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Cuomo's Second State of State Focuses on Job Creation, Schools Accountability

Cuomo and Legislative Leaders cut ribbon to unveil Capitol renovations prior to State of State speech Wednesday
Cuomo and Legislative Leaders cut ribbon to unveil Capitol renovations prior to State of State speech Wednesday

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered a State of the State message that focuses on job creation, through infrastructure repair, expanded gambling, and energy improvements. The governor will also take on the education community in his second year in office, demanding greater accountability.

Cuomo, as part of his growth and jobs agenda, proposes building the largest convention center in the nation to promote tourism. He would replace the Javitts Center in Manhattan, with a larger venue at the Aqueduct race track in Queens.

Cuomo also seeks a comprehensive plan to expand gambling in New York. He says Indian run casinos in the state and gambling parlors in neighboring states make it an economic necessity for New York State to also get in on gaming.

“This is not about chips and cards,” said Cuomo. “This is about the jobs that the casino industry generates.”

In order for non Indian gambling to become legal in New York, the state’s constitution must be amended.

The governor, in written remarks in a booklet to accompany the speech, also endorsed his environmental agency’s continuation of an environmental study to permit hydrofracking, but Cuomo did not mention fracking in his speech. He also proposed an energy superhighway to make the state more energy independent.

The governor did bring up mandate relief and pension reform. Local governments and school districts are asking for a reduction in unfunded mandates in order to comply with a 2% property tax cap imposed by Cuomo and the legislature last year. The governor says his mandate relief panel will hold public hearings around the state, and asked the legislature for an up or down vote on the panel’s ultimate recommendations.

And the governor says he will ask the legislature to agree to lower pension benefits for future state workers.

“No one ever said a pension system was a legacy or an inheritance,” said Cuomo, who says taxpayers can no longer afford present pension rates.

The governor reserved his deepest criticism for the education community, saying all of the major factions are represented by lobbyists.

“Even the bus drivers have lobbyists,” said Cuomo. “The only group without lobbyists are the students.”

Cuomo says he will be the lobbyist for the students, and he called for a new commission, appointed jointly by the governor and legislature, to reform the state’s education system, demanding greater accountability.

“I want the report done this year because we’ve wasted enough time,” Cuomo said.

In the written booklet accompanying the speech, Cuomo reiterated his threat to veto any new district lines drawn by the legislature that are partisan and gerrymandered, but he did not mention redistricting in his speech to the gathering of lawmakers, staff, and members of the public who were at the speech.

The governor and lawmakers were full of praise for one another. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in remarks before Cuomo’s speech, called the governor “the most effective chief executive” in the nation, and Cuomo compared Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos  to Yankees star Derek Jeter.

Speaker Silver, though after the speech, did not offer a ringing endorsement of Cuomo’s proposal to create a new schools commission, saying he’ll have to see the details first.

“We have a board of Regents in this state who I think do a terrific job and work very hard to promote education,” said Silver.

The legislature appoints the Board of Regents, which results in governors having no control of the education department in New York State.

The governor also has a $2 billion dollar budget gap to close, but he did not mention that in his speech. Senate Leader Dean Skelos in his pre State of the State remarks,  says he wants to see the gap, which he estimated to be $3 billion dollars, closed without raising any new taxes or fees.

Afterward, Senator Skelos said he’s a happy overall with the tone of the day.

“The main thing is we’re talking about continuing the bi- partisan sprit that we had in 2011,” said Skelos.  

The governor also called for an end to fingerprinting of needy children and families who apply for food stamps, and for public financing of political campaigns.

Speaker Silver also offered a proposal of his own- saying he wants to see New York’s minimum wage increased.

Cuomo spend a large portion of his speech touting the accomplishments of his first year in office. In addition to the property tax cap, he closed a $10 billion dollar deficit, instituted same sex marriage, and changed the tax code to cut middle class taxes while raising taxes on the wealthy.

And he says he hopes to continue with achievements in 2012.

“Last year we learned to walk, next year we’re going to run,” Cuomo promised.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.