ALBANY – Proclaiming a spirited, left-leaning agenda for the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday offered a tease of some of his top social priorities, including legalizing recreational marijuana use, expanded environmental protections, education funding being driven to low-income school districts and creating new gun controls.
Few of the ideas Cuomo promoted in a speech in Manhattan were new to either him or Albany, but they come as the Capitol prepares in January to become controlled by Democrats in all branches of government.
“Now is the time to make these changes. There are no more excuses," Cuomo told an audience of supporters – except for two hecklers – gathered at the New York City Bar Association headquarters.
The Senate’s flipping to Democratic control, after 100 or so years of GOP dominance, gives Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers opportunities to enact a number of items long stalled when the Senate was run by the Republicans.
“I want to be able to commence action immediately,’’ Cuomo said of what he says will be a busy first 100 days of 2019.
As outlined Monday, Cuomo’s priorities, many with no specifics attached, include:
* Legalizing adult use of marijuana “once and for all.’’ Cuomo only a couple of years ago derided the pot legalization movement, calling the drug a “gateway" to harder drugs.
* Maintaining an existing increased tax rate on wealthy New Yorkers, making permanent the state’s property tax cap program and enacting some kind of tax breaks for middle class residents.
* Enacting a “Green New Deal,’’ to make the state carbon neutral by 2040. Cuomo’s speech was titled “What would FDR do today,’’ after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former New York governor and New Deal architect.
* Expand gun purchase waiting periods from three days to 10 days, and banning bump stocks.
All of those items, and others, are likely to be approved in some form by the Democrats who control the Assembly and Senate come Jan. 1. Many of the ideas originated with Democratic lawmakers in one or both of the houses.
Cuomo also wants, as previously proposed, to make it easier to register to vote and to be able to vote via the mail and drop restrictions on absentee voting. He also proposed, for the first time, bans on corporations and LLC giving to political campaigns; his gubernatorial campaign has been one of the most aggressive in modern New York political history in raising funds from those sources. Cuomo starts his third term Jan. 1.
The governor also wants to make Election Day a state holiday as a way to encourage turnout.
Cuomo’s repeated past vows to get passed in January a law expanding and protecting abortion rights, and he says 2019 is the year when the Child Victims Act – expanding the statute of limitations for child sex crime victims to seek civil and criminal redress – will get passed.
On education matters, Cuomo said a new law in 2018 helped shine a light on exactly how much state and local funding was spent on each of the 6,000 or so public schools in New York. “We now have the results and the results are disturbing,’’ he said, suggesting he will be proposing in his 2019 budget a new way to drive state education funding in order to earmark schools in low-income districts.
Cuomo also said the long-stalled Dream Act – giving state aid to children of undocumented immigrants – will get OK'd in 2019. “Now, New York must practice what we preach,’’ he said.
Like State of the State addresses, Cuomo in his mini-State of the State preview on Monday gave policy shout-outs to an array of groups who were helpful in his recent re-election campaign, including organized labor.
After a somewhat brief lull, Cuomo returned to a full-throated bashing of President Trump, a daily target during Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign this past fall. He said Americans are afraid of Washington’s “arrogance, disrespect and dysfunction," and added that Roosevelt would have appreciated the agenda Cuomo laid out Monday.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this country is in crisis … We must stand up to this tyranny once again,’’ Cuomo said. He declared the Trump administration’s policies “un-American,’’ and said New York in 2019 will represent an opposite world to Washington.
“We’re going to pass this progressive agenda," he said.