By MARINA VILLENEUVE
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to deliver an annual State of the State address Wednesday in which he’ll outline his vision for progress in New York while navigating a looming $6 billion budget shortfall.
The third-term Democrat is expected to tout his biggest past achievements and trumpet a long list of future policy initiatives — many of which he’s already previewed in a series of announcements over the past month.
They include plans for expanding anti-discrimination protections in the state constitution, an overhaul for New York City’s Penn Station, a proposed ban on foam food containers, another ban that would cover marketing flavored e-cigarettes to children, and initiatives intended to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Cuomo will deliver his address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in downtown Albany to an audience of members of the legislature and top politicians from around the state. The speech is planned for 1:30 p.m. as the kickoff to a legislative session that runs through June 2.
Cuomo has declared “Making Progress Happen” as his slogan for 2020. But any progress will have to come while the state is grappling with a budget gap fueled by soaring Medicaid costs. Debate over how to handle the shortfall is expected to color virtually every policy debate this year.
Hundreds of activists are expected in Albany for demonstrations on single-payer health care and other issues.
It’s unclear whether Cuomo will use the speech to share many details about his plans to address soaring costs of the Medicaid program, which serves over 6 million people. His administration on New Year’s Eve announced cuts in the program’s payments to health care facilities and providers that are expected to save Medicaid $124 million through April.
Details of how the administration plans to address the funding gap may have to wait for his budget proposal, expected in mid-January.
Cuomo has cautioned against overspending while pledging not to raise taxes. That budget-conscious message could clash with more left-leaning lawmakers and advocates who want to balance the budget with new taxes on the wealthy.
Republicans, who have seen their clout diminish in Albany, say they will hold down spending and resist new taxes.
It isn’t clear whether Cuomo will use his speech to address the potential legalization of recreational marijuana. Legalization proposals stalled last year in New York amid hesitation from Long Island Democrats and disagreements over how to spend revenue from sales of the drug.
It also isn’t clear whether the governor will use the speech to address a mounting debate over whether the state should revisit bail reforms enacted just last year.
Some prosecutors and law enforcement officials have warned that the new rules, which prevent money bail and pretrial detention for a wide majority of low-level cases and nonviolent felonies, could lead to dangerous people being freed from jail while awaiting trial.
The political battle has intensified in the last week as New York judges have released people who would have remained behind bars under the old rules.
Cuomo and other Democrats have signaled they are open to making changes to the statute.
In his preview announcements over the past month, Cuomo has said his State of the State speech would include proposals to ban untraceable guns, study high speed rail, allow liquor sales in movie theaters, require the use of American-made steel and iron on infrastructure projects and ease rules for prosecuting sexual assault involving intoxicated victims, among other initiatives.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said lawmakers have their own priorities this year, including working to increase school aid, affordable housing, infrastructure, local businesses, rural hospitals and mental healthcare.