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Cuomo's Wish List For 2019: Legal Weed, Ending Cash Bail, Banning Corporate Contributions

Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking at the Roosevelt House for Public Policy on Monday morning.
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Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking at the Roosevelt House for Public Policy on Monday morning. Governor's Office

Even on a regular day, Governor Andrew Cuomo can lay it on pretty thick when it comes to the last New York governor to make it to the White House. But Monday wasn’t a regular day: Hunter College’s Roosevelt House for Public Policy, which is literally located in FDR’s and Eleanor’s former house, invited Cuomo to speak on the topic of what FDR would do today.

New Deal reference: check.
Four Freedoms reference: check.
Fear itself reference: check.
‘Hundred Days’ reference: BIG check.

Speaking at the New York City Bar Association to a friendly audience, Cuomo used the occasion to outline his agenda for the first hundred days of 2019. It was essentially a preview of his upcoming inaugural and State of the State addresses next month.

"We have a Democratic Senate, a Democratic Assembly, now is the time to make these changes,” Cuomo said. “There are no more excuses, my friends.”

Based on the goals mentioned in his speech, if Cuomo has his way, by April 10th he and the legislature—which now has friendly super-majorities in both chambers—will have passed:

  • A broad slate of election and campaign finance reforms, including automatic voter registration, early voting and, as Cuomo put it, a "ban any corporate contributions to any political candidate, period."
  • A law legalizing recreational marijuana (though Cuomo prefers to call it “adult marijuana”).
  • Ethics reforms, including strictly curtailing legislators’ outside income.
  • An “Equal Rights Act” for women, and a law codifying Roe v. Wade into state law.
  • A “Green New Deal” that would “make New York’s electricity 100% carbon neutral by 2040 and ultimately eliminate the states entire carbon footprint.”
  • Expanded firearms regulations, including a ban on "bump stocks" that can essentially convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones and a "red flag" law that would block would block people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others from having a gun.
  • Elimination of cash bail.
  • Increased spending on affordable housing—“more than this state has ever invested in the history of the State of New York,” he said—and reforms to rent regulation that include “ending vacancy de-control.”
  • The New York DREAM Act, which would make undocumented residents eligible for tuition assistance at in-state schools.
  • The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination, or GENDA, which would protect LGBTQ New Yorkers from discrimination and hate crimes.
  • The Child Victims Act, which would raise the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse to pursue criminal and civil legal actions against alleged perpetrators of abuse.

“Our burden is to prove the positive, to dispel the skepticism about activist government and to show that the Democratic party is more than words,” Cuomo said, “and end that skepticism that says all we do is promise, promise, promise, but we never deliver.”
The 45-minute speech listed these and other proposals, but didn’t give details on most of them.

For instance, a pledge to provide “a dedicated funding stream so the MTA has the funding it needs” mentioned congestion pricing as “the only alternative”—but even when fully implemented, the process of taxing all drivers in Manhattan’s business district is projected to generate $400 million in annual revenue, much less than is needed to stem a $1 billion deficit in 2020 alone or to fund the $40-60 billion outlined in the MTA’s proposed Fast Forward plan.

Cuomo also alluded to cutting “middle-class taxes”; protecting workers in the “gig economy” who lack health insurance, paid family leave, worker’s compensation and other basic rights; and ensuring that “every child, rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural” receive “the same quality education.”

But these pledges were especially vague.

And some big-ticket items weren’t mentioned at all, including the New York Health Act, the proposed single-payer healthcare plan backed by almost all Democrats in the Assembly and Senate, and financial support for his fiscally beleaguered host, the state university system.

Still, many in the audience applauded loudly and frequently.

“He laid out a bold, progressive agenda,” said Andrea Miller, president of the Institute for Reproductive Health, “policies that New Yorkers have been hungry for for years that have been held back by the state senate in particular.”

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, was glad to see Cuomo set the bar for himself and the legislature high—all the way in the stratosphere with FDR’s historic Hundred Days.

“We will be pushing hard to insure the governor and the state legislature come together on what we need, which is what FDR would do,” she said. “Albany has historically been a cesspool of transactional politics, but with New York having become a blue state, we’ll find out whether the principles embodied in the legacy of FDR will carry the day.”

But many were also critical, especially in the educational community.

“Distributing the money between schools within districts is not the problem,” said Jasmine Gripper, legislative director for Alliance for Quality Education, whose lawsuit more than 15 years ago helped realign how the state funds public education. “The problem is that under Andrew Cuomo, the state doesn’t provide enough funding to meet the growing needs that result from growing poverty and increased numbers of English language learners.”

Fred Mogul is the state politics and health reporter for WNYC. You can follow him on Twitter @fredmogul.

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