Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his fourth State of the State address on Wednesday and it will be interesting to observe how he structures the speech.
In the past, he has offered the microphone to the leaders of the Assembly and Senate, but that was before Cuomo empaneled a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in Albany, including the Legislature. Lawmakers don’t want anyone looking into how they conduct the public’s business or what outside sources of income they have.
In addition, this is an election year for the governor and all legislators, some of whom are running scared because of the SAFE Act. In truth, legislators ought to be embracing it, given polls that show most New Yorkers strongly favor the gun control law passed in the aftermath of the 2012 tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
Cuomo made a well-publicized tack to the left in 2013 after two years in which he won support from the Legislature’s Republicans. In his re-election year, he has already signaled some more conservative measures, though, in truth, he never dropped them, even as he embraced traditionally Democratic constituencies.
For example, Cuomo announced several months ago that he would be making significant proposals on dealing with failing school districts in the state.
Based on Cuomo’s approach to other difficult issues, we expect this program to be significant and provocative. It will have to be judged on its own merits, of course, but it’s safe to say that significant and provocative are necessary components of any serious plan meant to deal with a problem as intractable as New York’s failing schools, including Buffalo’s.
Bruised feelings in the Legislature notwithstanding, we also expect Cuomo to reaffirm his stance on cleaning up Albany. Reforms to laws governing ethics and campaign finance need to be enacted. They should include rules requiring the disclosure of outside income, regardless of objections by the Legislature’s practicing attorneys (read: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate leader Dean Skelos).
And on that subject, if Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, hasn’t either resigned or responded to the allegations of sexual harassment against current and former female staffers, Cuomo should call him out and demand his exit from the Assembly before the day’s end.
With Wall Street roaring, state coffers are once again full, prompting Cuomo to promise tax relief in the nation’s highest-taxed state. Although much of his proposal won’t kick in this year, efforts to help property owners and businesses are long overdue. One important caveat, though: A freeze on property taxes and cuts in other taxes can’t come at the expense of the most desperate New Yorkers, including the families of children with severe disabilities.
Western New Yorkers will also want to hear more about the Buffalo Billion – the slug of money Cuomo has set aside to reignite the regional economy. With exciting plans for Canalside and the outer harbor already taking shape, it will be important to hear how those plans will be advanced and to hear what new developments may be planned.
There are many other areas on which Cuomo may comment, including the environment and hydraulic fracturing. But he also needs to repeat his commitment to reforming the criminal justice system to diminish the chances of wrongful conviction, a scourge that threatens to erode public confidence in the system.
To a great extent, a State of the State speech may simply be a wish list, but it’s more than that, too. It’s a window into the mind, or at least the strategy, of the governor. In an election year, that’s an especially valuable benefit.