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Hochul's State of the State speech will focus on housing and fighting illegal guns

Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul.

In less than a month, Kathy Hochul will give her first State of the State address as a governor elected by the voters, and she’s already given some hints about what she will make a priority.

Hochul gave a State of the State speech in January 2022 while she was filling out the remainder of the term of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace in August 2021. But this is the first time she will have the chance to lay out an agenda for a full four years.

The Democrat has she intends to focus on gun safety, including curbing the flow of illegal guns from other states that have fewer restrictions on buying semi-automatic rifles and ammunition.

“We have a tremendous trafficking problem,” Hochul said on Nov. 28.

A mass shooting by an 18-year-old man in a Buffalo supermarket last spring that killed 10 people prompted Hochul and the State Legislature to restrict the purchase of semi-automatic rifles to those over 21. But the shooter also purchased weapons in Pennsylvania, where the laws are more relaxed.

Because of the interstate commerce clause, it’s difficult for New York to restrict those purchases. Hochul said she wants to expand a nine-state anti-gun violence task force that helps track illegal gun trafficking.

Hochul did not mention revising the 2019 bail reform laws, which ended most forms of cash bail and became an issue in the 2022 governor’s race. But she previously has said she wants to see if more changes need to be made.

The governor said she also wants to create more affordable housing. She already pledged to begin a five-year, $25 billion program to build 100,000 new units. But in a recent speech at the New York Housing Conference’s annual awards program, she said funding is not the entire issue.

“Here’s the real problem: We’re a national leader in blocking housing,” Hochul said on Dec. 1.

Hochul said New York state created three times as many jobs in the past decade as it did housing, with 1.25 million new jobs, but just 400,000 new housing units.

She said strict zoning and other regulations in the suburbs surrounding New York City — like those in Westchester County and on Long Island — are responsible for much of the squeeze.

“Virtually no new housing has been created in large swaths of New York City, the region, the metro area, for years compared with suburban areas across the country,” Hochul said.

She said the trend is growing in upstate as well.

Hochul said she’s been talking to think tanks and housing experts to devise a workable plan that she will detail in her State of the State address and in her proposed budget.

Hochul is also indicating that she may stand up to the Legislature more during her first elected term in office.

She recently vetoed bills that would have created several task forces and studies that the Legislature had wanted, including ones on dyslexia in children, cryptocurrency and fentanyl abuse. The bills would have cost over $40 million in new state spending.

Hochul said the economy has taken a downturn since the budget was approved last April, and she needs to be more careful about state spending.

“Many of these studies are being undertaken by our agencies and departments already,” Hochul said.

The governor is expected to talk more about the state’s finances in her next high-profile speech, after the State of the State in early January. That’ll come later in January and outline the state budget.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.