CAPITOL -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo earned praise from local elected officials for his plans to invest in ice jam prevention and tourist facilities along the Erie Canal, but Republicans also ripped Cuomo for what wasn't discussed during Wednesday's state of the state address.
The governor made no mention of the controversy over criminal justice reforms that took effect on Jan. 1 and have resulted in many criminal defendants being released without bail. He also made only passing mention of the state's $6 billion budget deficit.
The governor, who earlier had released 34 proposals to be included in the state of the state, announced one major new one: a $3 billion "Restore Mother Nature" Bond Act for investing in environmental restoration and flood reduction.
"It's our responsibility and challenge to leave our planet cleaner, and greener, and more sustainable for our future generations," Cuomo said during his 79-minute speech at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. "We must, we can, we will. Let's take a great step forward this year. People say you have to choose between a strong economy and a healthy planet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The economy of tomorrow is the green economy."
The bond act is an idea local governments may get behind.
“Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, New York state has committed to protecting New Yorkers from extreme weather and the devastating effects of climate change,” said New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario. “We commend the governor for his continued investment in local climate projects. Counties are proud to partner with the state on creating a path to carbon neutrality.”
"This bond act marks a major investment in the protection of natural resources across the Adirondacks and New York," said one environmental advocate, Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks. "The Revive Mother Nature Bond Act will help immensely with land protection and Forest Preserve stewardship, clean water projects and clean energy projects across New York, among many other projects."
"The governor's proposed bond act is part of an ambitious agenda to address climate change and would help to address the long list of lakes and ponds where harmful algal blooms have occurred and are likely to occur in the near future," said William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. "This will provide a significant amount of money to invest in storm water runoff prevention, stream restoration, fisheries restoration, wetland protection and forest preservation."
The Erie Canal initiative includes $65 million for ice-breaking, alteration of the Vischer Ferry dam, dredging in the river channel, and other measures to reduce the impact of ice-jam flooding, which has regularly caused damage in Schenectady's historic Stockade neighborhood and elsewhere.
"I'm encouraged to hear a proposal that will make a significant effort to mitigate summer and winter flooding along the Mohawk River, which has repeatedly devastated many homes and businesses in our communities," said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
Another part of the $300 million Erie Canal initiative includes full restoration of historic Guy Park Manor in Amsterdam, which has never been fully restored since being severely damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and establish a footbridge on an existing canal lock across the Mohawk River to the Empire State Trail on the river's South Side.
“Guy Park Manor is about to become a fully renovated hospitality destination and a new pedestrian footbridge to be constructed across the existing canal lock will create a scenic pathway across the Mohawk River to the Empire State Trail where additional overnight accommodations will be added," said Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti. "I love that this project will make a positive impact to the West End of Amsterdam, while providing an exciting history and nature-filled walking path through our beloved city, one that has never existed before."
Republicans in the Legislature were quick to attack Cuomo's "progressive" agenda.
"It is not the year for monumental spending or unrealistic expectations," said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston. "We should focus on ways to close the shortfall, while also ensuring that the very basics are given the financial support they need and fixing the disastrous bail reform law that has endangered our families and communities."
State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said “We should be mindful that the most basic function of government at any level is to protect the public and keep them safe from harm. The number one issue my constituents tell me they’re concerned about is the ability of our law enforcement to successfully do that because of the new bail reform law, which went into effect on Jan. 1."
"If I said I was surprised by the tone of Gov. Cuomo's topics this year, I'd be lying," said Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie.
"Instead of reform, the governor and the Democrats in the Legislature want to double down on the same failed policies of higher taxes and more government control," said Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Johnstown. "I believe we need to reject the tax-and-spend policies of the past decade in favor of one that provides tax relief, accountability for state agencies and reduces unfunded mandates to our counties and local governments."
Santabarbara, a fellow Democrat, said he was disappointed not to hear anything from the governor about the need to address rural ambulance services, senior care, the cost of prescription drugs, and support for people with disabilities.
"With my new assignment as Assembly chair of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources, my focus will be on making sure our rural communities of upstate New York are not left out," Santabarbara said.
Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy of Albany said she looked forward to working with the governor on gun violence prevention initiatives, the environmental bond act, and a proposal to expand electric vehicle use. "Despite these somber times, I'm pleased the governor is continuing his commitment to expanding infrastructure, and keeping the upstate economy thriving," she said.