Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed on Wednesday to legalize recreational marijuana this year, in a familiar sounding State of the State speech chock full of promises and platitudes but short on specifics.
During the nearly two hour address, the governor painted New York as the country's progressive beacon, helping to "set the course through the fog of confusion," while steering clear of "promises it cannot fulfill."
"Progressive government does not raise hopes and dash them on the rocks of reality," Cuomo rhapsodized. "It does not advocate for proposals that it’s not sure it can work."
Minutes later, the governor said that New York will soon fully legalize recreational marijuana—becoming the 12th state in the nation to do so. "This year, let's work with our neighbors in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, to coordinate a safe and fair system," he said.
There were no further specifics on the push for cannabis legalization, which failed during the last session thanks to opposition from suburban Democrats, amid rumors that Cuomo abandoned the effort.
(Flashback to last year's State of the State address: "The time for talking is over. It is the time for doing.")
The governor proceeded to tick off a long list of priorities for the first year of the new decade, most of which had already been announced in the last few weeks. Those items included a push to ban repeat sex offenders from the subway, legalizing gestational surrogacy, and banning foam food containers.
A $3 billion environmental bond act, dubbed "Restore Mother Nature," will be launched as part of a statewide climate change program, the governor said.
He also indicated that he would support paid sick leave, giving workers at companies with five or more employees at least five paid sick days per year—mirroring a protection put in place by Mayor Bill de Blasio five years ago.
On the heels of multiple anti-Semitic attacks, much of Cuomo's address also focused on the need to combat hate crimes. A new bill, he said, would classify mass violence motivated by hate as domestic terrorism. He also intends to increase funding to the Holocaust Museum in Battery Park, so that it can accommodate educational field trips.
The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the moves, noting a 40 percent year-over-year increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the past month.
But critics of the governor, such as the Working Families Party, said Wednesday's speechifying on progressive values was out of step with his meager priorities, as well as his recent comments on cutting Medicaid spending. "It is shameful that Governor Cuomo thinks the best way to fix the deficit is to cut state funding for Medicaid—a move that will cost lives," the group's state director, Sochie Nnaemeka, said following the address.
Cuomo only briefly mentioned the Medicaid budget shortfall, seeming to place the blame on local governments—a possible preview of a coming showdown with Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local leaders, as the state prepares to start off 2020 in a $6 billion hole.
Nevertheless, the governor was upbeat and frisky on Wednesday—quoting Leonard Cohen and Henry David Thoreau, and appearing optimistic about the coming legislative session, even in the face of what he predicted was sure to be a "challenging" year.
He also said he wants to add the national motto of “E Pluribus Unum” (“out of many, one”) to the Seal of the State of New York.
"My friends," Cuomo told the crowd, "we are still driving FDR's 1932 Packard forward, faster than ever before."