In his third State of the State address, delivered with much enthusiasm in Albany on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wants to nix the Long Island Power Authority and touted a slew of proposals on gun control, women’s equality and decriminalizing marijuana possession.
Halfway through his first term, the governor challenged legislative leaders to pass those and other less-controversial parts of his 2013 agenda while he gave full vent to his criticism of Congress for delaying passage of $60 billion in Superstorm Sandy aid.
“This is an unprecedented situation in modern times where the federal government has not been responsive in the face of disaster,” Cuomo said, noting that in the 73 days since the catastrophic storm only $9 billion of the package has been approved. “That is not acceptable.”
Although Cuomo has no control over Congress, he suggested that the state could make reforms this year in education, storm preparation and campaign financing. He also promised to maintain his focus on New York’s economic development—an area that’s helped his 70-percent approval rating.
LI came up only in reference to Sandy—both Nassau and Suffolk county executives got shout outs along with Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)—and the complications the Island faces during its recovery process.
Referring to LIPA, which faced harsh criticism for the extensive post-storm blackouts, he said: “It’s never worked, it never will, the time has come to abolish LIPA. Period.” The governor did not say what should replace it—the entity was created by his father Mario when he was governor—but did say the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, would need more oversight authority.
On the issue of rebuilding shorefront homes damaged in the superstorm, Cuomo proposed a buyout program for those living in areas prone to flooding. For those who prefer to stay, he urged storm hardening.
“Instead of just rebuilding a home, I’d rather pay more and put a house on pilings today than build that house three times,” he said.
Cuomo also proposed improving public alert systems before the next storm as well as establishing a state-level strategic fuel reserve to stave off another potential gas crisis.
The governor was most forceful on the topic of women’s rights and gun control. He insisted that the state approve banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in addition to increased sentencing guidelines for users of illegal guns in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
“Forget the extremists,” Cuomo said with rising passion in his hour-long speech. “It’s simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. And too many innocent people have died already.” His remarks were greeted with thunderous approval in the legislative hall.
He was equally adamant when proposing his women’s equality plan for pay equality, strengthening domestic violence laws, stopping workplace sexual harassment and protecting a woman’s right to choose—possibly the only issue as emotional as gun control.
“Because it’s her body, it’s her choice,” he yelled three times in a row. “We passed marriage equality. Let’s make history again and pass women’s equality in the state of New York!”
Cuomo’s proposal to reduce the public view of 15 grams of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation is aimed at reducing the disproportionate number of minorities charged with possession during the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program in the five boroughs.
“It’s not fair, it’s not right, it must end and it must end now,” he said while reintroducing an idea that died in the state Senate last year. Senate Republican Conference Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) blocked the bill when he was majority leader but now that the Skelos has a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats, Cuomo might have a better chance at getting his way.
Among the other notable proposals the governor rattled off were raising the minimum wage to $8.75, creating a statewide network of electric car charging stations and videotaping confessions for those charged with violent crimes and sex offences.
The governor got a few laughs while promoting upstate whitewater rafting by touting a new Adirondack Challenge event with a display of legislative leaders and himself Photo-shopped riding in rafts. He closed by praising the community spirit that sprung from Sandy’s destruction.
“In our darkest moment we shine the brightest,” Cuomo said. “New York State is rising because it’s more unified than ever before.”