New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2014 State of the State Speech
Thank you. Thank you, thank you very much and Happy New Year to all of you. First let’s start by giving Pat a big round of applause for coming up and sharing his story. And Abbey thank you very much and thank you for what you do teaching our students. Let’s give Abbey a round of applause. To the great master of ceremonies for today, an outstanding Lieutenant Governor, a great public servant, he has been all over the state for three years; nobody works harder or better than Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy. Let’s give him a round of applause. Our great Comptroller and former member of the New York State legislature, Tom DiNapoli, a pleasure to be with you. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who is doing a fantastic job for the State of New York, a pleasure to be with you Attorney General. They were introduced already, but I cannot over emphasize the cooperation the partnership of the legislative leaders, we have had a great three years. It would not have happened if these individuals did not do what they did individually and work together the way they did and as a personal point of privilege, I want to thank them for their kindness that they have shown me. Senate Leader Dean Skelos, Speaker Sheldon Silver, Independent Leader Jeff Klein. We are also pleased to be joined by Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Senate Minority Leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a pleasure to be with you. To the members of the court, Chief Judge thank you, members of the court thank you very much for being with us and thank you for your good service. To Governor David Patterson, number 55, let’s give him another round of applause. Thank him for his good service. And again Happy New Year to all of you, I think it is going to be a year that is going to be a banner year for the State of New York and that is what I would like to speak to you about today, where we go in 2014. But there is an old saying, that before you don’t really know where you are going, until you know where you have been. And we should start this year with a look back when we first joined in this hall three years ago.
The State of New York was in trouble and New York State government was literally a joke at that time on late night TV. It was about scandals, it was about indictments, it was about dysfunction. But even worse this was not about a momentary lapse. These were fundamental structural problems that had been going on and growing for a long time and were now coming home to roust. It started with the simple fact that the state spent too much money. The state spent more money than the people in this state earned. And it did it not just for one or two years but it literally did it for over sixty years. And if you spend a lot then you are going to have to tax a lot. And we taxed a lot. And as a result our taxes had become the highest in the nation and we were paying a price for those high taxes. People in businesses were leaving the state. On top of that, for decades, Albany had become a poster child for gridlock. Long before Washington D.C. put gridlock on the front pages, the story in Albany was gridlock. And it always happened at the time of the budget. Why? Because that is where the money is and it was late over a thirty year period for twenty three years we had a late budget. The average late budget was fifty days.
New York State had lost its way. We were spending more money and we were actually getting less results for the people who we were supposed to be serving in the first place, because the government had become more concerned with special interests and their contributions than the people and their problems. And these governmental failures were not in an abstract, it wasn’t just in the government course. They had real negative effects and the people of the state were suffering. 852,000 people unemployed, the largest number since the great depression. Property taxes, the highest in the country. Upstate New York was in free fall. We were on the precipice of an abyss. The state’s future was hanging in the balance, literally. And the cynics and the naysayers said that we were too far gone. And there was no way we were going to turn the ship of state around. But we knew that fortune favors the bold and that New Yorkers if anyone know how to beat the odds. We set our sights high; we said we were going to restore our economic opportunity to the state of New York. We said we were going to replace dysfunction with results. That we were going to put people before politics and we were going to reestablish New York of the progressive leader of the nation once again. We stopped talking and we started doing. And in three years my friends, you have reversed decades of decline and made dramatic and undeniable progress. For the first time in modern political history the state has real fiscal discipline, we have held spending to 2%. For the first time in forty years, spending is below the rate of inflation and below the rate of growth of personal income. And because we spent less, we could tax less and we did. Every New Yorker pays less income taxes today than the day they did three years ago when we started this journey.
We now have the lowest middle class rate in over sixty years and we don’t have just lower tax rates, we have a fairer tax code. We went from a flat tax in the State of New York, where everyone paid the same income rate, regardless of how much income they earned to a graduated rate which is much more fair for the people of this state. After twenty years of trying we passed the state’s first property tax cap. And for the first time in thirty years, we broke the gridlock that had plagued Albany and we passed three on time budgets in a row. After years of false starts we instituted a real teacher evaluation process that focuses on performance rather than merely growing the bureaucracy. After thirty years of talking we passed casino gaming which will bring a new economic future to parts of this state that have been suffering for too long. After decades of conflicts, we renewed our spirit of partnership with the Indian nations across this state and let’s take a moment to recognize the nation representative Ray Halberdier from the Oneida nation of New York. Ron La France of the Saint Regis Mohawk, Beverly Cook of Saint Regis Mohawk and Mike Kimelburgh of the Seneca nation. Thank you and thank you for being with us today, thank you.
We said we would make New York Safer and we did. We passed common sense gun reform with the New York SAFE Act. We established an all crimes DNA database. We enacted tough new texting while driving laws. We said we would make New York Healthier and we did. We provided health insurance to more than 265,000 New Yorkers through our health exchange and it worked and it worked well. We said we would make New York cleaner and we did, opening a $1 billion Green Bank and adding more money to the environmental protection fund. We said we would make New York smarter and we did. We expanded full day Pre-K, incentivized performance through master teachers and launched SUNY and CUNY 2020. We said we would make New York fairer and we did. We raised the minimum wage, we closed juvenile justice facilities, we opened the justice center and we passed marriage equality.
The proof is in the pudding and the arrows are pointing up, we added 380,000 new private sector jobs since 2010. New York is now ranked number two in the nation in number of jobs created since the recession and today as we sit here we have more private sector jobs in the state of New York than ever before in the history of the state of New York. Exports are up 15% our ratings are up from all three agencies at a time when the rating agencies are downgrading governments all across this country. All three rating agencies have a positive outlook for the state of New York. And because jobs and exports and our ratings are up unemployment is down in every region of the state of New York. We have given New Yorkers a government that costs less, taxes less and actually does more for the people who are in need.
The progress is not just in the numbers. You can feel it in every region in our state. In the lower Hudson they will tell you about the New New York Bridge that is rising after 20 years of talking and in Utica they will talk to you about the new future of nanotechnology. Even the two regions of the state that needed the most help three years ago, Western New York and the North Country; they are different places in just three years. Western New York is in the midst of an exciting transition. The republic steel plant that closed in 1984 which was the symbol of the low point of Buffalo today is the same site where RiverBend is rising. A new R&D clean energy plant that is going to provide hundreds of jobs in Buffalo. There are even sightings in the Buffalo sky of a species long thought to be extinct in Buffalo, cranes. They are flying once again in the Buffalo sky. Buffalo News editorial, from this past New Year’s Eve, couldn’t have said it any better. “In Buffalo for decades the norm has been a glum acceptance that we live in a second rate city with a fourth rate economy and there was nothing to do about it but moan. Over the course of a year or so the pale has lifted and Western New York is starting to regain confidence in their city and the direction in which it was headed, it qualifies as the story of the year, maybe the story of the decade.” Congratulations to Mayor Bryon Brown, congratulations to County Executive Poloncarz to Howard Zemsky to Satish Tripathi who have done great work. In the North Country it is the same thing, the North Country was long ignored by Albany but there is a new economic live that Trudeau Institute is an emerging world class biotech hub, there is going to be a new hotel on Saranac Lake. Bombardier state of the art railcar facility in Plattsburgh is going great guns. The North Country has a new future. And let’s give them a round of applause for their turn around.
Three years ago, the Capitol was literally and figuratively crumbling. Today it is shining brighter than it has in decades, you cut that ribbon on that new Capitol and you should be proud. We did what we said we would do and as elected officials there is no statement that makes you prouder to say when you can look at the people of this state and say we did what we said we would do, we changed the direction of this state for the better and we have and congratulations to all of you and let’s take a moment to recognize once again, Senate Majority coalition leader Dean Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Jeff Klein. Please stand gentleman so we can give you a round of applause.
Now we have much more to do, but we are energized by a new strength, a new pride and a new confidence. And let us build on that record of success. For New York State, job one is jobs. Our statewide job growth strategy starts with a top-down reducing tax theory our financial restructuring of the state has actually paid off. When we were here three years ago, we were looking at a $10 billion deficit, it was historic. And it made us all quake in our boots. I know it did for me. We have gone from a $10 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus in just three short years. This year within the two percent spending cap, we can increase our investments in education, healthcare, economic development and still provide more tax relief. We empaneled a bipartisan Pataki-McCall tax relief commission which did good work; they made the basic point that the state has no economic future as the tax capital of the nation. People move and businesses flee. So let’s continue to make our state more competitive, let’s cut more burdensome business taxes, New York’s corporate tax rate is currently 7.1%, let’s cut it to 6.5%, which would be the lowest corporate rate since 1968 and really send a strong signal to business saying this is a different day and we are doing it a different way. Let’s pass a manufacturers tax credit for 20% of the firms property tax liability. New Yorker is one of only fifteen states an estate tax and our exemption levels are among the lowest and our rates are among the highest. Let’s eliminate the “move to die tax” were people literally leave our state, move to another state to do estate planning. We propose raising New York’s state tax threshold and lowering the rate to put it into line with other states. We also need a renter’s tax credit which would help New Yorkers afford the ever increasing housing costs that they are experiencing. And a Circuit breaker which is a property tax credit to help low and middle income New Yorkers based on their ability to pay.
The Pataki-McCall Commission recommended a freeze on property taxes for two years to help home owners and to incentivize local governments to reduce costs. A property tax freeze, but only if two important conditions are met. Year one, the locality stays within the two percent cap and in year two the locality takes concrete steps to reduce their costs through shared services and or consolidation. Because while we are reducing taxes my friends we also have to tackle a major structural problem which is the proliferation and expense of local governments. The main tax burden in New York State is not the income tax, it is the property tax. We raise about $40 billion per year from the income tax and we raise $50 billion from the property tax. And that is the tax you will hear New Yorkers complaining about from one end of the state to the other. As a matter of fact no matter how you look at it, New Yorkers don’t just pay a high property tax; they pay the highest property tax in the United States of America. Literally, the highest property tax in the country is in Westchester County in absolute dollars. When you look at by percentage of home value, the highest costs are in upstate New York, literally in the country. So why are our property taxes so high? Because we have too many local governments and we have had them for too long.
10,500 local governments, these are towns, villages, fire district, water district, library, sewage district, one district just to count the other districts in case you missed a district. We have a proliferation of government that is exceedingly expensive and costly. Now the state has been very aggressive in trying to alleviate the burden from local governments. We have assumed more local costs than the state government has ever done in modern political history. We assumed a $1.2 billion cost of the Medicaid growth. We are funding $700 million in aid to localities, the Tier VI pension reforms makes a major difference for local governments. We also offered local governments that are functionally insolvent financial assistance if they worked with our financial restructuring board. When I was Attorney General, first of all I looked much younger when I was Attorney General. We actually passed a law that made consolidations easier for local governments. Since we passed that law how many local governments have actually consolidated? Tom Libous gets it, two.
It is time to stop making excuse it is time to start making progress if the locality wants the state property tax credit it must perform. We have seen that linking state funding to performance works. Remember when we did the teacher evaluations the first year and we asked every district to complete teacher evaluations we basically had no compliance. Year two we linked the teacher evaluations system to a four percent increase in education and we had near unanimous approval we believe that linking the assistance to performance is going to make a difference. And there is a ray of hope because there are local leaders who are stepping up to the plate and I would like to take a moment to recognize the great Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and the Mayor of Syracuse Stephanie Miner who are working together. They are working together to see if they can achieve consolidation and shared services between Onondaga county and the city of Syracuse. We wish them well and we hope other leaders follow their example because that is exactly the right course. Thank you very much County Executive and thank you Mayor.
Second we need to eliminate the regulatory barriers we all agree eliminate any regulatory barriers that we can that are barriers to business growth. We have talked about it for many years; the Senate has held hearings the Assembly has held hearings. Let’s join together and create a join commission do it together and lets pledge to stop talking about it and actually get it done this session, drop the regulatory barriers that are stopping businesses from growing in this state.
Third we have to rebuild our infrastructure because we need a 21st century infrastructure to build on. Our airports are the gateways to New York for nearly 50 million people a year. Vice President Biden was here yesterday talking about how countries all around the globe are developing their airports with sophistication and hospitality suites. Even our nation is doing a good job overall and updating its airports. Unfortunately that state of New York has fallen behind. LaGuardia airport is ranked as the worst airport in America believe it or not. That is a disgrace my friends and it is unacceptable and it is going to change. We need to modernize JFK and LaGuardia; we have talked about it for too long. We will assume management responsibility from the port authority for construction at JFK and LaGuardia airports. We will do what we did with the Tappan Zee Bridge; we are going to step in stop talking about it. Get the government to work and we are going to redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago and make us proud of that gateway once again.
We are going to expedite the building of our energy super highway; we still have a problem getting low cost clean renewable power up from downstate to upstate which is costing rate payers $600 million a year. It can take up to two years believe it or not to get a new transmission project approved and some of the proposed projects are causing concerns by expanding into local communities. Let’s incentivize smart projects that locate within state owned or existing transmission right of ways so that they are not interfering or spreading into local communities and lets offer those smart projects and expedited approval process which will cut the time from two years to ten months if they do it smart. It is a win-win for upstate which needs the economic growth and its rate payers for downstate New York.
The second part of our economic development strategy has been a bottom-up approach through regional collaborations. Our regional economic development councils are working, they are the core of our jobs agenda, the proof is in the pudding and it is all across the state. Let’s do another round of the REDC’s, a fourth round because let’s build on what is working in this state. And working with local communities on a regional basis is working and we have to do more of it. Last year we launched Start-Up New York, there is nothing like it in this country. It makes New York the least expensive place in the United States to locate a business. It took our reputation of high taxes and antibusiness and flipped it 180 degrees with passing just one program. Businesses nationwide are already expressing interest in Start-Up New York; we want to take it to the next step and let’s start to globally market Start-Up New York because I believe we can literally have companies coming from overseas to this state because of the Start-Up New York program and if we market it, that will happen. We want to hold and international conference at the Javits Center to introduce executives from overseas to the Start-Up New York program and all the assets and beauty that this state has to offer. I also want to recognize at this time, Mr. John Mack, who is the former CEO and Chairman of the Board at Morgan Stanley he is a great financial mind, he is a leader in the business community and he has, John Mack has been generous in volunteering to the state on financial matters at large but also to help market the Start-Up New York program and his credibility is a tremendous asset when marketing New York and marketing Start-Up New York. Let’s give him a round of applause, Mr. John Mack.
Three years ago we said we would focus on Upstate New York, why? Because the Upstate economy lags not just the New York City economy, not just the rest of New York State, but it lags nationwide. Literally over a ten year period when the nation was growing at 9%, upstate New York was growing at just about half the rate of the country. And this is a problem frankly my friends that we ignored for too long and upstate New York then entered a downward cycle. Where they lost economic power which caused a depopulation of the area which caused the loss of political power which caused the loss of governmental help which then caused more economic power to be lost. And upstate New York has been in that cycle not for one year, not for two years, for ten, twenty, thirty years. The notable exception was quite frankly in the Capital district and Nanoscale where the state made a significant contribution and with some real talent from Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, literally generated an entire industry, but it shows what the state could do when the state invested but the state, besides the Capital district in many ways forgot the rest of upstate New York and we said we were going to change that and reverse it and we did and it is already paying dividends and we want to do it again and we want to start it with taxes.
Let’s go to the upstate manufacturers because we need manufacturing jobs in upstate New York and let’s cut the corporate tax in upstate New York to zero all across upstate New York, period. Why, because you cannot beat zero my friends and it is a competition we have taken our tourism efforts to a new level, so far we invested $40 million in our marketing campaign. And our investment is paying off; tourism spending is up year to year, $4 billion, believe it or not. It is twice the national rate of growth, tourism jobs increased by 25,000 which is also twice the national rate of growth. We want to redouble our tourism efforts we need the activity in upstate New York. And in upstate New York seeing is believing. If they visit, they will visit again, if they visit they enjoy it, it is just a matter of exposure because once they come, they are hooked.
We propose one stop shop licensing a new New York State venture license to help promote tourism. Where you can go to one portal, the department of motor vehicles and you can apply for all of your licenses and they will literally be presented on your motor vehicle license rather than having to deal with a lot of agencies and carry a lot of paper. That happens to be our commissioner for the Department of Motor Vehicles Barbra Fiala who is doing a good job; it is a pleasure to recognize her. I did not know that Barbra was a trapper and a muzzleloader however but even better. Let’s give her another round of applause. On this quest the state will open up fifty previously closed state owned lands so there will be more opportunities for hunting, fishing and boating for both in state people and tourists who come from out of state.
We are going to launch a whole new signage campaign on our roads, promoting the assets of New York, organized into three campaigns. The path through history campaign, the I love New York attraction campaign and the taste of New York Food and Beverages. You will see these signs on the roads literally in the next few days. These campaigns link online to all those attractions in that particular area, all along the thruway and all along major routes. The goal is to get people who are on the roads off the roads and into communities and fostering and promoting the economy of the state of New York.
Last year I invited some of you to participate in the Adirondack Challenge at this speech, at this time. Most of you accepted the challenge. We had the new guys, who came proudly. WE had the tough guys who came. We had Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who actually made a guest appearance. We had the Thelma and Louis’s raft, which was a highly competitive one. We had the odd couple raft and we had the city slicker raft. We had the master rafters, or at least people who thought they were master rafters. That is embarrassing Larry. But two important people were missing and we put out an all point s bulletin because we were very concerned when they weren’t there. We expected them to be there, we were hoping that they would be there. We were sure they were there and therefore when they weren’t there we were very concerned and did what we were expected to do. We were later happy when we found out they were at least okay and in a new spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation and taking it to new heights. Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Leader Dean Skelos, since we know that something pressing must have come up because they would never just on a random fluke miss a pressing competition, we are giving them a second chance and a second challenge this year it is the 2014 bass master classic. It is the governor’s challenge, it is August 21st, it will be held on Owasko Lake. I once again hope that Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver and Jeff Klein are there for the competition it will be all in good sport but I hope that they are there and you are all invited. Let’s have some fun and promote some tourism. I will see you there.
Our casino plan is already generating great interest we said we believed it would and it is. Our challenge now is to make casinos a reality make it happen, make it happen fast and make it happen correctly our current plan is March 2014 for the RFP to go out, bids come back in June and we hope to make the selections in early Fall. The casinos are going to be run by the gaming commission and the chairman of the gaming commission, which is an appointment by me, is going to be Mr. Mark Gearan who is the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is great academic, he the former director of the Peace Corps. He is a model of civic engagement he has done a great job at the university and it is a pleasure to have him and we thank him for taking the time to take on this important obligation. Mr. Mark Gearan, thank you very much.
Our target investments in public and private partnerships are working we want to keep the momentum going with a second round of the yogurt summit, the regional beer wine and spirits summit, the tourism summit, the path through history summit. We want to add this year a summit, an agricultural summit to help connect upstate producers with downstate consumers. I believe there is a very interesting market that could be developed and we want to do our best.
The Buffalo Billion is working it really is working better than I think anyone could have anticipated we want to take the next step and local the genomic medicine center in western New York. Genomic medicine is the next frontier in modern medicine and we believe we can lead the way. We want to create a genomic medicine network partnership among UB and the medical corridor, CNSCIT, the New York City Genome Center. It is creating hundreds of jobs and an entirely new industry for western New York so let’s get at it. In the North Country the proposed route 98 could reduce travel time and speed up commerce, let’s see if we can make it a reality, we have been talking about it for years. Let’s get DOT to take the study and see if we can make this project happen. That is our focus on upstate New York; you can see it is comprehensive from tax credits to tourism to casinos to targeted investments to Buffalo and Route 98. It has been an important priority it is paying dividends and we are going to keep it going.
But whether it is upstate of downstate, the best long term economic development strategy is to have the best education system in the world, period and that is our focus. We are in the midst of an education reinvention. Replacing a 1950’s bureaucracy with a 2020 performance organization, we formed the new New York education reform Commission headed by Dick Parsons, they have done extraordinary work; they have called for a full day Pre-K, extending school days and for performance pay. The next step now in our journey is to reinvent our classrooms with new technology. We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow. Experts said that technology would be the great equalizer, they said that the information superhighway would be a democratizer of education and that is correct and they are right. If you are on the information superhighway, but if you are not on the information super highway it could leave you behind at 100 miles per hour. And there are great disparities in education, at some schools there are children who are on the internet. Some schools don’t even have a basketball net. There are some schools with sophisticated new computer systems in the first grade. There are some schools where the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is the metal detector that you walk through on the way to the classroom and that is just wrong in the state of New York.
We can do better, we must do better, we will do better, lets invest in the future, lets reimagine our classrooms for the next generation, let’s have the smartest classrooms in the nation because our children deserve nothing less than the best. Let’s go to the people of this state, let’s be bold, let’s go to them in November with a bond referendum with a smart schools initiative lets invest $2 billion in providing the technology of tomorrow today to bring our classrooms up to speed. What this new technology means, it means that every child learns that his or her own pace. The students get the skills they need to succeed within the 21st century economy, the y have access to advanced courses, parents and teachers can communicate and teachers can access the assistance and training that they need. It is not going to be about growing the bureaucracy it’s going to be about helping students. It is going to be used for equipment such as laptops, desktops, tablets, infrastructure upgrades and high speed broadband. There will be strict eligibility for the use of funds and each district must submit a technology plan for approval by the state. And while we remake our class rooms for tomorrow, we must get young minds engaged as early as possible. In 2013 in the State of the State, we called for expanded full day Pre-K. The assembly has long championed the same. It is time for New York State to have universal full day Pre-K statewide.
Quality teachers are the backbone of our education system and let’s recognize and welcome our master teacher Abbey Albright who did the introduction and for being here today, thank you again Abbey. We are going to continue the transformation of our system and reward performance by creating a teacher excellence fund. It is going to be the first statewide teacher performance bonus program that actually rewards performance for teachers and incentivizes teachers who perform well. Teachers who are rated highly effective on their evaluations, which is the highest statewide rank, would be eligible to receive $20,000 as a bonus, in performance pay, which is on average 27% of their salaries. You want teachers who can perform and do perform? Then incentivize performance with a performance bonus and pay them like the professionals they are.
When it comes to higher education our SUNY 2020 and CUNY 2020 reinvestment and capital programs are working, we want to continue them for a second round the future of the economy is in STEM jobs, we should be incentivizing our education system to fill those openings we want to provide to the top ten percent of high school graduates full scholarships to any SUNY or CUNY school if they pursue a math of science career and agree to work in the state of New York for five years.
After Superstorm Sandy, Irene and Lee, the New York State as we know it faces a different reality, we had more storms this year in the central part of the state and for government officials it is and entirely new challenge. County Executives, Governors, Mayors were accustomed to dealing with the matters of cities and states but this, this really is a challenge that no one can be fully prepared for. Luckily we have extraordinary elected officials in the state of New York and we have extraordinary County Executives who I have had the pleasure to work with through these storms and I would like to at this time recognize Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente for really working above and beyond the call of duty and doing extraordinary work for the people of their counties, thank you gentlemen.
After what we went through we literally have to reimagine New York because all the rules all the theories are out the window and it is now through the experiences, reimagining how New York should be built. Because extreme weather in many ways changes everything. First we want to start by installing the nations most advanced weather detection system here in the state of New York because early detection will literally save lives and we haven’t been getting the correct information early enough. The State will embark on putting in the most sophisticated weather detection device ever installed by a state. We are going to establish the nation’s first college on emergency preparedness and homeland security. Believe it or not there is no such college, there are colleges that offer courses in the area but we are going to establish the nation’s first college dedicated solely to emergency preparedness and homeland security because I believe this is a field that is only going to grow. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse and we want this college right here in the state of New York training our people and training others from around the country. We’ve recruited Ray Kelly to be a special advisor to the State in setting up the school. Ray Kelly has phenomenal experience in counter-terrorism and homeland security, and we’re honored to have him.
We’ll create a citizen responder corps to train our own citizens. We want to train 100,000 citizens in the state of New York by year’s end so people know how to provide services in their own home for their own family and then they can be helpful on their own block and in their own community.
We have to totally harden our transit system. When we built the New York City transit system we didn’t envision floods that could fill the subway system. The tunnels are open, the subway entrances are all open, and in a situation like Sandy that just created tremendous flooding. We now have to re-imagine the subway system where you can close all of those openings, and we’re going through that with a $5 billion massive plan. That picture is of an experimental inflatable plug that is inflated to plug a subway tunnel to keep the water out. We will open a new spur for the Metro-North Railroad to provide more resiliency and direct access to Penn Station, which will also at the same time build four new stations to bring transit options to the Bronx.
We will repair and replace over 100 bridges in Upstate New York with new state-of-the-art bridges that are designed to maintain their structural integrity, given the floods that we’re dealing with. The totality of our reconstruction program is over 100,000 projects costing over $16 billion. It is the largest reconstruction program the State has ever undertaken, believe it or not. And it is thanks to our federal partners, it’s thanks to the Congressional delegation that helped us get a $60 billion supplemental after Hurricane Sandy, so we have the funding to do it. And it is also thanks to an extraordinary gentleman; an extraordinary New Yorker who is the HUD Secretary, but he was a New Yorker first; and he has been a great partner to New York. He is the person who led the federal government’s inter-agency task force and he is here with us; let’s give a big round of applause to thank Shaun Donovan for his partnership.
But, my friends, even with all of that we still have more to do. We have to make New York healthier. Research suggests that medical marijuana can help manage the pain and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses. 20 states have already started to use it. We’ll establish a program allowing up to 20 hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana, and we will monitor the program to evaluate the effectiveness and the feasibility of a medical marijuana system.
New York also means justice for all. Governor Paterson increased the MWBE contracts to 10% - the goal for MWBE contracts, and we applaud him for that. In 2011 we set an ambitious MWBE goal, doubling that to 20%. I’m pleased to tell you that we actually beat it this year, and have exceeded the goal of 20%. This year we will focus on certifying more companies, more MWBE companies so we can even create more jobs. There are other New Yorkers who we can help in this way. Disabled veterans showed us their loyalty; we must show them our loyalty. Let’s set a goal of 5% in the awarding of state contracts to disabled, veteran-owned small businesses. We will host a summit this spring to find ways to make this goal a reality.
Our New York Youth Works program that we started last year has helped 13,000 inner city youth find work. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate is still 40% for inner city youth. There is still more to do, we want to extend the New York Youth Works program, extend the length of the tax credits to businesses to create more jobs and provide job training through a job linkage program. Let’s get these young people working, let’s get them a future.
Affordable housing is a crisis. Homelessness is growing. We’re going to increase our commitment by investing an additional $100 million in building affordable housing. This country set in 1949 as a goal, a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family. That was 1949. It still hasn’t become a reality. In 2014 every New Yorker deserves a clean, safe, decent place to live, and let’s make it a priority for this state government by putting $100 million more into affordable housing.
We have good news on the criminal justice front. The good news is crime is down and our prisons have fewer people in them. We are reducing the madness of an incarceration society and ending a system of unnecessary human and financial waste. And now we have eliminated 5,500 prison beds. Yes, you should applaud for that. The bad news is there is a revolving door where 40% of the people who are released from prison wind up back in prison. We need to provide the reentry support and services like job training and access to key services to ease that transition into mainstream society. Reducing recidivism means less crime, it means safer communities, it means fewer taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration. Let’s stop the revolving door once and for all: let’s create a reentry council that brings together all the state resources and coordinates them so we make those transitions effective and lasting.
Our juvenile justice laws are outdated. Under New York State law, 16 and 17 year olds can be tried and charged as adults. Only one other state in the nation does that; it’s the state of North Carolina. It’s not right, it’s not fair – we must raise the age. Let’s form a commission on youth public safety and justice and let’s get it done this year.
Last year we proposed a ten-point women’s equality act agenda. Why? Because discrimination against women is very much alive and well. Since last year, nothing has changed. Discrimination against women still exists. It’s just been another year when government has failed to act on behalf of women. Stop playing politics with women’s rights and pass the women’s equality act this year. 47,000 drivers with three or more drunk driving convictions are still on the road. Think about that as you drive home tonight. It’s absurd. Let’s change the law: anyone convicted of drunk driving two times in three years should lose their license for five years, and three strikes and you’re out and you are off the road, period.
There is an old Italian expression: we grow too soon old and too late smart. For young drivers, a cell phone can be more dangerous than a bottle of alcohol. For teen drivers, texting while driving creates more fatal accidents than drinking while driving, believe it or not. 77% of young adults say that they can text and drive safely. They’re wrong. Let’s continue to crackdown on texting while driving. If a teenager is caught texting while driving, they should lose their license for one year. Let them learn this lesson. They are our sons and our daughters and let’s save lives. I’d like to at this time recognize Ben Lieberman and his family. Ben and his family lost Evan, a 19 year-old who was killed in a car accident when the other person was texting and driving. They have taken that pain and turned it into a positive by being ferocious advocates to change these laws and inform teens. He’s been advocating all across the state and the country, let’s give Ben Lieberman a round of applause.
Last year I appointed a Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption. There is a disagreement about the need for more ethics reform. I understand that. The argument by some members of the legislature is that we created JCOPE and that should solve the problem. But there has been a string of bad acts, almost on a daily basis. Open up the newspaper, even today, and you see more and more stories of individual legislators who have done bad acts. And it reflects poorly on all of us, because people don’t distinguish. It’s an Assemblyman, it’s a Senator, it’s a Democrat, it’s a Republican – it’s just a politician. It’s just a politician who works in state government. That’s all they hear and that’s all they know. And it reflects on all of us. ‘I didn’t do it and it’s not my problem,’ – no, it is a problem for all of us and it goes to the essence of what we are all trying to do. Ethics reform is an acknowledgment of the problem and an acknowledgment that we need to fix the system. Ethics reform says to the people of the state: ‘yes, I saw the news articles too, and it bothers me and I’m troubled by it, and we’re going to pass ethics reform because we’re going to change the system. Because we understand your concern that there seems to be a pattern of these repeated instances of bad acts.’ That’s what ethics reform is. That’s why I was arguing for ethics reform last year, and that’s why I’m arguing for ethics reform this year. I propose new anti-bribery and corruption laws, public financing of elections, independent enforcements at the board of elections, and disclosure of outside clients with business before the state.
But I believe we must act. Why? Because when government has the public trust, government has the capacity to do good work. Some have suggested that the Moreland Commission or ethics reform suggests that I don’t believe in the legislature. It actually is the exact opposite. I do believe in the legislature. I do believe in this. I do believe in us. I do believe in New York State government. I do believe in our capacity, and I don’t want to see it limited. Government is limited by the lack of trust, and the more trust, the more capacity. This is working. We went through all of the stats on the progress of the state. We have done what we said we were going to do. We’ve turned the state around. We’re balancing budgets, we’re working together, we put the politics aside. We come into the chamber and we’re not Democrats or Republicans – we’re New Yorkers and we’re working for New York. That is working and we have accomplished great things and I want to see us do even more together. I believe that the more trust we have from the public, the more we can do. I believe it’s like fuel for a rocket. If we have the trust of the people and they’re watching us perform and they’re seeing this state move then there is nothing we can do. I don’t want to see any limit when we have so much more to do. Look at the agenda we outlined today. We have to rebuild the entire state after Sandy and Irene and Lee, with a whole new vision for resiliency and redundancy. We’re going to invest in our schools like we’ve never done before. We’re going to get the economy back; we’re reforming the tax code. So much good work, but we need the public with us and we need the public to trust us and believe in us, and that’s what ethics reform is all about.
My last point is this. A few weeks ago, I found a situation that I actually found quite disturbing. And there was an article in the newspaper about a high school in Pine Bush, New York. And the article said that a group of Jewish parents were bringing a lawsuit against the school because their children had been victims of anti-Semitism. Swastikas were drawn in the school, anti-Semitic remarks, throwing money at kids and making ugly, crude, statements. This was in a high school. But really, troubling, troubling actions and situations. I read the article and I called the State Education Department, and no one had heard about it. I called the Division for Human Rights and they hadn’t heard about it. I called the State Police, and they hadn’t heard about it. This is despite the fact that when the news article was written, the federal lawsuit had been filed a year before and the complaints had gone on for five years, and no one knew about it.
I want to propose a very simple law that gets to the heart of who we are. If a school official in the state of New York is aware of a pattern of racial or religious discrimination or harassment that state official is under an affirmative duty to notify the State Education Department and the police, or that state official is no longer a state official, because that’s not who we are and that’s not how we perform.
As we leave here today, let us recommit and remember what makes New York special and what makes us special as New Yorkers. New York is not about the buildings, it’s not about the land – what makes New York so special is the people. And it’s how we treat each other, and it’s what we have here and it’s what we have here. It’s how we feel and it’s what we believe. And it’s the premise that made this state the great state it was in the first place. And its why the Pine Bush situation is so troubling to me, because this state made a very loud and clear statement. This state said to the entire world: ‘we are open for business and we welcome everyone here to this great state of New York.’ That is the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. Come one, come all, we don’t care the color of your skin or your religion or how much money you have in your pocket; you come to New York and we will welcome you and work with you and invite you into the family of New York. And while other states say we’re afraid of diversity; while other states are building fences; we say we’re excited by the diversity. We welcome the diversity. The diversity is what made us in the first place, and we believe we can take that diversity and we can take those differences and we can make one from those differences. We believe we can forge community from the people we welcome here. The concept of community is ‘we’re all in this together’ – there is a cord that connects you to you to you and that cord weaves a fabric, and when one of us is raised we’re all raised and when one of us is lowered we’re all lowered, because we’re part of one community and we’re part of one fabric. That is what made New York great and that’s what continues to make New York great. At the end of the day, we are one. We are upstate, we are downstate, but we are one. We are Latino, we are African American, but we are one. We’re New York City and we are Buffalo, but we are one. We are Democrats and Republicans but we are one. That is the promise of this great state. That is E Pluribus Unum, out of many: one. It’s the founding premise, the enduring promise. It’s the promise that we inherited from our parents, and the promise of New York that we’re going to pass on to our children. The promise, my friends, that we are going to make a reality in this great state working together. Thank you and God bless you, and let’s have a great 2014.
Join the Discussion
After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.