EVER UPWARDS: Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, by turns optimistic and cautionary, included proposals to legalize the adult use of marijuana and investments in mass transit and parks. 

Revisiting several policy points he raised in 2019, Governor Cuomo in his Jan. 8 State of the State address assured constituents that New York was sturdier than it has been in decades. But he also cautioned that the state faces acute challenges, most notably a looming budget deficit.

By turns optimistic and cautionary, the Governor mapped out what he called a “pragmatic progressive” vision for the state, advancing New York as a beacon, even, he said, as the nation continues on a “downward spiral.”

Money Issues

“Our ship of state is stronger than it has been in decades. But the ocean we navigate is as tempest-tossed as we have seen,” buffeted by “waves of anxiety, injustice and frustration” whose origins, he intimated, were carried forth by the Trump Administration.

The Governor’s metaphor-laden address was as much a panoramic overview of the state’s fortunes as a call to caution, particularly as it faces a budget deficit he said had reached $6 billion (some estimates suggest the deficit could climb to $8.3 billion within a few years). Most of the shortfall is attributable to increased Medicaid costs. Local governments, he hinted, would begin paying for some of those expenditures.

Some of that deficit could be addressed by legalizing adult use of marijuana, an initiative that fell short of full-throated support last year. Although Mr. Cuomo advanced the proposal as a “social progress” issue, annual tax revenue from legalization is estimated at $300 million.

But with the Legislature now reconvened, the Governor will also have to confront growing calls to revisit broad changes in bail rules he signed into law as part of the budget deal last year, but which he said earlier in the week should be reconsidered.

Progressive Not Done

Progressive Legislators, emboldened by the litany of criminal-justice reforms they succeeded in enacting last year, are likely to resist any changes. In fact, they are likely to push for further reforms, including a loosening of a section of State Civil Rights law that precludes the public release of uniformed officers’ personnel records. That effort could further test the relationship between Mr. Cuomo and the ascendant progressive wing of state Democrats, a rapport that turned turbulent on occasion last year.

Perhaps in a bid to head off any further leftward drift, the Governor spoke the word “progressive” upward of two dozen times during his address. But he was unambiguous in qualifying the term—and a governing philosophy refined by his father, Mario, during his three terms in the job.  

“Progressive government by definition must be functional,” he said. “Progressive government does not raise hopes and dreams only to leave them dashed on the rocks of reality. Progressive government does not make promises it cannot fulfill, it does not advocate for proposals that it's not sure can work and it does not launch a mission it fails to complete.”

Protecting Gig Workers

Most of the proposals Mr. Cuomo delineated bullet-point-style were filled out in an accompanying State of the State book, and they will be further detailed in his executive budget, which will be released later this month.

Among those sure to bear scrutiny will be his pledge to secure protections for gig workers, who, he said, are too often exploited and scammed.

“This year, more than 40 percent of the workforce will be in jobs related to the so-called gig economy. It's an economy which has spurred growth and many innovations, but it's an economy where too many workers are excluded from the progress of fair pay and independent contractors,” he said. “Too many corporations are increasing their profits at the expense of the employee and the taxpayer, and that must end.”

Those remarks drew praise from the president of the State AFL-CIO, Mario Cilento, who thanked Mr. Cuomo for “once again standing up for working people.”

“I applaud the governor for his commitment to ensure gig economy workers are treated equally and fairly,” Mr. Cilento said in a press release soon after the address.

He said he looked forward to working with Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers to draw up and pass legislation that ensures “rights and protections” for gig workers.  

More Mass Transit, Parks

Given the state’s uncertain immediate fiscal future, the Governor outlined few initiatives that would require public investment. He did call for financing more mass transit, including upstate airports, and plugged his recently announced plan to unite a refurbished Penn Station with the soon-to-be completed Moynihan Train Hall across Eighth Avenue and new terminals on land to be acquired just south of Penn Station.

He also called for the completion of Hudson River Park, plans that received a boost earlier this month following his announcement setting in motion the transfer of the NYPD’s tow pound at Pier 76, on the level of West 36th St.

He said he would like to see Buffalo's waterfront revitalized, the Erie Canal redeveloped and for a makeover of a portion of the South Bronx to conclude. 

Mr. Cuomo, 62 and the longest-serving current Governor in the U.S., last spring said he would run for a fourth term in 2022. He could yet be the state’s chief executive when each of those projects are completed.

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