January 4, 2012 | 4:07 PM | By WNYC Newsroom/Associated Press
(Couresy of the Governor's office.)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday outlined what he hopes are the next steps to reviving New York state.
During his second State of the State address, the first-term Democrat set an aggressive, if less dramatic, agenda for his second year. It includes plans for the country's largest convention center in New York City and a $1 billion jobs initiative for the long distressed city of Buffalo.
"The best is yet to be," Andrew Cuomo exhorted Wednesday. "They ain't seen nothing yet; 2012 is the year we are going to make the Empire State the Empire State again and we are going to make the dreams of this a reality."
The speech titled "Building a New New York with You" includes plans for a $4 billion convention center and hotel complex at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens to be built by a private developer.
Cuomo is proposing a major land-use swap between Manhattan and Queens that would involve tearing down the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center located on Manhattan's west side, opening up the 18-acre site to residential and commerical development.
Meanwhile, the nation's largest convention center would be build on the site of the Aqueduct Racetrack. Cuomo said this proposal would create jobs and stimulate economic development in both neighborhoods.
"It'll be all about jobs, jobs, jobs 10's of thousands of jobs building the number one convention center in the country. We'll go from number 12 to number one because that's where we deserve to be," Cuomo said.
As for gaming, Cuomo said New York is in a state of denial, adding the state is already in the gaming business, with tribal casinos and racinos, but the state doesn't recognize it or regulate it. Not to mention, neighboring states have already legalized gaming.
"This is not about chips and cards. this is about the jobs that the casino industry generates. we estimate one billion dollars in economic activity for the State of New York if we actually recognize the reality and regulate and capitalize on gaming the way we should," he said.
Cuomo proposed amending the state constitution to allow gaming.
Cuomo didn't mention two of the most controversial issues facing the Legislature: Independent redrawing of election districts that could threaten the Republicans' slim majority in the Senate, and the regulation of "hydrofracking" for natural gas upstate that concerns the Assembly Democrats and environmental groups.
Cuomo also said almost nothing about healthcare, which was a focal point of his 2011 address. Then, he talked about the need to curb Medicaid spending, one of the state's largest expenditures. Healthcare watchers said the current juncture is more about implementing the many changes his administration and the legislature made to Medicaid last year than setting out new ones for 2012.
Lara Kassel from Medicaid Matters NY said the speech she and others are looking to is the upcoming budget address, which she hopes will avoid "drastic cuts" to Medicaid and will instead use "Medicaid savings for targeted investments that will ensure equitable access to services for all."
Cuomo's prepared speech had short passages reiterating earlier positions on health insurance exchanges and reproductive rights, but neither were included in the speech he delivered.
Other topics included:
- Gambling: Cuomo is pushing a constitutional amendment to legalize non-Indian casinos and backs a private gambling enterprise's plan to build the world's largest convention center and hotel complex at New York City's Aqueduct racetrack, already the site of a video slot machine "racino."
- Economic development: Cuomo calls for a second round of regional economic development grants and $1 billion in incentives for businesses to help lift Buffalo out of its third-place national poverty ranking behind only Detroit and Cleveland.
- Public employee pensions: Cuomo wants a new, cheaper tier of public pension eligibility to spare state and local governments and their taxpayers from skyrocketing costs.
- Education: Cuomo used his speech to refer to the bipartisan education commission he plans to appoint, which will make recommendations to the Legislature for reforms in teacher accountability and student achievement. Cuomo vowed to “take a second job” by becoming “the lobbyist for the students.” He also called again for a meaningful teacher evaluation system. That fierce tone put him at odds with the teachers unions. New York City and nine other districts are currently at an impasse over how to implement a new teacher evaluation system. Because a deal wasn’t struck by the end of 2011, the state has stopped the city from receiving almost $60 million in federal grants to help 44 struggling schools. This lack of agreement could also cost the districts hundreds of millions of dollars more in Race to the Top dollars, if no deal is reached by June.
- Infrastructure. Cuomo put forth a $15 billion plan to repair roads, bridges, parks, flood control, and municipal water systems. The investment would come under one "New York Works" fund. “Right now, believe it or not, agencies and authorities do their own construction, their own development, their own master plan – all disconnected one from the other, without even any conversation,” Cuomo said. Parks and flood control infrastructure would also be improved. And he also proposed a $2 billion “energy highway” from Quebec to New York City. One word that did not come up in his speech, however, was transit.
- Energy: Cuomo supports a $2 billion private sector plan to transmit power from upstate New York to the metropolitan area while converting old power plants to reduce pollution and bolstering solar energy production through a rebate program.
- Food Stamps: Cuomo called to end fingerprinting food stamp recipients. Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the practice and says it is essential to stopping fraud. The governor’s office would not elaborate on how it will proceed with ending fingerprinting.
- Agriculture: Cuomo wants to improve farmers' access to low-interest loans for infrastructure investments and expand the "FreshConnect" farmers' market program to get New York grown food to more residents.
- Campaign finance: Cuomo supports voluntary public financing of political campaigns, with lower amounts for top donations and accountability for how any public money is spent.
- Crime: Cuomo backs legislation to create a databank of DNA taken from criminals convicted of any felony or misdemeanor, not just half the crimes on the books in New York.
- Taxes: Cuomo wants to avoid tax increases this year and proposes a commission to study long-term changes to the state's tax system close loopholes and boost collection enforcement, among other issues.
With Beth Fertig, Cindy Rodriguez, Ilya Marritz, Andrea Bernstein and Fred Mogul