New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2015 State of the State Speech (Text and Video)
Read and watch the governor's annual address.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Happy new Year to all of you and to Stacey Miller who is a Master Teacher, which identifies, literally the best teachers across the state of New York. She is doing extraordinary work. Let’s give her a round of applause. Let’s give a big welcome to our new Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul who is doing a great job already. To the new assembly members, we welcome you. To the new senate members, we welcome them. We are joined by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a pleasure to be with you Comptroller. Let’s give him a round of applause. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. It’s a pleasure to be with you. Senate Republican Conference Leader Dean Skelos, to a good year Dean. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, It’s a pleasure to be with you Mr. Speaker. To the Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein. It’s a pleasure Jeff, thanks for being here. To Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, it is a pleasure to be with you Andrea. To Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. Thank you Brian.
We have the members of our fine Court of Appeals. It’s an honor to be with you. Thank you Judge. To our host Mayor Kathy Sheehan, thank you very much. To the very tired Mayor of the City of New York who went to Paris and back in one day, a pleasure to be with you Mayor. To all the elected officials who are here today, my colleagues, to our friends thank you all very much for being here today. Let me begin by thanking the Senate and Assembly leaders for their accommodation for my father’s passing. The State of the State address was moved back to accommodate the ceremony around my father’s passing. I truly appreciate their consideration in doing that.
I also appreciate all the members of Senate and all the members of the Assembly who came down to pay their respects to my father. It would have meant a lot to him, he had tremendous respect for this body, and tremendous respect for the process and for the legislature. Your attendance was overwhelming. Many of you came from different parts of the state and I want you to know heartfelt on behalf of the Cuomo family, we thank you very much for taking the time to come. And to all new Yorkers – there has been an outpouring of notes, letters, and phone calls. I can’t even begin to explain it. So on behalf again of my father and my brother and my sisters we want to thank all New Yorkers for the respect that they have shown to my father.
Now, if my father knew we delayed the State of the State on his account, he wouldn’t be happy. Slowing the function of government is not something that would have been okay with him. So what we have actually done is accelerated it. The budget, by moving the budget up five days and this is going to be the first joint, state of the state and budget presentation. It will be five days ahead of schedule, which would have made my father happy. Now, the good news is since it is a joint presentation, budget and state of the state, you’ll only have to sit through one presentation. That is the good news. But the bad news is that it is a three hour presentation. So I will do my best to move along, but there is a lot of good work that we have done and a lot of good work that we want to do that we are going to talk about today.
What is the State of the State? New York State is back and New York State is leading the way forward. And none of this would have happened without the work of the people in this room. Look how far we’ve come in a short period of time. 2010, we had an 8.9% unemployment; today it is 5.9 %. We had chronically low credit ratings; today the highest credit ratings in 40 years by all three credit rating agencies.
Upstate was in a state of decay and decline and alienation and upstate is rebuilding everywhere you go today. Taxes and spending were going up, up, and up and today we have cut the tax rate to the lowest in 50 years. Property taxes that were going up at about 6% a year are now capped at 2% and then frozen at that rate. When you look at, yes you should applaud that, it was a period of historic progress and it has made our state a better state. It has made life for people in our state better and that is what this is all about at the end of the day. Making life better for people and that is what we have actually been doing.
Now, I won’t say it was an easy four years. It was a hard four years. It has taken a toll, some greater tolls on some of us than others. But look where we were when we started. Look at how good Dean Skelos looked just four years ago. And look at Shelly; four years ago he was looking good. We were like Saturday Night Fever dudes just four years ago. And four years later – it’s really sad, pictures don’t lie, it’s true, it really is true. But we believe and I am sure I speak for Dean and Shelly, it was worth it and we would do it all over again, wouldn’t we?
New York is now a state of opportunity once again and our goal today is to reach even higher. That is what our 2015 Opportunity Agenda is all about; economic opportunity, education public safety, government reform and fairness for all.
We start with the economy, because business is the engine that pulls the train. It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs. It was about four years ago and it is today and it is about keeping the growing and to keep the economy growing we have to keep doing what we have been doing that got the economy running in the first place. In two simple words it is maintaining the fiscal discipline that we have established. Remember where we were four years ago. The State of New York was spending more money than the people in the state were earning – think about that concept for a moment. The increase in State spending was going up at a faster rate than New Yorkers were actually earning income. And that wasn’t one or two years. That was for 50 years, the rate of spending increased, higher than the amount of income. We have reversed that trend and actually turned it the other way. The State now spends, over the past four years 1.3%, that compares to 6.8% over the past 50 years. It’s not a complicated formula, because we spend less, we can tax less and we have made historic progress in that regard. Last year we have the lowest middle class tax rate since 1953, lowest corporate income tax rate since 1968, and lowest manufacturing tax rate since 1917.
So by controlling spending at 2% we can continue to keep taxes down, if we continue to keep taxes down, we will keep businesses coming our way. That is exactly what our goal for this year should be, starting with small businesses.
Small businesses are 98% of all the businesses in New York. Small business is where the jobs are being created. That is the life blood, anything we can do to generate small business is what we want to do. We want to have a tax cut for small business that is dramatic. That would take the small business tax from 6.5% down to 2.5%, the lowest rate in 100 years and send a real positive signal. That will show that New York is continuing to be a pro-job, pro-growth state.
The next taxes we have to attack are the property taxes. Now here is a quote: “The public is at last coming to realize that the increase in real estate taxes is due wholly to the increase in the cost of local and not state government. These taxes on real estate are too high. Local government has in many communities been guilty of great waste and duplication.”
Who said that quote? I’ll give you a hint. Me, Secretary Hillary Clinton, FDR, Ronald Reagan, or Stephen Acquario. It is not Ronald Reagan, it is not Hillary Clinton, it is not me. It is down to Stephen Acquario and FDR. If it is Stephen Acquario, he is fired, so it is FDR. But that shows how long this problem has actually been going on. It has been New York’s chronic problem and when people complain about high taxes in New York, they’re talking about the property tax. Just remember this; the number one business tax is the property tax. The highest tax we collect in the state of New York is the property tax, $50 billion dollars total, compared to $40 billion dollars for everything else.
We attacked it over the past four years. 2011 we capped it, 2014 we froze it, 2015 we are going to cut it and really respond to the needs of homeowners all across this state. Let’s pass a $1.7 billion dollar property tax relief for 1.3 million homeowners who will save an average of nearly $1,000 dollars per year and $1,000 dollars in savings can make a difference in people’s lives. We would also extent relief to over 1 million renters in this state. When you put the two together, 2.3 million households, just under a million upstate, 800,000 in New York City, 340,000 in Long Island and 139,000. This is real, meaningful significant tax relief that will make a difference in people’s lives. And send a very strong signal that the New York we brought you for the past four years is the New York that we’re going to continue.
A growing economy also needs to invest in its infrastructure. We have started an aggressive infrastructure redesign program downstate with John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, also with Stewart and Republic airports, planning our regional airports as one unit. We want to make Republic and Stewart, Republic is on Long Island and Stewart is in the Mid-Hudson. We want to make them tax-free zones so we can bring businesses to Republic and Stewart and take some of the traffic from JFK and LaGuardia and move it out to the Long Island and Stewart airport. We want to build 4 MTA stations in the Bronx, to open up that side of the Bronx. I have a name for one of the stations, Diaz Station we are going to call it, Ruben Diaz station. We’ll invest 150 million to construct vertical parking structures at strategic locations in Long Island and Westchester to assist commuters coming in on the LIRR. We also propose to use $1.2 billion dollars of our settlement funds to protect Thruway toll payers for a year so there will be no increase in the Thruway toll for the next year and to help finance the Tappan Zee Bridge.
We are also working with our partners in Washington to secure federal funding to fund the public transportation over the bridge. Congresswoman Nita Lowey has taken the lead in this as has Congressman Peter King and they have been very, very helpful.
Infrastructure today is less about roads and bridges in my opinion and it is more about broadband. A state that doesn’t have broadband is not going to be economically successful going forward. Believe it or not we still have 500,000 homes and 4,000 businesses who have no access to broadband. It tends to be in upstate New York and it tends to be in poorer communities in New York City. The last place really we should have the absence is where we have it. We want to invest $500 million dollars, leverage $500 million dollars in private sector money from the providers and let’s get New York State fully wired so every business and every home can compete and let’s start doing that now.
There is a new way of thinking about growing jobs in New York State. Jobs are coming out of our higher education system. You look anywhere in the country and anywhere in the world as a matter of fact, where you see regional job growth and it’s always linked to the higher education institutions. We are in the process of taking our SUNY and CUNY systems and turning them into commercialization and job generators. You look at Stanford university in silicon valley, that was an academic exercise that was actually commercialized extraordinarily well and started an entire revolution in the economy. That can happen here in New York, but we have to make the investment and we have to invest in SUNY 2020 and CUNY 2020 so we know we have the best higher education institutions to provide educations and also to jump start the economy. We have been doing it. We want to continue to do it with another $50 million dollar investment this year that I believe will reap that dividend.
We want to couple that with a New York State venture fund of $100 million dollars so New York State can invest in many of those young entrepreneurs and many of those startup companies and keep them here in New York, rather than finding equity in California or Texas or Florida. Let’s invest in our homegrown companies and keep the jobs here now.
We also have significant reform for our community college system. Our community college system in many cases is charging students exorbitant tuition, running up debt and giving them training and education for jobs that don’t exist. The person graduates the community college system, has the debt but can’t find a job. More and more the community college system, where successful, is turning into a training program, or almost an apprentice program for a specific industry. That part of the training they designed what they need, the skills they need. You got to that community college, get that degree, you come out, you graduate, you go right into that company and that’s what we have to be doing with our community colleges. We want to link them regionally with the employers in that region. Identify specific jobs that are available and then educate and train for those jobs to make the community college system more rewarding.
The past four years we have focused on upstate New York and economic development like never before. I would venture to say there has never been a more concerted effort at developing upstate New York and what we have done over the past four years. Upstate was in a terrible cycle of decline. It was losing economic power to no fault of its own, change in the economy, businesses were moving away. But when you lose economic power you start to lose people. When you start to lose people you start to lose political power because the loss of population relates literally to loss of political power which results in the loss of government’s attention and now you are in a downward cycle. And that’s were upstate New York was for many, many years and it was not getting the care and the attention it deserved. We reversed that cycle.
We made upstate New York a priority. We invested, that grew political power, that grew population and now you see the reverse. And just the way there was a negative synergy, I believe there is a positive synergy. I believe if you go to a lot of these cities in upstate New York and you feel a totally different energy than you felt four years ago and that is the turn around that we are talking about. You look at the way the unemployment rate dropped. Historically the unemployment rate when it dropped in New York City, the rate would stay stagnant in upstate New York. You look at these unemployment numbers and you see how balanced our economy is. The days where downstate flourishes and upstate suffers are over. This is a very balanced picture and a very balanced economy.
The Regional Economic Development Councils are working. they are working extraordinarily well. It was a new idea that said we are going to organize region by region across the state because there is no one economy, there are regional economies, put everyone at one table. All the politicians, all the business people, all the academics, come up with one regional strategy and then everybody works on that one regional strategy. That is exactly what we have done. It has been a great success, a tremendous amount of work. The former Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy served as Chairman of Regional Economic Development Councils. He carried the weight on his shoulders; he attended held hundreds and hundreds of meetings all around the state and he inspired this process. Let’s give him a big round of applause and a moment of recognition. Stand up Bob come on, stand up! He is the best.
We also embarked on a truly ambitious enterprise to turn around Western New York. Now western New York, Buffalo was the single greatest economic problem in the state of New York. Western New York, Buffalo, North Country and pockets of poverty down south, in the Bronx especially. Western New York and Buffalo had been down for so long, they didn’t believe they could come back. I remember when I first started speaking to groups in Buffalo four years ago, I would give them my best economic development pitch and not a single muscle in a single face would move. They had heard it all before, everybody was leaving, the population was shrinking, nothing was going to help Buffalo, and nothing was going to turn it around. Well, we did turn around Buffalo and Buffalo today – the housing market is way up. You have construction, billion and billions of dollars in construction. The private market is flocking to Buffalo. They’re writing about Buffalo internationally as a turnaround phenomenon. That is what happened in Buffalo. It proved to us, if you could turn around Buffalo, you can turn around anything and we are going to. We had a great team that worked at it every day and made the difference. I would ask them to stand and let’s give them the recognition they deserve. Paul Dyster, Byron Brown, Mark Poloncarz, Howard Zemsky, Satish Tripathi. Bless you and thank you.
We also propose expanding or green jobs and environmental programs. The sweet spot for the State of New York is creating jobs and creating jobs in the clean energy, clean environment area and that is where we want to focus. We want to increase the environmental protection fund to $172 million dollars. We also propose a $50 million dollar farm land preservation fund. $20 million of which will dedicated to the Hudson Valley, which is one of the precious assets in this state. It is a tourism asset and we want to keep it that way and $30 million dollars to strength the Southern Tier’s rich and growing agriculture industry because they need help in preserving their land.
To spur new investments in green jobs in the Southern Tier we want to hold a $20 million dollar clean energy competition. Let’s invite companies, internationally, to bring their best ideas to the Southern Tier. We will take the best ideas in clean energy companies, we will invest in them if they site and grow in the Southern Tier. We did this in Buffalo. It worked significantly well. Now let’s do it for the Southern Tier.
We also want to expand the Upstate economy by investing $65 million dollars in ports and hubs from Albany to Oswego, to Syracuse to the port of Ogdensburg to the Binghamton rail yard. You have to be able to move goods in and out and this investment will help make it possible.
We also want to invest in the State Fair. The State Fair is symbolically and economically important. The State Fair is just that, the State Fair. It gets a tremendous number of visitors from all cross the state to demonstrate the state’s development, the state’s beauty and the state’s resources. The truth is the State Fair makes money for the state, over a $130 million dollars but the State Fair in truth reflects yesterday’s New York. It does not reflect today or tomorrow’s New York. Let’s reimagine the State Fair. Let’s invest in it, let’s be proud of it. Let’s get a private sector company to come in and partner with us and invest $50 million dollars and really turn around the State Fair the way the state is turning around.
Fort Drum is a great North County asset. We are going to spend $1.5 million to buy an additional 1,300 acres for training and $25 million dollars for improvements along Route 26. Fort Drum is home to the 10th Mountain Division, which just returned from serving us proudly in Afghanistan. I visited the 10th Mountain Division while they were in Afghanistan. I am the person in the picture with the pen in his pocket as you can tell. I wasn’t on really serious duty. But the 10th Mountain Division is the most deployed force since 9/11, just think about that and 323 soldiers have been lost by the 10th Mountain Division defending our freedom. We honor their sacrifice and we representatives of them here today and we would ask them to stand today so we can honor them.
Tourism continues to be a successful job generator especially in Upstate New York. At one time we had a very robust “I love New York” advertising campaign. Other the years, it went away, we started to bring it back. We got more creative in the way we have been marketing the state. We spent over one hundred million dollars in advertising over the past four years and our investment has been paying off exponentially. Visitor spending is up $8 billion dollars to $62 billion dollars believe it or not. 8% higher than the national rate of growth, that is Watkins Glen international by the way. And that is a very famous New Yorker driving that car on that track. The license plate number fifty six is a clue. Our tourism jobs increased by 82,000 to a total of 850,000, double the national rate of growth. That is the walk way over the Hudson. We want to continue this international attention to upstate New York with our challenges and our $25 million dollar investment in the “I love New York”, the Adirondack challenges, the governor’s cup, the fishing challenges, the promotion of our wine industry which is doing great and we want to continue this effort because it has been reaping dividends.
We also want to expand our global markets as the next step. We want to step up a global export/import bank. The federal government has one, I worked it when I was in the federal government but it has a tremendous impact and if we capitalize our export/import bank with $35 million dollars, I believe we are going to see multiples of that as dividends.
We are going to be leading trade missions to New York’s top economic partners including Canada, China, Israel and Mexico. I am going to invite the leaders to come with me on these. We went to Israel last year and we had a great trip and this year we are going to be our own version of the three amigos. A little different than the past but the same basic idea, so we will ride again. We will also lead a trade mission to America’s newest economic partner which is Cuba and we would like to be one of the first states to Cuba just from a competitive point of view economically. Let us be the first ones there, let us develop the relationship, let us open up the markets and let us get opportunities for New York companies.
Our economic recovery must reach all New Yorkers and there are New Yorkers who are still left in the shadow of opportunity. The sad truth is with all the growth in the economy, poverty still exists in this country and poverty still exists in the state of New York. Two of the poorest communities in the state of New York, those orange areas are areas where they have poverty greater than 20%. But two of the poorest are Rochester and the Bronx. Rochester has the highest child poverty rate in the state and the Bronx has the highest overall poverty rate in the state. We want to build on our successful efforts. First by employing minority youth, we have a strike force that has been working in the Bronx. It has been working very well. We want to add $10 million dollars to get young people jobs, job, jobs, keep them off the street corner, give them a positive path to follow. In Rochester we are creating an anti-poverty task force to lift children and their families out of poverty and we are starting that now.
Pope Paul said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” That is just what we are trying to do. We have the highest income inequality since the 20’s and for too many the dream of economic mobility has been replaced with the reality of stagnation. Many people believe that if you were born poor than you are going to die poor. That is the exact opposite of what the American dream promised.
The American dream was all about mobility and where ever you start, you can move forward and you can move up, that was the beauty of this country and that is why people came. It didn’t matter if you were rich or if you were poor or if you were white or if you were black. You came here and you could be whatever you wanted to be. You had a chance to do it. This country never guaranteed success but it did guarantee opportunity and that promise is slipping away and we have an agenda that will work to bring it back.
First, we believe we should raise the minimum wage. We raised it once; we believe the gap continues to get worse. We would raise the minimum wage to $10.50 statewide and in New York City, which is a high cost area to $11.50. Minimum wage is very simple. We believe if you work full time, you should be able to pay the rent and pay for food and not live in poverty. That is the basic promise of employment and we are not there yet.
We still have a hunger problem in this state, in many communities, let’s invest $4.5 million to expand our emergency food access because in 2015 there is no excuse for why any man, woman or child should go hungry in the state of New York. And to provide housing and affordable housing we want to increase our investment by $486 million dollars, let’s do the affordable housing we need. Let’s do the community development we need so we don’t wind up with homeless people in the first place.
On the chronic issue of unemployment for minority men, we have an urban youth jobs program that provides the employer with a training subsidy if they hire a young person. We will pay for the training and will also subsidize part of the income. We’ve hired over 20,000 young men with this program. It works. Let’s keep it going and double the funding and double the jobs.
Four years ago the state’s procurement goal for MWBE was 10% which was about $800 million in state contracts that were set aside for women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses. We’ve raised that 10% to 20%. Last year we surpassed the 20% and we went to 25% which was $2 billion in state contracts that went to women-owned companies and minority-owned companies. This year we want to take it to a new level, a national level and set the highest goal in the nation and go to 30% - $2.4 billion for MWBEs.
Many of our new college graduates face high student loan debt as they begin their career and it’s a troubling situation because they have high debt and low wages. We want to help them get on their feet for their first two years. When they come out of college, they have high debt and a job where they earn less than $50,000 per year which is the level at which they probably can’t afford to pay off their debt. We’ll pay their debt for the first two years so they can get their feet under them and they can get on with their lives.
We have a vast array of not-for-profits and community development organizations in this state that are really an untapped potential that we want to bring into the mainstream and we want to develop to access state programs. We want to grow the capacity to a new Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services. It’s going to be led by Assemblyman and Pastor Karim Camara. Let’s give him a round of applause. Congratulation, Karim.
We’ll also invest $50 million in the not-for-profit sector on a capacity-building fund to get them the technical skills they need to do it.
Education – the great equalizer. And this is the area, my friends where I think we need to do the most reform and frankly where reform is going to be difficult, given the situation of the way education is funded in this state. Our education system needs dramatic reform and it has for years and I believe this is the year to do it. This is the year to roll up our sleeves and take on the dramatic challenge that has eluded us for so many years for so many reasons.
We will pursue an ambitious P-12 agenda. Professionalize teaching and increase standards, strengthen teacher evaluations, reward excellent teachers, transform the state’s failing schools, expeditiously but effectively removing failing teachers, expand charter schools, pass the ETC and the DREAM Act, extend mayoral control, continue support for four year olds and pre-K. Let’s do them one at a time.
We want the best teachers in our classroom. Every study says the quality of the teacher makes a difference in the school. We must start treating teaching like the profession that it actually is. In 2013, this legislature put in place a bar exam – an entrance exam for teachers. Last year every prospective teacher had to take a twelfth grade literacy test. Of the teachers who took it, 32% failed. It was a twelfth grade literacy test. And these are the teachers who are about to walk into a classroom. These are teachers who we are giving to our children.
We need a real set of standards for entering the profession and we also want to recruit the best and the brightest and I believe you have to incentivize for that. We are proposing that we will pay full tuition for SUNY or CUNY for top graduates if they commit to going to teach in New York schools for five years. And we will create a residency program to give teachers early training just the way we do with doctors.
Now everyone will tell you nationwide, the key to education reform is a teacher evaluation system. Why? So you know what teachers are doing well, what teachers need work and what teachers are struggling. A teacher evaluation system. New York has talked about it for years and years and years. We were supposed to implement the teacher evaluation system five years ago in exchange for receiving federal money for Race to the Top. The schools were reluctant to do it. Last year we said if a school didn’t complete a teacher evaluation system, they wouldn’t get state funding – the excess funding. Low and behold, 100% of the teachers now have a teacher evaluation system. 100% of the schools adopted a teacher evaluation system. That’s the good news – we have teacher evaluation systems for every school in the system. The bad news is they are baloney.
Now 38% of high schools students are college ready. 38%. 98.7% of high school teachers are rated effective. How can that be? How can 38% of the students be ready, but 98% of the teachers effective? 31% of third to eight graders are proficient in English, but 99% of the teachers are rated effective. 35% of third to eighth graders are proficient in math but 98% of the math teachers are rated effective. Who are we kidding, my friends? The problem is clear and the solution is clear. We need real, accurate, fair teacher evaluations.
We asked the State Department of Education for their ideas and they gave us their feedback and we accept their recommendation. To reduce the over-testing of students we will eliminate local exams and base 50% of the evaluation on state exams. Second, the other 50% of the evaluations should be limited to independent classroom observations. Teachers may not be rated effective or highly effective unless they are effective in the test and the observation categories. We will stop local score inflation, which is resulted in virtually all teachers being rated by setting scoring bans in the state law.
We propose tenure to only be granted when a teacher achieves five consecutive years of effective ratings and once we have a fair evaluation system, we can incentivize performance. And we will. I believe the teacher evaluation system should be used to incentivize and reward high-performing teachers and if a teacher is doing well, incentivize that teacher who is doing well and pay them accordingly. We would pay any teacher who gets highly effective, a $20,000 bonus on top of the salary that that teacher is getting paid because we want to incentivize high performance.
In 2013, we created the Master Teacher Program, which rewards the highest-performing teachers in this system. Today we have 552 Master Teachers. These are the best of the best. These are mentors to their colleagues; they have achieved the highest scores on tests. They are teachers who go above and beyond and give more to their students than anyone has a right to ask. We are joined by them today. Let them stand so we can honor them and thank them for their contributions.
For teachers who need support after the evaluation, we will offer a teacher improvement plan to get them the help they need. In the unfortunate case that we have a chronically ineffective teacher who despite our teacher who does not improve, we must help our students by removing the chronically ineffective teacher from the classroom. Under the current 3020a system, it is so hard to remove an ineffective teacher that most districts will tell you that they don’t even try. We will follow SED’s recommendation and reform the process to make it easier, fairer and faster to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom. We propose allowing a district to remove a teacher after two ineffective ratings unless the teacher can show that their scoring was fraudulent.
Let’s remember. I know these reforms are tough but the purpose of the education system and why we do this and why taxpayers give us money to fund education is so we can teach and nurture our children. This was never about protecting and growing a bureaucracy. It was about helping young people. It was not about creating an educational industry that then supports ancillary organizations. Let’s remember the children in this process and then we’ll wind up doing the right thing.
We must acknowledge that while education should be the great equalizer – education is what made the American dream a reality. My father could go from behind a grocery store through public education and become governor. Colin Powell who grew up in the Bronx and went through public education could become Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For too many it is now the great discriminator and the truth is we have two systems; one for the rich and one for the poor and the greatest symbol of disparity is our failing schools. Students in failing schools lag well behind in virtually every academic category. State average for graduation is 76%, in a failing school it is 47%. Worse – more than nine out of ten students in failing schools are minority or poor students. Nine out of ten are minority or poor students.
There are 178 failing schools in New York State. 77 have been failing for an entire decade. Over the last ten years, 250,000 children went through those failing schools while New York State government did nothing. Just think about that and that has to end this year. I understand the obstacles. I also understand what our students need to move forward. We should be ashamed of those numbers.
The education industry’s cry that more money will solve the problem is false. Money without reform only grows the bureaucracy. It does not improve performance. The state average per student is $8,000. The state average in a high-needs district is $12,000. A failing district like Buffalo, which has been a failing district for many, many years, the state spends $16,000 per student. So don’t tell me that if we only had more money, it would change. We have been putting more money into this system every year for a decade and it hasn’t changed and 250,000 will condemn the failing schools by this system.
Let’s end it this year. We’ll take another recommendation from SED and propose using the Massachusetts in New York. When a school fails for three years, a not-for-profit, another school district or a turn-around expert must take over the school and they must create a plan to dramatically overhaul and improve the entire school. We’ll turn each school into a community school and develop a management overhaul plan. The takeover entity will take overhaul the curriculum, override agreements will terminate underperforming staff, provide salary incentives and grant priority for Pre-K extended learning community schools, early college high schools, wraparound services so we are giving the students the services they need but we are making the changes that we have to make.
In this mix, charter schools provide a viable option for many of our students. We propose giving students in failing schools a preference in the charter school lottery. The current charter cap is 460. There are 159 slots left. Only 24 available are left for charter schools in New York City. We want to add another 100 to the cap and allow the cap to be statewide and to eliminate any artificial limits on where charter schools can open.
To ensure that charter schools are serving all of the public, we will propose an innovative anti-creaming legislation to ensure charters are teaching their fair share of high needs populations, English language, learning disabled and free lunch so no one can say that the charter schools aren’t taking the same cross-section of public students that the public schools have.
All students deserve a fair shot at the American Dream and that is why we want to pass a $100 million tax credit for public and private partnerships. And let’s pass the DREAM Act for $27 million in this budget and let’s make it a reality. If we’re serious about fixing this problem, then cities also have to be part of the solution. We are calling on the mayors to join us.
Let’s extend mayoral control in New York City where Mayor de Blasio has taken control of the school system. Let’s give him a round of applause. And let’s consider the possibility in other cities where we have chronic, long-term problems with the education system and let other mayors step up to the plate and we will work with them in that regard. We know that the earlier students enter a classroom the more opportunity for success they have. Therefore, we have committed $1.5 billion to phase-in full day Pre-K for four year olds and we are excited about that.
We’ll invest another $365 million this year in Pre-K for four year olds but we also want to take the next step and start designing programs – not for four year olds – but for three year olds. All of the studies say that the earlier you get them in, the better. Let New York be ahead of the curve by enrolling three year olds who are now making some of the largest cognitive and behavioral gains. We are going to start this with a $25 million offering for Pre-K for three year olds. We know mentoring programs work and make a big difference. And we know that there are citizens who want to help and will get involved in mentoring.
New York once led the way in mentoring which has now become an international phenomenon and we started, really, right here in the State of New York which birthed the idea so others could learn from us. I say we should once again lead the way in mentoring and we will. We are going to set up a mentoring commission and it will be led pro-bono by Mrs. Matilda Cuomo. My mother worked on mentoring for many, many years and she is now doing it all across the world and she has made a great difference. So let her help New York because it all starts at home, mom. Pro-bono – you understand why pro-bono. Christopher will subsidize you.
We propose, that if we pass these reforms – and this is an ambitious reform package and I understand there is going to be political problems for people on both sides on the aisle and they will be besieged by lobbyists and I understand the political consequence in what I’m asking you to do in making these reforms. But if we really want to invest in the system, then make it the right system and don’t ask the taxpayers of New York to throw good money at the bad. We’ve done that for decades. Let’s make the hard choices once. Let’s stand up for the kids once and if we make these reforms, I am prepared to make a very large investment in education. By our formula for this year which is in the budget, our education formula would have the budget go up by 1.7%, which is $377 million. That is what we agreed to last year in the budget when we took the personal income growth formula. So by our existing budget, it would be a $377 million increase. If the legislature passes these reforms, I propose a 4.8% increase in the budget, a $1.1 billion investment in education because it will be the right education system. Again, that is if we actually stand up and pass these reforms.
Public safety – 9/11 marked the beginning of our war on terrorism, not the end. If anyone doubted that, Paris was a reminded to all of us and if not Paris, the terrorist groups are metastasizing all across the world. It’s actually worse than it was in 9/11 and it’s only continuing to get worse. Terrorists have evolved and they have adapted and we must do the same. This fall we doubled the National Guard port and MTA police and State Police in key areas because of the heightened alert. Given the recent attacks overseas, I believe we should continue our surge levels with State Troopers, 300 National Guardsmen in areas where they have a potent presence, which will cost the state $40 million, but I believe it is a worthwhile investment to keep New Yorkers safe.
We will be conducting a security review of our state’s counter-terrorism capacity. MTA airports, train stations, Port Authority, State Police, how they are coordinating and how they coordinate with local authorities, and we are asking Ray Kelly – the State’s Special Advisor on Homeland Security to do that for us. This year we will be investing $15 million to open the nation’s first Emergency Preparedness College in the country. It will be in Albany with a satellite campus in Oriskinay. Literally, the first homeland security college in the United State is going to be right here in New York.
We have proposed creating a $15 million storm online system to coordinate when there’s a snowstorm, when there’s a hurricane. A town, a village, a county can go online and give a status of what they need. We can track what they need. It also tracks the costs so that when we later go back to FEMA for reimbursement, we have an actual record at the same time. We are also going to be training all local emergency personnel in Albany so that everyone is trained under the same emergency protocol. The towns, the villages, the counties, the state. Everyone is trained under the same protocol and everyone knows what the other county is doing.
In a weather emergency we need the right equipment. We’ve learned that the hard way a number of times. We proposed investing $50 million in snowplows to keep our road opened. One of the reasons we’ve closed roads is because we can’t keep up with the amount of snowfall. If we had a higher number of snowplows we could actually keep up with a higher rate of snow fall and I think it’s a worthwhile investment. Also emergency vehicles - we want to equip the state’s fleet with GPS so we know where they are at all times and we know how to deploy them.
Government reforms – we’ve talked a lot about what we can do today, what we have done, what we need to do. We is us. We is the committee that they call government. And the more people trust government, the more people trust us, the more capacity we have to do good work. And we need to continue to restore the public’s trust. It’s an unending process in my opinion. Let’s pass real campaign finance reform, let’s pass public financing, let’s pass a pay commission to reduce the influence of money in our government and increase the amount of trust.
Our social justice agenda has several points. Number one – we are proud of the reforms we’ve made to the justice system, including closing more prisons than any time in our history. But New York is one of only two states in the United States where 16 year olds are treated as adults for criminal responsibility. We are one of only two states. A 16 year old who gets convicted of a crime is now put in state prison at 16 years old and state prison is no place for a 16 year old and any expectation that you’re going to put a 16 or 17 year old in a state prison and you’re going to rehabilitate them or you’re going to teach them or they’re going to come out better than they went in is totally unrealistic. Last year we convened a panel on how we should right the injustice. This year the panel came back and said let’s raise the age of criminal responsibility to get 16 and 17 year olds out of the adult prisons without being hurt and not helped and let’s have a set of facilities and systems for 16 and 17 year olds.
In terms of justice, the promise of equal justice is the New York promise and it is the American promise. We are currently in the midst of a national problem where people are questioning our justice system and they’re questing whether the justice system really is fairness for all and whether the justice system really is colorblind. And that’s not just New York, it’s a problem all across the country and it’s a problem in reality and it’s a problem in perception and if it’s a problem only in perception, it is still a real problem because people have to trust the justice system and the trust has to go both ways. The community has to trust and respect the police and the police have to respect and trust the community. And we have to work to restore that trust and that respect and we’re proposing a 7 point agenda to do just that.
First of all, a statewide reconciliation commission on police and community relations so we can have a dialogue community by community where the community can talk to the police and the police can talk to the community in a safe situation and a safe setting with frankness and candor to work through issues.
Number two, the state should help police forces statewide to recruit more minorities into law enforcement. The more the police force looks like the community they are policing, the better the job the police can do.
Third, we believe we should provide race and ethnic data on police actions statewide. We have nothing to hide. Transparency works. Let’s give people the actual facts.
Number four, we need to do everything we can do to keep our police safe. These are dangerous, dangerous jobs, especially during these times. We should fund replacement vests, body cameras, and bulletproof glass for patrol cars in high-crime areas.
Fifth, District Attorneys may issue a Grand Jury report or a letter of fact explaining proceedings if there is no true bill on a police fatality so people know what actually happened in that proceeding and in that grand jury.
Sixth, I will appoint an independent monitor who will review police cases where a civilian dies and no true bill is issued and the independent monitor can recommend a special prosecutor he appointed. The independent monitor should have access to the grand jury information which will be protected, but this way, the independent monitor can actually make an intelligent recommendation because they’ll have all the evidence and they’ll have all the facts. I think these seven points will go a long way towards restoring trust, restoring respect both ways – from the police to the community and from the community to the police. And let’s start now. We’ll be working on this over the next several months but it’s a good start.
That is our justice agenda as I mentioned, it is a work in progress and we’ll be working with all parties.
Women are still not treated equally to men. We must pass the full ten-point Women’s’ Equality Agenda. It’s been too long. New York State now has more schools being investigated for sexual assault than any state in the nation. 11 colleges being investigated on how they handle sexual assault, believe it or not. This is just wholly unacceptable and it’s repugnant to our basic belief that women have equal rights and that we protect women equally. Let New York take the lead in protecting these young adults and these students.
Last fall SUNY Chancellor Zimpher passed a really leading proposal which requires affirmative consent for sexual relations and ensures a woman’s access to law enforcement. All too often, when a woman is victimized on a campus, the recourse is campus police and the tendency is to keep it private because it’s embarrassing for the university and all too often, justice is not done. The statistics show one out of four young women will be sexually assaulted while she is in college. One out of four women. And the rate of reporting is in the single digits. And what makes matters worse is that the experts believe it’s a small number of men who are committing these acts, but a high level of recidivism because they’re not being reported and that is the trap that we’re in. So what we did on SUNY campuses – women need to affirmatively consent and then women are assessed of their rights. They can go to the campus police or they can go to the local police or they can go to the State Police and they can treat it as the crime that it is. It’s been working on SUNY and we want to make it a law that covers every college in the State of New York and we want to be the first state to do that.
We have more homeless than ever before in the history of the state of New York and that is just simply a disgrace. We want to increase our homeless budget by $403 million – a 20% increase in light of the increase in homelessness.
On the numbers, this is what the agenda looks like and this is as simple as the budget is. We’ve discussed before when it’s done right, the budget is a fairly simple exercise. The state total – the budget will go up 1.7% total. We have a 2% spending cap so we are under the 2% spending cap at 1.7%. State agencies are at .6%. That means that state agencies are basically flat. Parks, the State Police, the Department of Transportation, etc. They are basically flat. They’re flat because we give a 3.6% increase to Medicaid which is the formula amount and it anticipates the 4.8% to education. For us to afford a 4.8% increase in education, and 3.6% on Medicaid, and stay under 2%, the rest of the state budget basically has to be zero. And that’s our budget. Zero percent increase for the agencies, 4.8% for education, 3.6% for Medicaid and it comes out to 1.7%.
The new initiatives that are within the state budget, which we went through in how they’re funded - Property tax renter’s relief is $350 million, affordable housing is $150 million, SUNY and CUNY, increase in homelessness, START-UP NY is $50 million, not-for-profit, I Love New York – those are the initiatives so we just went through. They are funded from the normal state budget. This year we have settlement funds of $5.4 billion. These are funds that were basically a gift from above. They were settlements with law enforcement agencies where the state received a penalty. It comes out to $5.4 billion. Our proposal for the $5.4 billion is as follows: the money that we owe the federal government for a discrepancy in past billings, which we have been working through for years, but it is going to come out to about $850 million. We will spend $1.5 billion on upstate revitalization. Those are the three $500 million revitalization grants to three regions upstate New York and then $3 billion on infrastructure and other investments.
The other investments are as you see here – through a stabilization fund, protects the toll for one year and invests in the Tappan Zee, high speed broadband, upstate hospitals which are in terrible need of repair and reconstruction. Four MTA stations for the Bronx, the parking garages for long Island and Westchester for the Long Island Rail Road, government efficiency grants, upstate response, upstate ports, the State Fair and the Southern Tier farmland initiative comes out to the $3 billion and that is resolved settlement funds. That is the budget in a nutshell and the State of the State in a nutshell.
One last point if I might. One of my colleagues who is an assemblyman – we were talking about this outline of issues the other day and the assemblyman said “well this is going to be really hard because these issues are not New York issues. These problems are all national problems and that is true. Failing schools are a national problem. Struggling older cities is a national problem. Questioning of our justice system is a national problem, so he is right. The y are national problems. But he’s wrong if he thinks that we can’t solve them, because my friends, that is precisely what we do here together as New Yorkers and that is what New York has always done.
New York is the state that leads and it always has. We were the first state to stand up for freedom of religion. This state passed an emancipation law before Abraham Lincoln was even born. We passed the first housing reform to guarantee living conditions in tenements. We passed the first law protecting women’s property rights. Albany County – the first county in the nation that allowed women to sit on juries. Right here in Albany County. That is New York because while Washington fights and gridlocks, we find compromise and we move forward. Why? Because Washington defines itself by their differences and we define ourselves by our commonalities because their politics divides and our politics unite. That is the difference between Albany and Washington, because we have a different belief. We believe in community and we believe in the concept that we are all connected. We don’t believe we are all individuals on our own. We believe there is a connection that binds us, that there’s a cord that connects me to you, to you, to you and that cord weaves a fabric and when one of us is raised we are all raised and when one of us is lowered we are all lowered. And those are not just words. That is the way we live and that is the way we operate.
The Lieutenant Governor was talking about the snowstorm in Buffalo. Seven feet of snow. It was an impossible situation. It overwhelmed everything and people from all over the State dropped everything and came to Buffalo to help. And there was a National Guardsman – I want up to a national guardsman to shake his hand and say thank you. And he said ‘Governor, you don’t remember me, but we met in the North Country. No need to say thank you. You came to help us when we had Hurricane Irene.” There was a plow truck from Nassau County and I climbed up on the step and I shook hands with a plow truck driver and I said “how long did it take you to get here?” It took him thirteen hours to drive a plow truck from Nassau County to Buffalo. I said we are so grateful and he said “no, Governor. Everyone came to us when we had Hurricane Sandy. Everybody came and we are just returning the favor.” New York City, Mayor de Blasio sent up 100 firefighters and all of their equipment. And the same thing with the FDNY. I said “thank you for coming.” And the firefighter said “after 9/11 when the entire world showed up to help us, the New York way is one for all and all for one.” And I thought it is that simple. And it comes down to that simple wisdom and the Buffalo coins we made for the people who helped Buffalo say exactly that: “All for one and one for all.” And that really is the New York way. And that really is the New York credo. The power of “we.” The power of “we.” Putting the differences aside, finding the commonalities and coming together – that is how we’ve been governing. Because we believe, despite our differences, at the end of the day, we are one state. We are upstate and we’re downstate but we are one state. We are Democrats and we’re Republicans but we are one state. We are gay and we are straight but we are one state, we are black and we are white but we are one state but that is how we govern and that is how we come together and that is how we forge an agreement and that is what makes this state so special and that is why I am so honored to be the Governor of this great state, because the problems are not any one region, or any one person.
The young girl who sleeps in a homeless shelter tonight is our daughter. The farmer in the Southern Tier who is struggling to make ends meet – that farmer is our brother. The child that lives in poverty in Rochester today is our child. That is how we govern because that is how we live.
As usual, the man who said this best was a New Yorker and a former governor. He was a statesman and he was a visionary and he was a giant. He was your friend and he was my father. And he said, and I quote “those who made our history taught us, above all things, the idea of family; the idea of mutuality. The sharing, the benefits and burden, fairly for the good of all, it is an idea essential to our success and no state or nation that chooses to ignore its troubled regions and people while watching others thrive can call itself justified. We must be the family of New York feeling one another’s pain, sharing one another’s blessings, reasonably, equitably, honestly, fairly, without regard to geography or race or political affiliation.”
My father was right then and he is right now. That is the New York spirit. That is the New York essence. That is what makes us special and what makes us the greatest state in the nation. That is the philosophy that has brought us four years of balanced budgets and four years where this state has seen more progress than in the past forty years. And that is the philosophy that is going to take this state to new heights with the good work of this body. Working in partnership, working together and working with respect for all of us. We are going to make this state a better state.
And pop – wherever you are – and I think I know where. For all the ceremony and the big house and all the pomp and circumstance, please don’t let me forget what makes New York New York.
Thank you and God bless you.