A stately plan for NY

Cuomo pushes plans to help upstate

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers one of his State of the State addresses in New York's One World Trade Center building, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. New York state must stand as an alternative to the policies and pronouncements of President-elect Donald Trump and show the nation progressive achievements, racial and religious tolerance and that big investments in education and infrastructure can create a dynamic economy that works for all, Cuomo said Monday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The push for a free college education, lower property taxes and safe drinking water highlighted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s address Monday in Buffalo.

Cuomo also touched on proposals for ride-sharing services in the region, which he said should be embraced, and more investments to Western New York’s tourism sector.

Standing in front of local leaders and the public, Cuomo said providing free college tuition will be one of the biggest matters entering 2017 legislative session. Many years ago, Cuomo said a high school education and a diploma were needed to obtain a job. If a person went to high school and worked hard, they had the ability to work their way up the ladder to support their families.

But Cuomo said that’s not the truth anymore as 3.5 million middle-class jobs require a college education to compete. Cuomo said many companies went overseas to get cheap labor and are coming back as they desire an educated workforce.

Under his proposal, students in families that make $125,000 or less would receive tuition assistance to attend a public institution, two or four years, for free.

Cuomo has said the initiative will work by leveraging the state’s generous aid programs.

In Western New York, Cuomo said 85 percent of families would qualify for tuition-free public college. Calling it a game changer, Cuomo said it doesn’t matter if mom or dad can’t pay.

“Everyone should have a college education. One problem, it’s expensive and no one can afford it. They can’t afford the debt, which is staggering,” Cuomo said. “That’s why I want to lead the nation on this proposal. The way we pay for high school, we should say the day has come where we will now pay for college and let New York have the most educated workforce in the country.”

Lowering taxes will remain a focus this year with many people in Upstate counties paying some the highest property taxes in the nation. In terms of home value, Chautauqua County was listed in Cuomo’s presentation as the eighth highest in property taxes paid.

The enactment of a 2 percent property tax cap has saved the state $1.6 billion in Western New York and the typical homeowner $2,100, but Cuomo acknowledged property taxes must decrease further.

“We want to have local governments find efficiencies that families have had to find (with their budgets),” Cuomo said. “It’s time government is as responsible as families of Western New York have to be.”

Public water systems will be another area of focus for the governor as he noted old infrastructure is bringing health hazards. Cuomo detailed a $2 billion investment that he’d like to make to fund state-of-the-art drinking systems that filter out potential chemicals. The investment also focuses on improvements to wastewater treatment systems. The investment could benefit the project to sewer around Chautauqua Lake. County officials continue their work to secure funding for the project.

Twenty regional proposals were outlined by the governor — many of which dealt with projects in the Buffalo area. Chautauqua County wasn’t left out however, as the governor noted a $2.5 million investment to help the city of Jamestown regain economic stability and $5 million to help the National Comedy Center project close a gap in funding.

The governor’s also looking to replicate the downtown revitalization initiative that saw Jamestown receiving $10 million last year. This time around, the governor’s initiative will look to assist 20 suburban areas including the villages of Fredonia and Lakewood. It’s unclear at this point how much the two villages would receive if the proposal gets included in this year’s state budget.

Cuomo said the state has just under 8 million private sector jobs, which is more than the state has ever seen. In Western New York, 23,900 new jobs were created since 2010. The governor also noted spending was brought down from 11 percent from former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s time in office to 1.4 percent.

Cuomo also noted Upstate is now a focus in New York and not just New York City.

“That’s where most elected officials are from, and it’s the single largest population density in the state. I understand, but Upstate New York actually has greater needs than downstate,” he said.