Medical Pot, Spending Likely to Star in Cuomo's State of State Speech
Sunday, January 05, 2014
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday will lay out a vision for the last year of his first term and is expected to push for state spending limits, propose new property tax relief and announce a surprise reversal on medical marijuana.
With both high poll ratings and a campaign bank account of more than $28 million, the Democrat's State of the State address is expected to repeat some other recent themes like closing or revamping failing schools. And Cuomo has recently emphasized continuing an overall 2 percent limit on spending growth and applying savings to help New Yorkers offset local property taxes.
Aides known for tight-lipped discipline haven't leaked much so far, though advocates got word Saturday that Cuomo will allow limited use of medical marijuana, something he has previously opposed. He is expected to use an administrative order, not legislation, to permit some hospitals to dispense the drug for certain ailments. It is commonly prescribed for chronic pain, nausea from cancer chemotherapy, glaucoma and some other conditions. Other controlled substances like narcotics are already authorized for medical use in New York.
While one advocate described the move as a good first step, it may keep Cuomo at odds with lawmakers pressing for more liberal marijuana policies.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat, have recently held hearings on a bill they are sponsoring called the Compassionate Care Act, which would regulate and tax medical marijuana. It has previously passed in the Assembly but failed to get through the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans in a coalition with a handful of Democrats.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, another Manhattan Democrat, has been pushing legislation to legalize and tax recreational use of marijuana, arguing state policy outlawing the drug has been costly in terms of law enforcement resources and the futures of people convicted of crimes.
State lawmakers have some other priorities as well. Assembly Democrats want college financial aid for immigrants, a higher minimum wage and more child care subsidies, while Senate Republicans want personal and corporate tax cuts and simplicity in the tax code.
"There's going to be more emphasis on economic issues upfront," Cuomo told reporters in December. He said economic development, taxes and government reform are among his top issues.
"If our spending only goes up 2 percent, we believe at the current projections we can afford $2 billion in additional tax benefits, especially tax benefits that are designed to further grow the economy because then you get more revenues," Cuomo said. He said the numbers weren't set yet then, "but that's the premise of the discussions."
He also emphasized cost-cutting proposals for shared government services, using financial incentives to prompt New York's 10,500 local governments to follow the state's lead and start consolidating what they do, beginning with back office services like payroll, purchasing and shipping.
Last year, a month after a mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school, Cuomo used a fiery State of the State speech to call for tough new gun controls in New York, getting legislation enacted soon after that to ban large-capacity magazines and prohibit sales of certain semi-automatic weapons.
On education, Cuomo told reporters in August that public schools considered failing based on low test scores and graduation rates should be given a short period to improve followed by dramatic measures for those that don't, such as takeover by the state, a municipality or charter school entity. "I don't want Albany to sit there and tell communities how to run their schools, but I do feel comfortable sitting in Albany saying failing schools is not an option," he said.
Speaker Sheldon Silver, who heads the Assembly's large Democratic majority, has called again for tying New York's minimum wage to the inflation rate. In an agreement with the Senate and governor last year, it was raised from $7.25 an hour to $8 this year, scheduled to reach $9 by 2016 but without indexing. He also called for passing the Dream Act this year to help young immigrants attend college with access to financial aid and scholarships. He and several colleagues proposed raising subsidies for child care for New York's working poor and authorizing state-paid leave and unemployment for workers who have to take time off to care for a child.
The Senate Republicans say their priority is the tax package proposed in November that would reduce corporate tax rates, make inflation adjustments for state income tax brackets, set a permanent 2 percent cap on state spending growth with all surplus used to cut taxes, make the state's property tax cap permanent and make all retirement income tax-free.
The Independent Democratic Conference, part of that coalition with Republicans controlling the Senate, said it's the biggest champion in Albany of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to establish universal prekindergarten programs. The Democrat proposed taxing New Yorkers with annual incomes of $500,000 or more to fund that program, as well as after-school programs for all middle school students.
The Senate Democratic Conference is calling for economic growth, raising the minimum wage, tax fairness and passing legislation still pending from last year to on women's rights and ethics reform.