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Coronavirus, state deficit dominate State of the State address

Cuomo’s update

AP Photo New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol on Monday in Albany.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes better days are ahead for New Yorkers, but admits the challenges the state faces are bigger than ever.

On Monday, Cuomo gave his State of the State address. The address lasted 45 minutes and focused on seven topics: defeating COVID-19; vaccinating 70-90 of New York residents; managing the short-term economic crisis; investing in the future; make New York a global leader in green energy; understand the long-term effects of COVID; and address systemic injustices.

Cuomo noted how normally the State of the State is given in Albany’s Convention Center in a single day with many other political leaders in attendance. This year, Cuomo gave his address to a small group in the War Room in the state Capitol. He also said he plans on giving three additional presentations.

The coronavirus was the main focus on the State of the State and how it impacted New Yorkers. Cuomo, a Democrat, was critical of the federal government under President Trump’s leadership.

“Despite the experience of SARS 17 years ago, MERS and Ebola 6 years ago, and several Dengue outbreaks in the last few years, this country couldn’t even produce something as simple as enough nasal swabs. Our laboratories were unprepared and our hospital systems had no ability to manage the surge,” he said. “The federal government did not effectively screen visitors at the nation’s gateways here in New York. And it still doesn’t. Our nurses and doctors were heroic, but our country couldn’t provide them with enough masks and gowns. It was like sending soldiers into battle without bullets.”

Cuomo called on the federal government to increase production of the vaccine. “Today, we have about 1 million doses for over 4 million eligible people. We only receive 300,000 doses per week from the federal government. At this rate, it will take us 14 weeks just to receive enough dosages for those currently eligible,” he said.

He also called on the federal government to assist the state as it is facing a $15 billion deficit, adding that New York pays more into the federal government than any other state in the union. “This is a national challenge. It is a war, and like every war before, it must be financed by Washington. If the federal government needs revenue it should raise income taxes on the wealthy to finance the state’s resurgence from this national devastation,” he said.

Cuomo insisted the state cannot handle the $15 billion deficit on its own with taxes on the wealthy and cuts to public employees and schools. “If we raised taxes to the highest income tax rate in the nation on all income over $1 million, we would only raise $1.5 billion. Postponing our important tax cut for the struggling middle class would save $500 million. Freezing labor contracts on our hard working public employees would save $1 billion. If we cut education funding for our children 20% we would save $5.2 billion. Even after all of that pain, we would still need billions in cuts to health care in the middle of a pandemic and we would need to borrow billions at the cost of future generations,” he said.

To raise more money, Cuomo is proposing to legalize marijuana, which is legal in 15 states and Canada. He also is proposing state sponsored mobile sports betting to raise additional funding.

He offered no specifics on how much money he hopes will be generated by either legalized marijuana nor mobile sports betting.

In terms of police reforms, last summer Cuomo issued Executive Order 203 directing municipalities to reinvent and modernize police strategies and programs. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force and that plan needs to be certified by the local government. Those plans are due April 1 or the state will refuse to fund them.

He gave a shout out Monday to one area municipality’s work. “Salamanca has the distinction of being the first locality to complete and pass a new plan,” he said.

Before Monday’s address, Cuomo issued seven proposals that he is planning on for 2021. Along with legalization of marijuana and online sports betting, other proposals included: a comprehensive package to combat domestic and gender-based violence; extending moratorium on commercial evictions until May 1 and prohibit residential rent late fees and penalties; overhaul county election administration; expand telehealth for all New Yorkers; modify the Office of Professional Medical Conduct; provide nurses priority access to CUNY and SUNY programs; prohibit utility disconnections during emergencies; and extend the High Line in Manhattan to give pedestrians access to the recently opened Moynihan Train Hall.

Following Cuomo’s address, state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, who was born in Jamestown and attended Pine Valley School District, issued his party’s response.

“Our problems started long before COVID and they aren’t the fault of anyone else, including the federal government – they are the direct result of bad state policies,” he said. “They are the direct result of a governor who is only consumed with his own power and publicity, while everything he touches is corrupted, mismanaged or destroyed.”

Langworthy criticized Cuomo for his order that forced nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients and prohibited testing led to the deaths of more than 12,000 elderly New Yorkers. “He was the only governor in America who adopted that combination of deadly policies,” he said.

Langworthy criticized Cuomo for his apparent political struggle with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, shutting down indoor dining even though the transmission rate is 1.4%; and for New York having the slowest economic recovery in the nation.

“New York’s economy was on its knees before COVID – now it is in a full-blown death spiral,” Langworthy said. “New York doesn’t have a revenue problem – we have a tax and spend problem.”

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