Highlights from Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a lofty agenda for 2017 during his week-long, statewide tour that culminated last Wednesday with his sixth State of the State speech in Albany. Mr. Cuomo traveled across the state, including one stop on Long Island, to deliver his proposals — 35 total — rather than the traditional speech to legislators.

How many of the proposals become reality remains to be seen (The State of the State book outlining the proposals spans close to 400 pages). While there was no proposal tied specifically to the North Fork, many could have an impact on residents. Here’s a snapshot at a few of the proposals.

College Tuition

Joined by Senator Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont, Gov. Cuomo announced the nation’s first plan to offer free college tuition to New Yorkers making up to $125,000 a year at all two and four-year State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools.

Called the Excelsior Scholarship, it is designed to help “alleviate the crushing burden of student debt while enabling thousands of bright young students to realize their dream of higher education,” according to the governor’s proposal. The governor’s office has estimated that the program could cover as many as 200,000 students through 2019.

The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018 and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

To receive the scholarship, students have to be enrolled full-time in a two- or four-year college. Their education costs would be covered through a supplemental program, costing approximately $163 million per year once fully phased in. Currently, 80 percent of households statewide make $125,000 or less.

Child care tax credit

With childcare costs averaging around $25,000 for a family with an infant and 4 year old, Gov. Cuomo is introducing additional monetary relief for nearly 20,000 working-class families whose incomes are between $60,000 and $150,000. These families would see their average state tax benefit double, from averages of $169 to $376. The total program would cost about $42 million.

He said he pushed for this after seeing many parents forced to choose between providing safe, quality child care arrangements and work options. With limited access to child care arrangements, the state’s businesses and economy sees a considerable productivity loss as parents, especially women, deal with difficulties working or advancing as they simultaneously care for their children, decreasing their lifetime earnings, Gov. Cuomo said. Over 65 percent of children under 6 years old have both parents in the workforce.

The new Child Care Tax Credit is designed to supplement the current New York State Child Care and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which gives families who make annual incomes under $50,000 “considerable benefits.” The new extension would go into effect in 2018.

Gov. Cuomo delivers his Long Island State of the State speech last week. (Credit: Gov. Cuomo's office)
Gov. Cuomo delivers his Long Island State of the State speech last week. (Credit: Gov. Cuomo’s office)

Cyber-attack protection

Gov. Cuomo unveiled a two-part plan to help combat cyber attacks. It includes strengthening and modernization of cybercrime and identity theft laws, and the creation of a new Cyber Incident Response Team designed to provide cybersecurity support to schools, governments and critical infrastructure statewide.

He has created a three-prong approach to strengthen cyber crime laws. This includes increasing computer tampering punishments — including a new Class B felony to punish those responsible for causing over $1 million in damage through computer tampering — strengthening identify theft punishments by giving severe criminal punishments for identity theft committed against seniors and the mentally and physically disabled, and expanding computer intrusion laws to better protect private citizens by passing updated legislation.

Elder Abuse Certification program

Gov. Cuomo introduced a plan to protect senior citizens from financial exploitation and foreclosure. The Elder Abuse Certification program will be introduced at banks, which amends banking law to allow banks to place holds on potentially fraudulent transactions, and strengthening legislation that will protect senior homeowners with reverse mortgages.

To ensure protection, bankers will participate in certification programs across the state, designed by the State Department of Financial Services, on how to recognize the signs of financial abuse. Banks will also be encouraged to place holds on potentially fraudulent transactions in order to protect their consumers and required to report to the appropriate state agencies to take action.

Gov. Cuomo is also looking to amend the Rental Property Actions and Proceedings Law and Civil Practices Laws and Rules to include reverse mortgages. He will also direct the Department of Financial Services to revisit and revise any rules and regulations pertaining to reverse mortgages.

Modernized voting system

Registering to vote in New York will become a lot easier — if Gov. Cuomo has his way.

As multiple states across the country seek to expand voting access through same-day registration, early voting or automatic sign-ups, Mr. Cuomo has proposed New York adopt all three causes championed by voter rights activists.

Automatic voting registration would add a new box to DMV applications that would allow residents to “opt out” of registering to vote. All others would automatically be registered using their license information.

New York would also open an early voting site in every county 15 days prior to Election Day under the governor’s plan. The state is currently one of 13 states that currently has no early voting and requires an excuse to get an absentee ballot.

Same-day registration would let would-be voters register and cast their ballot on Election Day itself, so that “onerous and counter-intuitive registration deadlines do not prevent New Yorkers from having the opportunity to participate in the electoral process,” according to the Governor’s Office.

Social justice program

Mr. Cuomo — invoking the uncertainty of what a Donald Trump administration will mean for liberal causes — said New York must be a “safe harbor for the progressive principles and social justice that made America.”

So among Gov. Cuomo’s proposals were a host of actions designed to promote progressive and social justice causes.

The most expansive of the social justice programs are a slew of reforms to the courts. The changes would allow lowering the bail amount set for low-risk defendants. New legislation would also require suspects to personally waive their right to a speedy trial if they so chose, prevent 16- and 17-year-olds in less serious cases from being tried as adults automatically and require all interrogations for serious offenses be recorded to increase transparency.

Mr. Cuomo signed two executive orders to combat the wage gap by not allowing employers to ask new employees for their salary history and requiring state contractors to list how much they pay their workers.

Two of the four parts of the plan would address tolerance and empowerment. The immigrant initiative would focus on encouraging immigrants to be more active in civic life, as well as providing legal representation for immigrants, regardless of immigration status. Advancing the DREAM Act to allow undocumented students to get state aid is also a goal.

Clean Water Act

Gov. Cuomo wants the state to invest a record $2 billion in water infrastructure projects across New York, including helping to pay for new wastewater systems on Long Island that would reduce nitrogen runoff.

The Clean Water Infrastructure Act would also give money to local municipalities to upgrade water treatment and filtration systems, replace lead pipes in low-income communities, and connecting contaminated private wells to public drinking water systems.

“The Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 commits historic levels of funding and takes aggressive actions to preserve our water supply while creating a national model for the protection of drinking water,” said New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

Offshore wind project

Gov. Cuomo is putting pressure on the Long Island Power Authority to approve a proposed 90-megawatt offshore wind farm about 30 miles southeast of Montauk.

He has also proposed developing 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind farms by 2030, which would produce enough electricity to power 1.25 million homes, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“New York’s unparalleled commitment to offshore wind power will create new, high-paying jobs, reduce our carbon footprint, establish a new, reliable source of energy for millions of New Yorkers, and solidify New York’s status as a national clean energy leader,” Mr. Cuomo said.

According to the governor’s statement, the Offshore Wind Master Plan would be completed by the end of the year and focus on encouraging offshore wind power developments far enough away from Long Island that they wouldn’t impact the views from beaches. Mr. Cuomo said a new emphasis on wind energy will help to build a “cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers.”

Opioid crisis

To combat the growing opioid addiction crisis, Gov. Cuomo has outlined a six-point plan to “combat every angle” of the epidemic, according to a statement following the State of the State address.

“We must continue to do everything in our power to combat each facet of this complex health emergency,” Mr. Cuomo said. “This multipronged plan addresses each component of heroin and opioid addiction – prevention, treatment, and recovery – in order to help break this cycle of misery and save lives.”

Mr. Cuomo proposed expanding on legislation from last summer that would make it possible for anyone to receive immediate care for substance abuse issues. The drug action plan also would classify new synthetic fentanyl-like drugs under the same system as heroin or other opioids, covering those dangerous drugs and those who sell them under criminal law, as well as increasing access to buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction.

Beyond the crisis centers, one for each of the 10 regions of the state, the plan also calls for two “recovery high schools,” one upstate and one downstate, to be run by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. These schools would be designed to help young people complete their educations while addressing their addictions and substance abuse.

Finally, new requirements for doctors in emergency rooms would make it harder for addicts to “doctor shop” in order to find someone willing to write a prescription.