ALBANY, NY — With tens of thousands of his fellow New Yorkers dead from the still-spreading Covid-19 virus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday used his 11th State of the State address to call for a new “spirit of optimism” and diligence to fight the pandemic as the state prepares to move to a post-Covid society.
“We see the risk and the peril but we also see the potential," Cuomo said of efforts the state will try to lead to rebuild a shattered state economy.
Still, Cuomo, in answering the question every governor tries to do in such annual addresses – what is the condition of the State of New York – noted the obvious impact of Covid-19 since last March. “We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious," he said.
The Democratic governor, elected to office in 2010, said a number of priorities are needed by the state, in addition to defeating Covid-19 and expanding the vaccination effort that has been off to a slow start. Among the priorities: dealing with a short-term fiscal crisis facing the state government, keeping open the state’s economy from further closure orders, expanding the green energy sector in the state and seizing on opportunities that may be created in an economy shaped by Covid-19.
New York is at a crossroads, he said. “Do we move forward or backward?”
“It will be the greatest test for government since we mobilized to fight World War II. It will be the greatest opportunity for advancement since post-World War II," he said.
Much of Cuomo’s speech, so far, has hit repetitive themes he’s been touching on for months. He again blamed federal health policies for the spread of Covid and said, again, Washington is responsible for bailing out states like New York whose economies have been hurt by Covid.
Cuomo, who led economic closure efforts last spring as Covid spread , on Monday repeatedly said the state can’t afford more shutdowns of businesses. Instead, he said the state will, for instance, press ahead with the nation’s “most aggressive” transportation and infrastructure rebuilding program to bolster rail, road, air and housing across the state.
In a separate speech later this week on environmental matters, Cuomo said he will outline the specifics of a new green energy effort by New York. “Covid is the existing threat, but climate change is the existential threat. New York will be the green energy capital of the world," he said.
The worsening Covid pandemic forced Cuomo to change how the annual speech is given. Instead of before an audience of lawmakers, lobbyists and political supporters who pack into a state convention center, Cuomo’s speech is being given to a virtual-only audience. The location is the War Room – an aptly named ceremonial room with ceiling murals of often violent clashes depicting New York’s military history – just a few steps away from his second floor Capitol office.
The annual address, which Cuomo is giving a week late this year, serves as a ceremonial kicking off point for the legislative session, which also sees its first real day of business for 2021 later on Monday.
State of the State speeches are often filled with soaring rhetoric and vague policy and fiscal proposals. Actual details of the Cuomo plans won’t emerge until he introduces legislation about each plan or includes them as portions of his upcoming 2021-22 state budget plan for the fiscal year starting April 1.
As he does every year, Cuomo is making the State of the State a multiday event, with a twist. He often rolls out days ahead of time various policy ideas that he will be mentioning in the speech. This year, though, he is giving the main speech Monday, followed by three consecutive days’ worth of speeches on specific topics, such as what his administration might have in mind for a post-Covid economy after the loss of so many jobs and businesses the past 10 months.
Among the first ideas to trickle out last week: Cuomo said he would again push, for the third time, for the legalization of marijuana, which would include a heavily regulated marketplace that would eventually send Albany a projected $300 million worth in tax revenues.
Cuomo also said he is dropping his past opposition to legalizing mobile sports betting. Such wagering is allowed in-person at four commercial casinos, as well as at Indian-owned casinos, but the real money to the industry – and state – would be in permitting people to place wagers on college and pro sports contests on their phones or computers from anywhere in the state.
Cuomo for years has said mobile sports betting could only be authorized through a multiyear constitutional amendment process. With the state’s finances deeply in the red, Cuomo now sees one thing in mobile sports betting: tax dollars, potentially $500 million annually.
In the roll-up to today’s speech, Cuomo has also previously said the address would include:
• Extending a moratorium on commercial evictions until May 1 for tenants who have had Covid-related financial hardships.
• “Reimagining” the mission of a state agency tasked with addressing domestic and gender-based violence to make its work more comprehensive and creating a new state rule to authorize courts to require domestic abusers to pay for such things as a victim’s moving costs.
• Streamlining a series of rules and laws to make telemedicine, which has skyrocketed during the Covid pandemic, easier on a number of fronts for health care providers and patients, and to strengthen investigative powers of a state health department office charged with disciplining doctors and physicians assistants who engaged in misconduct.
Like lawmakers are already doing, Cuomo is also pushing a package of election law changes to address absentee and early voting problems seen in elections last year. The governor’s plan includes more hours on weekends for early voting periods. Also, Cuomo – like lawmakers – is pushing for second passage of a constitutional amendment providing for “no excuse” absentee voting. If OK'd this session, voters statewide would consider the change in a referendum this November.
The Cuomo State of the State message also would permit voters to request absentee ballots 45 days before an election, instead of 30 days now, and new provisions are proposed to get local election boards to more quickly count absentee ballots.