Cuomo calls for legalized marijuana, statewide plastic bag ban
Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a $175 billion budget Tuesday that calls for legalized marijuana for adults over 21 and promotes a progressive 100-day agenda.
In November, Democrats seized control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade. Mr. Cuomo cited the victory as key in passing progressive legislation.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said, addressing lawmakers in Albany. “What we’re going to get done in this legislative session is going to make history in the state of New York and is going to make history in the nation.”
His 100-day agenda includes a slew of proposals, from campaign finance reform to legalizing sports betting and eliminating cash bail from the criminal justice system.
“It’s a lot,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. But there’s been a lot that has been bottled up for many, many years that we couldn’t get done.”
He said he felt the state is “liberated” thanks to a Democratic-controlled senate.
In a statement, County Executive Steve Bellone applauded the initiatives, referring to the Mr. Cuomo’s agenda as the “most aggressive” New York has ever seen. “Now is the time to advance common sense environmental protections, landmark ethics and campaign finance reform and protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mr. Bellone said.
Here are a few proposals the governor outlined.
Last year, Mr. Cuomo directed the Department of Health to study the impacts of legal adult-use marijuana. The report concluded that the “positive impacts of a regulated marijuana market in New York outweigh the potential negative impacts.”
Under his proposal, sales would be legal for adults over 21 and the criminal records of those convicted of low-level charges would be sealed.
Legal sales of the drug would be subject to a 20 percent state tax and 2 percent local tax.
Mr. Cuomo said the measure could generate $300 million in tax revenue and “create good, union jobs that we need.” He also said that a legal marijuana plan should provide economic opportunities for poor communities, “who paid the price,” over corporations who are looking to “come in and make a buck.”
Local governments — counties and large cities — could opt out of the plan, Mr. Cuomo said.
Plastic bags and bottles
Mr. Cuomo unveiled a plan to expand the Bottle Bill and place an outright ban on plastic bags.
The proposed Bottle Bill expansion would make most non-alcoholic beverage containers eligible for a five-cent redemption, including sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages and bottled coffees and teas.
As for the proposed statewide plastic bag ban, the governor said, “I know it’s not easy. I know everyone has an opinion.” He pointed out that the ban will help address pollution caused by the single-use bags.
Last year, a five-cent fee for plastic bags went into effect in Suffolk County.
Since enacting the Clean Water Infrastructure Act in 2017, funding for clean water infrastructure statewide has reached record highs. Mr. Cuomo wants the state to invest another $2.5 billion into water projects.
He also wants state lawmakers to pass a law blocking a federal plan that would allow offshore drilling.
Under the governor’s “Green New Deal,” New York’s carbon footprint would be eliminated by 2040.
He proposed investing $1.5 billion in renewable energy and offshore wind projects and suggested establishing a $70 million property tax compensation fund to help communities transition from closing obsolete power plants in favor of clean, renewable power.
Mr. Cuomo wants to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in elections.
“At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are taking action to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process and [to] crack down on corporate influences in our election,” he said.
He pointed out that in some upstate counties, polls open at noon, compared to 6 a.m. elsewhere in the state.
“Talk about voter disenfranchisement,” he said. “Let’s give every person the right to vote, make it easy to vote.”
He is proposing to make Election Day a state holiday, synchronize state and federal elections and enact early voting by mail and same-day voter registration.
Following a tragic crash involving a stretch limousine in Schoharie County last fall, comprehensive safety reforms for limousines and similar vehicles were included in the 2019 executive budget.
The reforms include an outright ban on stretch limos and would require drivers to hold a commercial driver’s license denoting that they can operate a vehicle for eight or more passengers.
It would also increase penalties for removing out-of-service stickers issued by the Department of Transportation and give the DMV authority to seize suspended license plates.
The reforms also eliminate exceptions to seat belt requirements for limousines, buses and taxis and explicitly prohibit “larger vehicles” from making U-turns on all roads.
In 2015, four young women were killed and four more were injured when a limo driver attempted a U-turn at the intersection of Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue.
In 2013, in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, the New York SAFE act was signed into law. The legislation requires universal background checks for gun purchases and increased penalties for people who use illegal guns.
Mr. Cuomo has prioritized passing the “red flag” bill in the first 100 days of the year.
Under the law, school officials, law enforcement and family members would be able to seek a court order in order to block someone from purchasing or possessing a firearm if they pose an extreme risk to themselves or others.
He also proposed banning bump stocks and extending the waiting period during a background check from three to 10 days.
“History proved us right. We have more mass shootings, more gun violence, more student deaths,” Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday. “Let New York lead the way again.”
Mr. Cuomo touted several ongoing projects such cashless tolling, airport improvements and Long Island Rail Road second and third track projects as infrastructure achievements. He would like to see $150 billion invested into infrastructure projects statewide over five years.
To address ongoing MTA issues, the governor is proposing to create a “reliable funding stream” through congestion pricing in Manhattan. According to Mr. Cuomo, electronically charged tolls to enter the Manhattan central business district (south of 60th Street) would generate $15 billion. To cover the shortfall to fund the MTA, he proposed a 50-50 split between the city and state.
Mr. Cuomo supports codifying Roe v. Wade into state law under the Reproductive Health Act.
“Let’s write the rights of Roe v. Wade into the New York State Constitution so it cannot be changed no matter what happens politically,” he said.
He also wants state lawmakers to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to protect against discrimination on the basis of sex in the state constitution, among other protections for women that would outlaw ‘revenge porn,’ eliminate the statute of limitations for rape and modernize pay equity laws.
SALT and tax cap
“Our middle class are the ones who took it on the chin,” Mr. Cuomo said, referring to sweeping federal tax reform that limits deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000. He is proposing to lower taxes for the middle class from 6.85 percent to 5.5 or 6 percent, depending on income, and is seeking to make the 2 percent cap on local property tax increases permanent under New York State law.
Photo caption: Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address Tuesday in Albany. (Credit: Courtesy/Flickr)