Addresses deficit, virus, green energy
With “optimism grounded in experience,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday (Jan. 11) unveiled his 2021 agenda during a State of the State address at the Capitol.
The governor said that, because of the extended pandemic shutdown, New York faces its largest deficit ever: $15 billion. He called on Congress and the incoming Biden administration to swiftly provide aid to states and municipalities; the state budget is due April 1. Cuomo also suggested the federal government “raise income taxes on the wealthy” to secure the funds. “That is basic economic justice and economic prudence,” he said, arguing that “no state pays more to Washington and receives less” and that “New York subsidizes 42 other states.”
Even if New York raised the tax rate on income over $1 million, “we would only raise $1.5 billion,” the governor said. Cutting education funding by 20 percent would provide another $5.2 billion and freezing state employee salaries would save $1 billion, but “we would still need billions in cuts to health care in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
Although COVID-19 continues its rampage, “we must reopen the economy,” he said. “But we must do it smartly and safely.” Vaccines “will end the crisis” but “we must vaccinate 70 to 90 percent of our 20 million New Yorkers and we must do it quickly, safely and fairly.” He promised to “bring social and racial justice to the effort by making vaccines available to all New Yorkers,” including those lacking adequate health care in “predominantly Black, Latino, Asian and poor communities.”
He called on the federal government to increase the supply. As of this week, he said, the state had 1 million vaccine doses for 4 million eligible people. Because the state is only receiving 300,000 doses per week, “at this rate it will take us 14 weeks just to receive enough dosages for those currently eligible.”
Describing “green energy” as both “a pressing moral imperative and a prime economic opportunity,” Cuomo said New York “will be the nation’s leader for renewable energy innovation and production.” He predicted that the effort would supply 12,400 megawatts of green energy to power 6 million homes, create more than 50,000 jobs, spur $29 billion in private investment and enhance environmental justice.
“Our planet is in crisis,” he said.
Cuomo said the state this year intends to create a hydroelectric facility and 23 solar farms to produce more than 2,200 megawatts of clean power, $2.9 billion of investment and 3,400 jobs in 16 upstate counties, which he did not identify.
Moreover, he said the state is planning two wind farms off Long Island and a wind-tower manufacturing plant at the Port of Albany. Once the renewable energy projects and wind farms are complete, more than half of New York’s electricity will come from renewable sources, putting the state ahead of schedule toward reaching a goal of 70 percent renewable energy by 2030, he said.
■ Cuomo called for legislation to allow county boards of election to start counting and reporting absentee votes on Election Day rather than waiting a week. He also advocated allowing voters to request absentee ballots 45 days before an election (instead of 30) and allowing voters to request absentee ballots without specifying a reason. If the latter proposal receives legislative confirmation, it will go before voters in a referendum.
■ The governor said he supported legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults, calling it “over-criminalized” and noting it could be taxed to provide revenue to the state.
■ Cuomo vowed to launch “the most aggressive construction and transportation development program in the United States: new air, road and rail systems upstate and downstate; more affordable housing; and more economic development to create jobs, jobs and more jobs.”