[dropcap]P[/dropcap]roperty tax breaks for 340,000 Long Islanders, more school funding and improving transportation options were among the ideas Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed Wednesday in his fifth annual State of the State address.
The governor’s proposals were outlined in his speech before the state Legislature in Albany, detailing what he dubbed the “2015 Opportunity Agenda,” which also broke down his $142-billion budget plan.
“What is the State of the State?” Cuomo asked rhetorically before answering his own question: “New York State is back and New York State is leading the way forward.”
Aside from proposing to raise the minimum wage, stop prosecuting minors as adults and re-submitting his Women’s Equality Agenda bill, here is a breakdown of nine proposals that could impact Long Island.
9. Airport Enhancements
Cuomo floated a few ideas that aim to make flying easier for Long Islanders. He wants to build a $450 million AirTrain link between LaGuardia Airport and the Long Island Rail Road’s Mets-Willets Point Station. He also wants to make Republic Airport in East Farmingdale a tax-free zone to lure businesses into the surrounding area and ease traffic congestion at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports.
8. More Trains in Penn Station
This one wasn’t mentioned in his speech, but was in the budget plan. It’s the proposal for Metro-North Railroad trains to start serving Penn Station, the nation’s busiest train station, where the LIRR, the nation’s busiest commuter railroad, already competes with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit for track space. Proponents say the $11 billion East Side Access project linking the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal will ease that congestion once those new tunnels linking LI and Manhattan open in 2023, but critics remain skeptical since the completion of that project has been repeatedly delayed.
7. Better Storm Prep
In advance of the next weather emergency, Cuomo also wants to enhance coordination efforts with county, city and local municipalities. He called on the state’s emergency response experts to create stronger lines of communication with their counterparts in local governments. That way, local leaders with unique insight and expertise can bring their intimate knowledge of localities to better help state officials deal with weather emergencies.
6. Education Reform
Underwhelmed by the state’s new teacher evaluation program rollout, Cuomo proposed 50-percent of the evaluations be based on students’ state test scores and that teachers get five consecutive years of effective ratings before earning tenure. Teachers’ unions balked. On the education front, the governor also proposed giving free tuition to the top SUNY or CUNY graduate program candidates who commit to teaching in New York for at least five years, giving students in failing schools a preference in the charter school lottery and he resubmitted the DREAM Act proposal, which would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for tuition assistance. He also proposed tripling the increase in school aid to $1.1 billion if the legislature approves his reforms.
5. New Parking Garages
Out of a $5 billion state surplus that will mostly be spent upstate, the governor proposed that Long Island get $150 million to offset the cost of building parking garages in the Ronkonkoma and Nassau hubs. Split from that pot will also be another parking garage in Westchester. The plan aims to help LIRR commuters and mixed-use development plans.
4. Restoring Trust Between Communities and Police
Although protests on Long Island in response to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown weren’t as rowdy as those in New York City and Ferguson, Mo., they showed that some mistrust remains locally. To address these issues, Cuomo proposed a statewide Reconciliation Commission on police/community relations in certain neighborhoods, recruiting more minorities into careers in law enforcement and making publicly available race and ethnic data on police actions statewide. He also proposed allowing district attorneys to issue a grand jury report or a letter of fact in police cases where an unarmed civilian dies at the hands of police and appointing an independent monitor to review such cases with the option to recommend a special prosecutor. He also wants more funding for bullet-proof vests, body cameras and bullet-proof glass for patrol cars.
3. Community College Reform
Nassau Community College, the largest of 30 such schools statewide, could see big changes under this plan along with Suffolk County Community College. Cuomo wants to create regional planning councils to ensure that the schools better prepare students for the workforce. The councils would set program development, enrollment and transfer goals, ultimately aimed at helping the next generation of workers get jobs.
2. Government Reform
Ironically one day before State Assembly Sheldon Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges, Cuomo spent just 99 words—less than one percent—of his 10,323-word address discussing ways to reduce public corruption and increase public trust in politics. He proposed creating a pay commission to reduce the influence of money in state politics and tightening laws on how campaign funds can be spent. He also resubmitted a proposed public financing system—although a highly criticized pilot plan that the legislature approved last year applied only to a longtime advocate for the proposal, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, of Great Neck Plaza.
1. Property Tax Breaks
This issue Cuomo proposed in a press conference at Hofsta University days before the State of the State. The plan, if approved, would give about 340,000 Long Islanders a $1,000 annual property tax credit—part of a $1.7-billion relief that would include more than a million homeowners statewide. Renters would see annual savings of $400, according to the governor. It would apply to taxpayers earning up to $150,000 whose property taxes exceed 6 percent of their income.
While closing his sales pitch, the governor struck a conciliatory tone in an attempt to rally the public and state lawmakers around his plans. One of the anecdotes he used hit close to home.
“Everybody came to us when we had Hurricane Sandy… and we’re just repaying the favor,” Cuomo said, quoting a Nassau County plow operator who drove 13 hours upstate to help Buffalo dig out from a November blizzard dubbed “Snowvember.” The plow driver was among those who received commemorative Buffalo coins as a thank you gift from the state. The token reads: “All for one and one for all.”