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Foss: Tough year ahead for Gov. Cuomo, Legislature

Foss: Tough year ahead for Gov. Cuomo, Legislature

Foss: Tough year ahead for Gov. Cuomo, Legislature
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gives his State of the State Wednesday in Albany.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Last year was easy. 

The all-Democratic state Legislature enjoyed a busy and fruitful session, passing long-stalled bills and sweeping reforms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo dubbed it "the most productive legislative session in modern history." 

In his state of the state speech Wednesday, Cuomo invoked a similar can-do spirit, ticking off one ambitious policy goal after another and offering up plenty of lofty rhetoric. "New York at her best is the progressive capital of the nation and we must fulfill that destiny again this year," the governor intoned at the start of his nearly 90-minute oration. 

The governor's confidence is impressive, but also bewildering, given New York's changing fortunes. 

Unlike last year, the state faces a $6.1 billion budget deficit that will make it a lot more more difficult to fund expensive new initiatives. 

Lawmakers will need to make closing the gap a priority, even as they look to keep key constituencies happy. The soaring budget shortfall will make for a much more difficult session - one that feels a lot more like a hangover than a honeymoon. 

Just how much of Cuomo's agenda we'll see enacted is anyone's guess - but I expect a lot of it to wither and die.

Take high-speed rail. 

Only the world's biggest optimist would expect this proposal to go anywhere. Politicians have talked about bringing high-speed rail to the state for decades, and it's hard to believe that this is the year we're going to see real movement on the issue. 

There's a $6.1 billion deficit, remember? 

I like the idea of high-speed rail, but until the state deals with some of the other big and pressing issues currently on its plate, I view it as more of a distraction than anything else. 

The governor also revived his call to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use - a proposal that failed last year because lawmakers couldn't reach consensus on how best to do it. 

I expect lawmakers to agree to a plan this year, but if they don't, it will be for the same sorts of reasons that derailed the effort last year, such as disagreement on what to do with the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales. 

One of the lessons of the 2019 legislative session is that marijuana reform isn't easy - if it was, the Legislature would have done it already, and moved on. The renewed push to legalize marijuana will likely be just as contentious as last year's, which means legalization is far from guaranteed.

Finally, it's also important to remember that the governor isn't the only politician with an agenda. 

Cuomo didn't mention the state's controversial new bail reform law, but an effort to amend the law is already underfoot, and the issue is sure to dominate the early weeks of the legislative session. There are a number of proposals, from both sides of the aisle, to amend the law, which Cuomo referred to as a "work in progress" earlier this week. 

The governor struck a tone of unity and strength in his state of the state, but the on-the-ground reality suggests that this year's legislative session will be marked by discord and dissent. 

If nothing else, it's going to be interesting - and I look forward to seeing what gets done, and what doesn't. 

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

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