Gov. Andrew Cuomo shakes hands with North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas gollowing his budget address at Plattsburgh State University College Feb. 3.
The past year has brought tremendous and historic change in Albany and New York state, says Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“It is that we made a conscious decision to put politics aside,” said Cuomo, speaking to a crowd of more than 400 at Plattsburgh State on Feb. 3. “We are New Yorkers first. We are here to represent the people. Let’s find commonality and compromise.”
A lot was accomplished in Albany, he said. But it was a long year.
“It was also a highly successful year.”
Last year, lawmakers closed a $10 billion budget deficit without resorting to new taxes or borrowing.
Albany enacted the first ever property-tax cap, provided flood relief, passed ethics reforms and more.
“Last year, New Yorkers were hurting,” Cuomo said. “This economic recession has wreaked havoc on people’s lives.”
Albany was filled with scandal and was ineffective, he said.
“When citizens don’t trust in their government, their government is powerless,” Cuomo said. “That’s where we started a year ago.”
But lawmakers chose to change the culture of Albany and put people first.
Last year’s session was productive and historic, Cuomo said. New York led the nation when it passed marriage equality for all New Yorkers, and the middle class paid the lowest tax rate in 58 years.
“We’ve only just begun, and now is the time to really get to work,” Cuomo said.
His executive budget closes the current $2 billion deficit with no new taxes or new fees. It proposes sweeping mandate relief and pension reform and launches historic education reform, putting students ahead of the bureaucracy.
The budget further lays the foundation for an innovative $25 billion economic development agenda, funded largely by leveraging billions in private sector investment rather than by taxpayer dollars.
“New York must stay ahead of the competition,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo spoke of building the largest convention center in the nation, pushing New York up from its 12th-place ranking.
“New York should be first in the nation.”
He suggested a second round of regional economic development awards.
“You really have to develop that regional economy and come up with one comprehensive vision for the region.”
His budget includes a new round of $200 million in competitive resources for the Governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils.
Cuomo said in a perfect world he likely would not support casino gaming. But it is not perfect and New York is already in the casino business.
“Let’s amend the constitution so we can do the same types of activities we are doing now and maximize the jobs and profits for New Yorkers.”
The governor said one of his main priorities was education.
“Public education is big business in New York.”
And everyone has a high priced lobbyist, he said, except students.
“Well, this year that is going to change.”
Cuomo said he will become that lobbyist.
“We have a crisis in education,” he said. “It has become more about the business interests than that students interests.”
New York spends the most on education yet is ranked 38 in terms of graduation rates.
“The answer isn’t more money,” Cuomo said. “We need to focus on what is actually working for our kids. We need to focus on the performance of the education system.”
He reiterated his Feb. 16 deadline for a new evaluation system for principals and teachers or he would put one in place himself.
“We have an ambitious agenda,” Cuomo said. “It is major reform and a controversial agenda.”
Change is hard, the governor said.
“Change really comes when you make it happen,” he said. “I need you to help make this change possible. Democracy works when the people engage.”