Assemblymember Cahill Comments on the 2018 State of the State Address

January 3, 2018

The State of the State address by Governor Andrew Cuomo is long on rhetoric and spiced with some specific directions, but little is provided in the way of details. Much of the positive approach of what the Governor advanced has been part of the Assembly agenda for most of his tenure in office. Making health care more accessible, our tax code more fair, our communities more welcoming to business and opportunity are hallmarks of the Assembly legislative program. While I welcome the Governor for sharing our vision, one has to wonder what took him so long?

Workplace, Ballot Access, Legislative Reform

Like so many institutions, New York State government has tolerated and in some instances, encouraged hostile work environments. The creation and imposition of uniform rules, including prohibitions and reporting protocols can make our work places safe for all and stop harassment in its tracks. The Assembly has been at the forefront of addressing these issues to the fullest extent of the authority of our house individually. Speaker Carl Heastie made it a priority that every person working in the Assembly feels safe and free from harassment and unprofessional behavior. Though there were rough spots in the past, and the Assembly was appropriately called out for our failure to adequately address the gravity of the situation, we have turned the corner. It's time for every workplace in New York to follow suit.

Access to the ballot box is a fundamental right of every citizen of our nation. Here in New York, arcane and complex laws limit access for candidates and voters alike. The Governor's call to simplify voting and to bring about campaign finance reforms, along with re-alignment of the responsibilities of state legislators, including limits or prohibitions on outside income can begin to restore the faith the public should have in our elected institutions. Again, the Assembly has had a long standing agenda in this area. What the Governor failed to explain was how he intends to bring around a recalcitrant Senate, under leadership he has been encouraging and supporting for years. Like so many who believe in good government, we await the details of his fiery rhetoric on this point.

State Budget Gap, Federal Impacts

With the exception of a law suit, to be initiated by the Attorney General, not the Governor, some undefined substitution of charitable contributions for tax payments and his promise to investigate the change from income to payroll taxes, it appears that we will have to wait for real solutions. In the meantime, my plan for a State takeover of already unaffordable school tax obligations is ready to go and can provide immediate relief for all taxpayers, while providing equity for every student in our state.

Jobs and Opportunity

The Governor's record of job creation and new opportunity in New York leaves most New Yorkers wanting. The effects of the recession that hit the Hudson Valley over 20 years ago, for example, with the scaling back of companies like IBM, left a permanent scar on the local economy. “Hunger Games” schemes meting out government subsidies and selected tax breaks, staged ribbon cuttings and ceremonies for long overdue public works projects do not put food on the tables of our residents. It is time to hold our economic development programs to scrutiny, to enhance what works, such as investments in education and higher education and abandon self-congratulatory but ineffective approaches.

Health Care

The Governor rightfully objected to the seemingly endless efforts of Congress and the President to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Still, he continued to approach health care coverage with the failed piecemeal model of the last generation. Instead of embracing universal health care, the Governor talked about filling the gaps in insurance for children and replacing a federal mandate on individuals with a state-created substitute. He could have joined the vast majority of New Yorkers and set an example for the rest of the country by once and for all calling for a single payer system in our state. The plan, of which I am a co-sponsor, that has been approved in the Assembly several times would do just that.

Education

It is a long-recognized fact that school property taxes are the greatest burden to homeowners in much of New York State, outside the City of New York. Equally known is that the quality of education that children in this state receive is unequal and highly dependent upon the wealth of the community they live in. Now is the time for a workable solution to assure equity in education and relief of the local school real property tax obligation and substitute it with a plan for complete state funding of primary and secondary education and a formula that assures that every student has the same opportunity without regard to their zip code. I am the prime sponsor of The Equity in Education Act (A.91) and the 21st Century Schools Act (A.112) that would accomplish those goals in five years’ time. Acknowledging the problem is not the same as addressing the solution. It's time for the Governor to move on to the latter.

Higher Education

The Governor's State of the State address, while delving into charts that deceptively paint a rosy economic picture of New York, was devoid of serious discussions of higher education. With an alarmingly low graduation rate in our community colleges and increasingly unaffordable colleges and universities, higher education is in need of crisis attention. At the same time though there are problems, higher education has proven time and again to be the single most reliable means of creating economic opportunity we have known. The State University is governed by a board that is appointed entirely by the Governor. While the state legislature stands ready to work with the Executive, his exclusive authority demands more immediate steps to fix what is broken and to make quality higher education more affordable and accessible to all New Yorkers.

Environment

There is no question about the priority everyone should be placing on addressing climate change and preserving our natural environment. That is why the Assembly and I have taken the lead on a number of fronts ranging from eliminating plastic bags from our landscape to preserving our open spaces and from weaning ourselves from fossil fuels to encouraging the rapid transition to clean, safe renewable alternatives. Instead of focusing on talking points, like “first in the nation” this or that or higher thresholds of one standard or another, the Governor should pause and review the comprehensive and workable Assembly agenda. Over the summer, along with Senator Elizabeth Krueger, I introduced legislation (A.8675), to tackle counterproductive state fossil fuel subsidies, shining a light on and potentially halting tax breaks, credits and refunds for the use of dirty fossil fuels. Further, the Assembly passed legislation that would give New Yorkers a Constitutional right to clean air and water (A.6279). Each of these initiatives has an actual framework that leads New York towards an achievable goal.

Belleayre

After leaving Belleayre Ski Center out of his 2017 Executive Budget, an act only rectified once brought to light by members of our community, the Governor pledged additional funding for Belleayre, Gore, and Whiteface Mountain. Throughout the budget process I remain committed to ensuring that the Governor stays true to his word and commits new funds for Belleayre and other important projects in our region, including the Olana State Historic Site, mentioned in his speech.

Conclusion

The specifics of the State of the State, including ending hostile work places, reform of voter participation and legislative obligations and compensation are long overdue. His plan for filling the already-existing gap in the state budget, together with the traumatic impact that federal changes will bring, was woefully short on specifics. His acknowledgement that New York recognizes health care as a basic right sounds good but has not been borne out in his practice.

The Governor said all the right things with regard to education, but did not clearly enunciate a real plan for educational equality and opportunity. Likewise, his acknowledgement of the need to address pressing environmental concerns is indisputable, but workable solutions were sporadic and inconsistent. At the end of the day, the Governor could pay the respect he says he has for the state legislature by studying our proposals and working with us to bring progress and prosperity, health and well-being to all New Yorkers.