Ever leftward: Cuomo seeks liberal mantle in State of the State speech

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the first of six regional State of the State addresses Monday morning in Manhattan, setting out a progressive agenda for New York state that would have seemed strikingly liberal for the governor just a few years ago.

In his first term as governor, Cuomo faced criticism from the progressive flank of the Democratic Party for his centrist proposals and productive relationship with state Senate Republicans, even as he occasionally championed measure like same-sex marriage. His emphasis has changed since those early days, shifting even further to the left as progressives like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont win the hearts – and votes – of Democrats around the country.

A turning point was his 2013 SAFE Act, which allowed him to tout the state as having the “strictest gun laws in the country” during his 2014 reelection campaign. In late 2014, he instituted a ban on hydrofracking, another priority of activists around the state. Then last year, the state Legislature approved his proposals to enact a paid family leave program and a $15 minimum wage.

“At the same time we did all of our economic work and our infrastructure, we passed marriage equality, paid family leave, common sense gun control, $15 minimum wage,” Cuomo, who has long been rumored to harbor presidential ambitions, told a crowd gathered on the 64th floor of One World Trade Center. “New York one again is truly the progressive capital of the nation. The nation once again looks to New York to find the way up.”

The governor, who bypassed a longstanding tradition of delivering the State of the State address to state legislators in Albany, doubled down on a liberal agenda with his proposal to provide free tuition for certain college students at City University of New York and State University of New York schools, even teaming up with Sanders for the big announcement last week.

Cuomo, who branded this year's agenda "Excelsior: Ever Upward," also called for an expanded child care tax credit, lowering greenhouse gases and providing more after-school education programs.

The governor alluded to the political climate in the wake of Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign and the fear liberals have about his incoming administration, although he did not mention Trump by name. He vowed to fight back against any attack to the state’s progressive agenda – specifically referencing a potential repeal to the Affordable Care Act.

“At these stormy times of instability and confusion – let the great state of New York serve as a safe harbor for the progressive principles and social justice that made America. We will hold the torch high to light the way,” Cuomo said during the speech. “That is New York’s promise. And it is unequivocal. This promise is not just in words; it will be in actions. We will protect the social progress we have made and we will push even harder.”

Cuomo delivered the speech to a who’s who of elected officials and politically-connected New Yorkers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer were all singled out by the governor. Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., both Cuomo allies who might mount primary challenges to de Blasio this year, were also in the crowd.

Conspicuously absent from the audience were any members of the state Senate or Assembly. The state Legislature was in session up in Albany, and Cuomo’s six-stop tour was seen by many as a way to avoid lawmakers entirely after a contentious December where the governor failed to reach an agreement with legislative leaders over holding a special session. Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, have both said they will not attend any of the State of the State addresses.

This tension does not bode well for many of the initiatives Cuomo proposed in the speech. In addition to new proposals, Cuomo once again said he would support a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-year-old, plus passage the DREAM Act and the full Women’s Equality Agenda, which includes a bill to codify Roe v. Wade. All these issues have been around for several years and have repeatedly failed to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Here’s a closer look at Cuomo’s new liberal agenda for the 2017 legislative session:

·      Free tuition for SUNY and CUNY: Cuomo has proposed that families and individuals making less than $125,000 would qualify for free tuition at SUNY or CUNY.

·      The Enhanced Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit: The new tax credit would supplement the current state Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and double the benefit for families earning between $60,000 and $150,000.

·      Electric Vehicle Use: The state would build 500 new workplace charging stations and 69 new charging stations along the Thruway.

·      Lower greenhouse gases: Cuomo promised a new commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 30 percent by 2030. Cuomo is also calling on partner states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to join New York with this commitment.

·      The Democracy Project: The new actions would allow early voting, automatic voter registration and same day voter registration to increase participation. Voters would have access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to the election and a new system would automatically send voters’ information to the DMV for registration. Citizens would be able to “opt out.” Lastly, citizens would be able to register to vote on Election Day and vote that day.

·      Expanding after-school education: Cuomo proposed a $35 million pilot program to create 22,000 new after-school slots in high-need areas across the state. Advocates argue the program helps achieve higher academic outcome, decreases dropout rates and reduces juvenile crime.

·      The New York Promise Agenda: This package of social justice reforms includes several initiatives to reform the state’s criminal justice system, eliminating the wage gap, combating the rise in hate crimes and expanding opportunities for immigrants.