In his State-of-the-State speech Jan. 8, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting corporate and individual taxes, boosting tourism, slashing the cost of manufacturers to operate in the state, strengthening women's rights, fighting corruption in public service, and allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, Courtesy photo
In a State-of-the-State speech that mixed political grandstanding with charting a course for the future, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed borrowing billions of dollars to boost technology in schools, cutting an array of corporate and individual taxes, and strengthening anti-corruption and bribery laws.
He also called for legalizing limited medical uses of marijuana, granting bonuses of $20,000 for outstanding teachers, reducing the corporate tax rate to zero for upstate manufacturing businesses, and strengthening punishment for young drivers who text while driving. He also proposed a law that would permanently revoke a driver’s license after a third conviction for drunk driving.
Cuomo’s presentation, titled “Building on Success,” was apparently drafted to set the stage for his re-election campaign — about half his speech touted the achievements of his first term.
Cuomo: Tax cuts will boost prosperity
His tax cut proposals, announced earlier this week, total $2.2 billion. They are aimed at curbing an exodus of people and corporations — concerned about preserving their assets — from the state. He said that whether New Yorkers were wealthy or had modest incomes, they were taxed far too much.
Cuomo called for a two-year property-tax freeze for middle-class families, noting that municipal and school taxes, as a proportion of home value, are exceedingly high in upstate New York. In this plan, homeowners who live in municipalities that stay within the 2 percent tax cap will receive a rebate that equals any annual increase in taxes.
In addition, he proposed a property tax “circuit breaker” that would give low and modest-income homeowners a state income tax credit of $1,000 for those earning $120,000 or less. A similar tax credit would be extended to taxpayers whose income was $100,000 or less.
Also proposed was raising the threshold of the state’s estate tax, allowing citizens to pass more assets down to their heirs without taxes. Noting that thousands of New Yorkers now move to Florida so they can avoid estate taxes, he proposed raising New York’s estate tax threshold from $1 million to the current federal level of $5.5 million — and lowering the top tax rate to 10 percent.
For manufacturers, Cuomo suggested a zero percent corporate income tax rate for upstate enterprises and a 20 percent corporate property tax credit statewide — both to boost job creation and entice out-of-state and foreign firms to relocate in New York. He also suggested cutting the corporate franchise tax rate from 7.1 to 6.5 percent — and eliminating a utility surcharge tax of 2 percent to boost businesses’ competitive edge.
Education technology a top priority
In the realm of education, Cuomo proposed borrowing $2 billion for a Smart Schools initiative that would provide computer equipment including servers, wireless networking, digital teaching tools and administrative programs for school districts. It would also equip students with computer tablets and desktop consoles — as well as promoting broadband access throughout communities.
“The most effective long-term strategy is to have the best education system in the world — period!” he said.
Plan to extend pre-k, reward academic excellence
Cuomo also said full-day pre-kindergarten should be universal throughout New York, adding that the state should bankroll constructing the classrooms needed.
Also proposed was boosting the partnership between high schools, colleges, government and employers to prepare students for fulfilling technology careers in-state.
Cuomo also said that free tuition to SUNY colleges, 4-year or 2-year, should be extended to high school students who rank in the top 10 percent of their respective classes.
Expressing alarm about a downstate case of extreme religious harassment, Cuomo proposed requiring all schools to report incidences of harassment or bullying to a variety of authorities.
Initiatives eyed to increase tourism
Tourism is also to be a focus of economic development in the plan. Rather than requiring outdoor sports enthusiasts to carry separate various hunting, fishing, trapping and boating licenses — and a state parks pass — citizens could have them all appearing as icons on their drivers’ license.
Cuomo also announced his plan — without divulging details — to create 50 new “outdoor access projects” that would include building new boat launches, erecting hunting blinds and constructing new trails and parking areas.For the state parks, Cuomo calls for computer-automating the reservation, permit and park entry functions.
“Let’s redouble our tourism efforts, because in New York, seeing is believing,” he said. “Once people come here, they’re hooked.”
Also, he proposed erecting highway signs — coupled with smartphone apps — that direct people off Interstate routes to local cultural attractions.
“Our goal is to get tourists off the highways and into our communities to boost local commerce,” he said.
Cuomo also set a timetable for casino development plans upstate, calling for bids to be due in June, with sites and gaming operators to be announced by October.
Strategies to help upstate agriculture?
He also suggested holding an “Upstate-Downstate Food-to-Table Agriculture Summit” focused on linking upstate farms and producers with downstate consumers and markets. Following the success of last year’s yogurt summit and beer & wine summit, this new event is intended to identify strategies to boost the use and distribution of local food and beverages in schools and government agencies, increase access to produce in underserved communities, and combat hunger and malnutrition.
Biomass and solar initiatives planned
Also proposed was launching two programs: Renewable Heat NY and BuildSmart NY. The former calls for establishing incentives to encourage municipalities, homeowners and enterprises to heat with biomass fuels including low-grade wood products. The latter is to encourage solar heating by offering incentives for entire neighborhoods adjacent to an existing solar installation to go green. Cuomo said that adopting biomass and solar heat would keep more money recirculating in the state.
Infrastructure reconstruction proposed
Concerned about the vulnerability of the state’s infrastructure to the recent emergence of violent, destructive storms, Cuomo proposed embarking on a major $17 billion project to reconstruct and upgrade bridges, subway tunnels railways and utility installations to make them withstand such events — and help communities be adequately prepared. The “Re-imagining New York for a New Reality” program would also help individuals, businesses and communities recover from past storm events, boost emergency preparedness and response capabilities, as well as construct coastal protection barriers, flood-proof vehicle tunnels and major utility infrastructure.
A sum of $7.1 billion would go toward rebuilding 100 bridges that were either damaged by the storms of recent years, or upgrade those vulnerable to future storms. Five of these bridges are in the Adirondack Park.
“This will be the largest reconstruction project the state has ever undertaken,” he said, noting the Rebuild NY initiative would be underwritten by federal money.
Also proposed was developing a new SUNY College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security & Cybersecurity — the first in the nation — as well as launching a community-based Citizen First Responder Corps.
Public safety initiatives proposed
Noting that texting-while-driving is the leading cause of death for teen drivers, Cuomo proposed doubling the time licenses are suspended for drivers under age 21 convicted of such offenses. Also, he proposed a permanent license revocation for all drivers convicted of three or more alcohol- or drug-related offenses.
With an intent to increase focus on rehabilitation, Cuomo also proposed to raise the age from 16 to 18 at which youth are tried in court as adults, rather than as juveniles.
Affordable housing, curbing corruption, jobs for veterans
Cuomo also called for tougher anti-corruption laws for public officials and lobbyists, with increased consequences. Under his plan, public officials convicted of public corruption felonies or defrauding the government would be banned from holding any elected or civil office, serving as a registered lobbyist, or doing business with the state.
Also proposed was a program to grow businesses owned by disabled veterans — and another to aid former convicts get re-established in society with decent housing and employment.
Cuomo also pledged to boost his existing $1 billion affordable housing construction program by $100 million.
“Every New Yorker deserves a safe, clean, decent place to live,” he said.
Protecting, enhancing women’s rights also a concern
With a call to resume New York’s leadership in equality for women, Cuomo proposed stiffened penalties for employers paying men and women differently, prohibiting retaliation against employees who share wage information, and not allowing employers to deny employment or promotions to women who have children. He also is seeking to require reasonable workplace accommodation for pregnant women who are encountering complications.
“We must stop playing politics with women’s rights and pass the Women’s Equality Act this year,” he said.
Other initiatives in Cuomo’s plan include protecting the rights — and fighting the victimization — of individuals with disabilities, instituting measures to curb human trafficking, promote organ donation, and undertaking major renovations to JFK and LaGuardia airports.