In his first State of the State address on Wednesday afternoon, Govenor Andrew Cuomo laid out his plans for reorganizing New York state government, closing the $10 billion budget deficit, and acting on a host of progressive social issues.
He said streamlining government and taking on the deficit go hand in hand. "This is not just a budget exercise," Cuomo said. "This is a fundamental realignment for the state. You can't make up these savings over this period of time through a cutting or trimming exercise. We need to reorganize government agencies and redesign our approach, because the old way wasn't working anyway."
Cuomo called for a 20 percent reduction in the number of government agencies. He introduced SAGE, the Spending and Government Efficiency Commission, which is due to present an organizational plan in six months, to then be accepted or rejected by the legislature. The state would then give monetary awards to local governments who are able to consolidate their operations. Cuomo also wants a one-year salary freeze for most of the 200,000 state workers included in contracts up for renegotiation April 1 to help close the deficit.
Cuomo also proposed merging the three agencies that regulate insurance, banking and consumer affairs to save money and better protect investors and consumers.
To create jobs, the governor says he's creating ten regional Economic Development Councils to assess the needs of their regions and make recommendations for improvements. Cuomo said that the best-performing regions with the best suggestions for economic fixes will be rewarded with state money.
Cuomo unveiled a similar strategy for improving education, offering monetary incentives for school districts to compete in terms of performance and efficiency.
He promised that the state will pass a pass a property tax cap and will work on creating jobs. On that last point, Cuomo said that New York must rely on the private sector to restore the state's economic prosperity. "What made New York the Empire State wasn't a large government complex," he said. "It was a vibrant private sector that was creating great jobs in the state of New York. That's what made us the Empire State once, and that's what will make us the Empire State again."
Pivoting to social issues at the end of the speech, Cuomo voiced a commitment to making New York a leader in progressive causes. He called for passage of a marriage equality act within the year.
The governor was at his most emotional when he detailed his plans to close more juvenile prisons and to repeal a required 12-month advance notice before closings. "An incarceration program is not an employment program. Don't put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don't put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs," he said. "That's not what this state is about, and that has to end this session."
In a symbolic gesture of renewed cooperation with the state legislature, Governor Cuomo allowed each party leader to speak before his address. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, spoke first and said that he was looking forward to "working together to cap property taxes." In the past, Silver has been more reluctant to endorse such a measure.
State Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos went on right before the governor, highlighting the minority party agenda and giving credit to Cuomo and Democrats for their alignment on fiscal policy. "We haven't always had a partner," Skelos said of his party and their plans. "But from what I've heard from Andrew Cuomo and Sheldon Silver, I believe we do."
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