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Governor proposes sweeping changes in ‘State of the State’ address, from reform to infrastructure

New York Governor Kathy Hochul made history Wednesday as the first woman to deliver the annual “State of the State” address, highlighting an ambitious 228-initiative agenda touching on everything from the pandemic to infrastructure and climate change.

“This pandemic did not create all the problems we’re facing today. It simply forced us to hold up a mirror and see the cracks in our society,” she said. “It had been so easy to ignore before. This crisis has created an opportunity to redefine ourselves and we must embrace it.”

She posited a “new era” for the state, criticizing the tenure of her predecessor Andrew Cuomo — the days of governors “disregarding the rightful role of this legislature” and “wasting time in petty rivalries” with the mayor of New York City are over, she said — and announced several initiatives to improve public trust. 

Her proposals include enacting a two-term limit and banning earned outside income for some statewide officials — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller — and replacing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics with a new ethics agency subject to Freedom of Information Law requests and the Open Meeting Law. 

“For government to work, those of us in power cannot continue to cling to it. We need to continually pass the baton to new leaders with different perspectives and fresh ideas,” she said. 

Gov. Hochul also acknowledged the exhaustion of New Yorkers as the state approaches its third year entrenched in a pandemic that has killed more than 825,000 Americans, according to the CDC.

Here are some proposals the governor’s address highlighted. 

COVID-19 AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Gov. Hochul lauded New York’s efforts against the pandemic so far, including a vaccination rate that’s “one of the highest in the country,” ramping up testing and avoiding shut-downs of schools and businesses like those seen in the early days of the pandemic. 

“But as we all know too well, this is more than a public health crisis. We now need to support the people, the places, the industries that were hit the hardest, starting with New Yorkers who have been on the frontlines since day one,” she said. 

She called for growing the health care workforce by 20% over the next five years and investing $10 billion into the sector, including more than $4 billion to support wages and bonuses for health care workers and improving financial support for students training in the field.

She also proposed expanding the capacity of medical institutions and making it easier for doctors and nurses from other states to practice with their existing licenses in New York. 

REINVIGORATING THE ECONOMY

“Families, small business owners, farmers — they all need our help and they need it now,” Gov Hocul said. “And they’re going to get it.”

She announced the return of to-go drinks, which she said was a critical revenue stream for many restaurants and businesses last year. The state also hopes to offer $100 million in tax relief for nearly 200,000 small businesses and tax credits for COVID-related purchases like outdoor heating and seating.

“The farmers who supply our restaurant kitchens and our own, they need a lifeline as well,” Gov. Hochul said. “I’ve visited farms from Genesee county to the North Fork of Long Island and life is tough even in good years, so we’re going to support them.”

The governor proposed offering farmers a tax credit for overtime hours paid, an increase in the investment tax credit and an extension and doubling of the farm workforce retention credit. 

She also addressed the affordable housing crisis in the state, announcing intentions to implement a five-year housing plan that would invest $25 billion into creating and preserving 100,000 affordable homes. 

INFRASTRUCTURE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

The newly passed $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill has offered the state a “once in a century chance to invest,” Gov. Hochul said. “We cannot let this moment slip by and we won’t.”

She proposed “the largest ever investment in New York’s digital infrastructure, putting $1 billion into connecting more New Yorkers with high speed internet.”

“This vast bill will boost innovation and economic growth, especially in our most remote communities,” she said. 

She also emphasized the importance of bolstering infrastructure against the impacts of climate change, noting Hurricane Ida as an example.

“These events are no longer rare. The next one is coming. Look no further than upstate counties constantly battered by so-called 500-year flooding, or the tunnels in New York City, and communities on Long Island still undergoing repairs more than a decade after Hurricane Sandy hit,” she said. “This is a threat to our way of life, here and now. That’s why we must, and we will, implement a vicious agenda to meet this moment.”

Gov. Hochul said the state has plans for a $500 million investment into offshore wind energy. “Our reliance on fossil fuels must be phased out,” she said. 

EDUCATION

Gov. Hochul thanked the efforts of county leaders, parents and local districts to keep schools open and said the state would “ramp up efforts to recruit and retain teachers with more effective training and support, faster and earlier certification, and stronger career pipelines and ladders.”

The state will place more mental health professionals with schools as well, she said, “to help heal the wounds inflicted during the isolation of remote learning.”

And, addressing a widespread labor shortage, she proposed creating the Office of Workforce and Economic Development and investing in workforce development programs, “which simply means matching people, to training, to jobs.”

She also called for revitalizing the SUNY system and a new “Jails to Jobs” initiative to help formerly incarcerated people find employment.