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Cuomo: State Of The State Message Will Offer Hope

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking in Albany Dec. 2, 2020.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking in Albany Dec. 2, 2020.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, after nearly a week’s delay, is scheduled to deliver his State of the State speech on Monday. The Democrat says in the midst of a worsening pandemic and economic losses, the message will be a bit brighter, now that Democrats are set to control both houses of Congress and President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll push for a bailout for states like New York hard hit by the pandemic.

After the Democrats took two U.S. Senate seats in special elections Tuesday in Georgia, Cuomo says he has new hope that the federal government will help New York close what Cuomo says is a $15 billion budget deficit. Much of the gap is due to steep revenue declines because of pandemic-related economic shutdowns.

“I now have to rewrite the state of the state,” Cuomo said on January 6.  

Cuomo says the state was treated unfairly under the administration of President Donald Trump and Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who refused to approve any relief for state or local governments. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the states suffering deficits under the pandemic should consider declaring bankruptcy.

“We want a return of the state’s property that was stolen by Washington over the past four years,” said Cuomo, who said the state’s budget gap is due to “negligence” by the federal government in its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The federal government is not likely to solve all of the state’s fiscal problems though, and the governor has already said he’ll consider expanding sports betting and legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana. Those actions could bring in $800 million a year in revenue when fully implemented.

Cuomo and Democrats who lead the legislature also face growing pressure to impose new taxes on the state’s wealthiest. A coalition of progressive groups and unions, chanting “tax the rich” demonstrated outside Cuomo’s New York City offices, and plan more events later this month.  

Both legislative leaders are on record supporting new taxes for the wealthy. The governor has not ruled them out, but he continues to caution that it could cause the state’s richest residents to leave, and in the end would not raise that much money, just $1.5 billion, one tenth of the state’s deficit.   

The one issue overwhelming all of the others in 2021 is the ongoing and worsening COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to distribute a vaccine to the public as it becomes available. Early vaccination distribution programs have been rocky, and the governor on Friday expanded distribution sites to include pharmacies, doctors’ offices and county health departments.

Despite the rising rate of infection, Cuomo is allowing 6,700 Buffalo Bills fans to attend a weekend playoff game. He says the pre-testing requirements and post-game contact tracing is a pilot program for opening other larger venues, even before most people are vaccinated.

“If you test negative, you could go into a restaurant, if you test negative, you could go into a theater,” Cuomo said. “Or you test negative you could go into a commercial office building.”

The governor initially said he wanted to attend the game, but he gave his ticket to a nurse instead, saying he had too much to do to get ready for Monday’s speech. 

Cuomo also released some of his other 2021 proposals, including strengthening protections against tenant evictions during the pandemic. He also wants to change rules that require boards of elections to wait days or even weeks before opening absentee ballots. Instead they could begin counting the ballots on Election Day.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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