It was classic Andrew M. Cuomo: The governor delivered his fourth State of the State address to a packed house on Wednesday, boasting of – and sharing credit for – the state’s improvements under his watch, while simultaneously moving to the left and the right.
Conservative Cuomo wants to cut more taxes, including a plan to zero out the upstate corporate income tax. Liberal Cuomo is back pushing his 10-point women’s equality initiative, with no retreating from the controversial 10th point codifying abortion rights.
Thus, it was also classic election-year politics. Although he hasn’t formally announced his plans, Cuomo is up for re-election this year and, with his recitation of achievements over the past three years, he made a credible case for himself.
Taxes are down, he said, and budgets are not only on time, but under control. Marriage equality was passed and the minimum wage was increased. The state has created the second-most jobs in the nation since the recession, and joblessness is down in every region. The $10 billion deficit he faced three years ago has been coaxed into a $2 billion surplus. He even took credit – about as briefly as possible – for the SAFE Act, a gun control law that is supported by most New Yorkers but opposed by a vocal and passionate minority.
The big news for Western New York was Cuomo’s announcement of the next initiative in the Buffalo Billion program. The governor announced the establishment of a $100 million genomic research facility in Buffalo that will link gene researchers in Manhattan with scientists at the University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The center, he said, would create hundreds of new jobs in an entirely new industry in Western New York. It seems a natural fit for Buffalo’s expanding medical economy.
Also intriguing was his proposal for a $2 billion bond act to improve the technology available in the state’s schools, caustically observing that in some schools, the most sophisticated piece of technology is the metal detector that students walk through before classes begin. It’s clearly something worth discussing, given the rate at which education is changing and the need for New York’s children to compete with students from other states and even other countries.
It’s also the reason to support his proposal for universal prekindergarten, also pushed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who want to raise taxes to accomplish the goal. Cuomo has not said how he would pay for it.
Oddly, though, Cuomo said nothing about the “death penalty” he proposed for failing schools last summer. It was an acid comment that offended some educators, but which at least was on the right track. At some point, there has to be a consequence in districts such as Buffalo’s, where too many schools chronically fail their students.
The $2 billion in technology will be of only marginal help in schools that aren’t otherwise performing. New computers won’t fix education.
He had a golden opportunity to deal with that problem during his address, when he also proposed $20,000 in incentive pay for teachers who achieve high ratings. That was a carrot. He also needed the stick. We hope Cuomo will talk more about this problem in his budget address later this month.
There were other ideas: Cuomo wants the state to take over New York City’s airports, which aren’t keeping up with others. He proposes, usefully, to make it an affirmative requirement for all education officials to report racial or religious discrimination or lose their jobs.
He also wants to repair or replace 100 upstate bridges, raise the age at which juvenile offenders can be treated as adults and, as already reported, allow for the controlled use of medical marijuana.
In all, it was what New Yorkers expect from a State of the State speech, but seasoned with Cuomo’s fiscally conservative and socially liberal impulses. In that regard, it was a strong speech. Now, we’ll see what comes of it.