Gov. Cuomo must provide details on his ambitious 2019 agenda

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Nov. 28, 2018.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Nov. 28, 2018. Photo Credit: CORAZON AGUIRRE

The State of the State came early this year.

Champing at the bit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo chose this week to bust out the annual speech on next year’s legislative agenda instead of waiting until January, as is traditional.

So what gives? With talk swirling of the 2020 presidential campaign, was Cuomo trying to inject his name into the conversation? Terming the speech “New York’s Declaration of Independence” from the federal government might have been an unsubtle signal. Was Cuomo reassuring ascendant progressives that he shares their priorities and is ready to flex his considerable muscle on their behalf? Or did he simply want to get a jump on his FDR-like promise to accomplish each of his 20 proposals in the first 100 days of the upcoming legislative session?

Better to get items done right

Whatever his motivation, Cuomo has tacked to the left. Legalization of recreational marijuana headlined a shopping list of liberal grails long blocked by State Senate Republicans. The agenda is ambitious. There’s a lot in it to like. Especially middle-class tax relief. But it’s important to remember Cuomo drew only broad strokes. Details will be critical. They always are. Taking time to get them right is more important than getting them done quickly to complete a score card.

Take marijuana legalization. It can’t be done in time to raise cash for the 2019 budget. Cuomo and lawmakers should seek best practices in states that did legalization to ensure they’ve picked the best way to maximize tax revenue and safety. Similarly, we’re glad Cuomo has embraced the idea that motorists should be charged to enter NYC’s business district as a way to raise funds for public transit, but the plan must be carefully designed.

Nor should anyone assume smooth sailing is guaranteed because Democrats will control all levers of state government; Republicans in Washington the last two years are the case study for that. And state Democrats have their own urban-suburban food fight looming: School funding is sure to increase, but its size and distribution will be hotly contested. Funding for the MTA also is likely to turn into a struggle between the subways and commuter rails.

Voting reforms, Dream Act and more

Other laudable initiatives seem likely to become law without GOP roadblocks. Election reforms like early voting and automatic registration are overdue. So are ending cash bail, extending the statute of limitations for criminal complaints and civil claims for victims of sexual abuse as children, and passing the Dream Act to increase educational opportunities for immigrants. In an era of climate change, moving to 100 percent renewable energy by making electrical generation carbon-neutral by 2040 is essential. And Cuomo promised to increase the stock of affordable housing with a bigger state investment and an end to vacancy decontrol, a practice that allows landlords to jack up rates for some rent-regulated apartments and eventually remove them from the system.

Given Cuomo’s timetable, it appears these policies will be stuffed into the budget, in theory not the way to govern but a proven way to get things done. The next big date will be his budget address in mid-January. We’ll expect some meat on these policy bones.