes the service upstate.
Local leaders in attendance Wednesday included Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen.
All of the more than 30 proposals the governor put forward during his six speeches will require approval by the state Legislature.
Only three members of the Legislature were in attendance; they were greeted by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher during her introduction. They were Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston; Assemblyman Peter Lopez (R-Scoharie) and Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Holliswood).
Many state lawmakers openly protested Cuomo’s traveling State of the State addresses, saying the speech should have been given in the Capitol.
On Wednesday, Cuomo said much of what the government does across the state is regionally oriented, so he felt the multiple addresses made sense.