Ambitious agenda in tightest of times 1

In his State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo said great initiative, greater amounts of Covid-19 testing and great amounts of federal aid are necessary for New York to safely move forward and revive its economy.

All Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature need to do is continue to combat the Covid-19 pandemic; reopen businesses safely; move forward on green infrastructure, decisive marijuana legalization and sports wagering; and do so with a projected budget deficit of $15 billion or more.

Cuomo began laying out his battle plans Monday during a multiday State of the State address series

“There are moments in life that can change a person fundamentally — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, “ Cuomo said. “Likewise, there are episodes in history that transform society and Covid is one of those moments. We see the risk and peril, but we also see the promise and potential of this moment. This next year we will see economies realign and reset around the world and New York will lead the way.”

Cuomo, according to a transcript available on his official website, on Monday said the federal government must deliver for the states quickly, specifically before New York’s budget is due on April 1.

In a remark apparently aimed at the Legislature, he also said the state cannot simply tax its way out of the economic hole.

“To close our $15 billion budget gap on our own would require extraordinary and negative measures,” Cuomo said. “Imagine this: If we raise taxes to the highest income tax rate in the nation, on all income over $1 million — billionaires, multi-millionaires, millionaires — any income over $1 million, we would only raise $1.5 billion.”

He said postponing a middle-class tax cut would save another $500 million, while freezing labor contracts would add another $1 billion. A 20 percent cut in education aid would save $5.2 billion.

“Even after all of that pain, we would still need billions in cuts to healthcare in the middle of a pandemic. We would need to borrow billions at the cost of future generations. It would be devastating to all New Yorkers.”

Building on decriminalization laws passed in 2019, Cuomo is proposing the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee a new adult-use marijuana program.

Final legislation has been derailed thus far by disagreement between Cuomo and groups within the Legislature as to how the state’s proceeds from marijuana sales and taxes should be divided [see separate story in some editions or online at qchron.com].

He stated cannabis legalization will create more than 60,000 new jobs and spur $3.5 billion in economic activity and more than $300 million in tax revenue when fully implemented.

Saying that an industry study found that nearly 20 percent of New Jersey’s sports wagering revenue comes from New York residents, the governor wants the New York State Gaming Commission to issue a request for proposals to select one or more providers to offer mobile sports wagering in New York. The platform would be required to have a partnership with at least one of the existing licensed commercial casinos. The commission will also require any entity operating mobile wagering apps include safeguards against abuses and addiction.

As for existing businesses that have been getting slammed for nearly a year, the governor said efforts making Covid-19 testing far more available with faster results will help businesses reopen faster and more safely.

Cuomo also outlined new efforts to vaccinate residents and protect commercial tenants from eviction.

Cuomo is proposing a Medical Supplies Act that will give priority to personal protective equipment manufactured in the United States, saying much of the delay in outfitting New York’s frontline Covid-19 responders was due to overreliance on equipment made overseas.

He also wants legislation to make the use of telehealth technology easier and more patient-friendly.

Cuomo also is looking to recruit 1,000 people including active and retired healthcare professionals, students from medical, nursing and public health scholastic programs and others to form the nucleus of a public health corps to assist with Covid-19 vaccinations programs.

Cuomo also intends to codify a moratorium on commercial tenant evictions until May 1, matching a law he recently signed to protect residential tenants.

And he said he will advance legislation that extends early voting hours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends as well as on a minimum of three week days during the ten-day early voting period.

He also wants the Legislature to pass “no excuse” absentee voting legislation again so it can go to referendum this fall.

This week the state Senate passed four related measures, two sponsored by Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and two by Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria).

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment as to whether he supports the bills or has his own legislation or some sort of compromise in mind.

As part of his business revival package, the governor wants to jump-start the state’s arts community with a series of pop-up performances and events.

Cuomo’s statement said the state has lined up more than 150 entertainers, including Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Renée Fleming, Wynton Marsalis and Hugh Jackman, who will join a public-private partnership that includes the New York State Council on the Arts and performing arts organizations throughout the state.

In a related initiative, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has agreed to join the state in a program aimed at putting 1,000 artists back to work and investing in dozens of smaller arts organizations.

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