In the State of the State address that Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered Wednesday, was he presenting himself as a state leader fighting for his residents to make their lives better? Or was he casting himself as the Democrat ready, willing and able to take on President Donald Trump in 2020?
Whatever Cuomo’s actual strategy is in 2018, he’s headed down the same road — pursuing lofty goals for the state while engaging in a contentious fight with the federal government over its onerous tax plan.
It was good to see Cuomo, in his eighth year, still thinking big. These speeches are occasions to lay out a blueprint and set a bar, and there’s no point in aiming low because then that’s the most you’ll get. Of course, it remains to be seen exactly what New York gets. Previous State of the State addresses have contained similarly ambitious proposals and it always takes a few weeks to see which ones Cuomo puts in his budget proposal, which ones he’s willing to invest his political capital in to achieve, which ones are embraced or shunned by state lawmakers, and what kinds of deals he’s willing to strike to make them happen. Good leaders, Cuomo said, need to be both visionaries and achievers, and he’s right.
A battle worth fighting
We applaud Cuomo’s emphasis on the fight against workplace sexual harassment, including legislation to ban the use of public dollars to settle claims against public officials. Given similar proposals from lawmakers, these reforms seem likely to happen.
Cuomo, who knows big infrastructure projects means jobs and higher quality of life, ticked off an impressive list of projects underway or planned. He wants to accelerate construction of the AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport, extend cashless tolling to Port Authority bridges and tunnels, and advance the revitalization of Red Hook. And he promised a new 400-acre state park on Jamaica Bay, part of his drive to provide desperately needed recreation opportunities in Brooklyn. But we were disappointed that he punted, for now, on a plan to reduce traffic congestion in NYC, noting only the idea of charging a fee to drive in a “certain zone” in Manhattan. A state panel, he said, will offer more choices shortly. Hopefully, that means in time to be included in budget discussions to produce more funding for public transit.
Tax deduction road map
Cuomo’s sharpest invective was directed at the Republican federal tax plan, which he calls an attack on blue states like New York. But the plan also produced his most innovative proposals, including challenging in court the constitutionality of ending unlimited federal deductions for state and local taxes and revamping the entire state tax structure to collect revenue through something like a payroll tax that is tax deductible. That’s worth exploring. But he offered no big new ideas on how to reduce what he called “toxic” property taxes, such as coming up with a new way to fund schools.
Cuomo checked a lot of worthy boxes, from criminal justice reforms to new voting laws to environmental protections. But as he knows well after seven years in office, not every vision can be achieved.
Give him credit for setting the goalposts high. Now the hard work begins on delivering.