In his annual State of the State address on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo focused on eradicating the COVID-19 epidemic, and stressed that New York would have to rely on the federal government’s help to heal a devastated economy and address systemic inequality.
“COVID created low tide in America and the ugliness that lurked below the surface was exposed and became visible for all to see,” Cuomo said during his 43-minute virtual presentation. “The racial divisions, the religious tensions, the government incompetence, the health care disparities, the social injustice and the danger of hateful leadership.”
Cuomo stressed that while New York was not immune from those sentiments, he believed it was exceptional, given the state’s ability to fight back from the depths of the spring of 2020, when more than a thousand New Yorkers died every day from the virus.
“We have a confidence born from accomplishment,” he said. “We know what we must do and we will do it. We will win the covert war and we will learn and grow from the experience.”
The speech, which the governor rewrote over the weekend after Democrats won both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, emphasized what the new Democratic controlled administration in Washington D.C. could deliver for states and localities in dire need of federal aid to help close looming budget gaps. The state currently faces an estimated $15 billion dollar budget shortfall. After receiving some help from the federal relief bill passed last month, the MTA says it needs $8 billion more to avoid drastic service cuts and layoffs in the not-too-distant future.
Democrats gained a supermajority in the state legislature this year, and the governor has faced increasing pressure from members of his party to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to avoid budget cuts and cutting vital services to low-income residents.
But the governor claimed that a state millionaire’s tax wouldn’t do enough to close the budget gap, and laid the responsibility for raising revenue with the federal government.
“It is a war. And like every war before, it must be financed by Washington,” Cuomo said, arguing that Congress, not states, should raise income taxes on the wealthy to help support localities hit hard by the pandemic. The governor also urged Congress to reverse the new state and local tax (SALT) deduction provision, which he estimated has cost the state $30 billion over three years.
Cuomo’s focus on the federal government, and not the state’s billionaires, was greeted with enthusiasm by business leaders.
“The governor’s optimism about New York’s future and the federal aid we can expect the state and city to receive for COVID-19 relief should raise the spirits of all New Yorkers,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, an organization that represents the city’s business leaders and employers. “The Partnership will join his call for Washington to restore full federal allowance for SALT (federal deductibility of state and local taxes).”
The governor reiterated several revenue-raising proposals that he had rolled out ahead of the speech, including a plan to legalize the sale of adult recreational marijuana and a plan to expand to online sports betting.
Still a coalition of Democratic lawmakers and advocates insisted that the state can’t rely on the federal government alone to solve all its economic troubles.
"The governor has promised to balance the budget with a mix of federal aid, budget cuts, and minuscule tax increases—including regressive taxes like sports betting, said Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the New York State Working Families Party, which supports a package of legislation that would raise taxes on those making more than $300,000. “Cuts will fall overwhelmingly on those who have already borne the brunt of 2020’s many crises.”
Cuomo also previewed a series of public health measures including a plan to expand access to telemedicine, ramp up a new public health corps that would hire 1,000 people to serve the state for a year as part of the vaccination efforts, and train up to 100,000 health and emergency volunteers, as well as a plan to open a new network of rapid COVID-testing sites.
The governor asked the legislature to pass the Medical Supplies Act to incentivize New York companies to produce medical supplies which the state would then turn to first when it needed to purchase them.
“Too many essential products are made in China. We must have capacity in the United States and even here in New York,” said Cuomo pointing to the more than $20 million awarded to 36 New York businesses to make medical equipment. “This nation cannot be caught flat-footed again,” he said, citing supply-chain breakdowns in the spring that left states competing with each other to track down enough medical equipment for hospitals and frontline workers.
The governor will be delivering additional policy-specific addresses this week. His office has not yet responded to a request for more information about what he will be speaking about and when those speeches will be.