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Queens Chronicle

Aside from gaming, a fine State of the State

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 2:28 pm, Tue Jan 15, 2013.

Gov. Cuomo offered a number of excellent proposals in his State of the State Address Wednesday, on issues from gun control to election reform to education.

But he messed up on one topic of great importance to Queens in particular — casino gambling — flip-flopping from the position he held just a year ago and proposing an idea that really just doesn’t make much sense.

Cuomo said he wants to allow three new casinos statewide, all of them in vaguely defined “upstate.” Last year he had suggested allowing seven new gaming centers — off Indian reservations, where they’re already legal — as well as allowing the highly successful Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Race Track in South Ozone Park to offer full table games. Right now Resorts World patrons can only play electronic versions of the games people travel out of state for.

Allowing casinos upstate only makes no sense. For one thing, what exactly does Cuomo mean by “upstate”? As a Queens native, he could mean anything north of Van Cortlandt Park at the edge of the Bronx, but he could also mean the Adirondacks, the Central Leatherstocking Region or Niagara Falls. New York’s biggest population center by far is of course here in the city. Residents take trips of just a couple hours to Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for table gaming all the time. It’s hard to see why they’d go to the farthest reaches of our state, parts of which are 10 hours away, for entertainment they can get much closer to home.

The governor should go back to last year’s proposal, including allowing full table gaming at Resorts World, which, despite its electronic-only handicap, was the country’s most successful casino last year — meaning not only big profits for its owners but much-needed revenue for the state. There’s no reason not to build on that success.

On issues other than gaming, the governor offered solid ideas, some of which, such as tightening regulations on firearms, are absolute necessities.

Cuomo set a goal of adopting the nation’s toughest restrictions on assault weapons like the one used in the Sandy Hook School massacre. That’s welcome news. So are his proposals to require background checks even for private gun sales between individuals and to reduce magazine capacity below the state’s current 10-bullet maximum —without any “grandfathering in” of existing clips. Gun laws are far less effective when so many can be legally evaded.

On elections, Cuomo would allow early voting for a week, which would expand voter participation. And he would enact campaign finance restrictions for state elections modeled after the laws on city races, which are much tighter, to help reduce Albany’s endemic “pay-to-play” corruption.

On education, the governor seeks more time in class for students, whether a longer school day or school year, something individual districts like the city’s would enact in exchange for more grant money. He would also force teachers to pass a specific test to become certified, much like the bar exams lawyers take, and give high-performing “master teachers” extra pay in return for training newer teachers.

Those are all excellent ideas — though exactly how they’d be paid for is an open question.

Another plan the governor backed in his speech — not a new one — is raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75. That’s long overdue. Businesses, meanwhile, would benefit from separate worker’s compensation reforms Cuomo said would save them a collective $1.3 billion.

Those proposals reflect the balanced approach that has earned Cuomo his high approval ratings. If he’d just go back to his original position on casinos, 2013 could be a very positive year for residents of the Empire State. We’d bet on it.

Welcome to the discussion.