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Editorial: Progressivism with some restraints in Cuomo's speech

Emboldened by Democratic Party majorities in both houses of the Legislature, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday laid out a “justice agenda” for New York that is heavy on progressive priorities, but seasoned with some restraints.

Legalized recreational marijuana. An affirmation of rights for transgender individuals. Stronger protections for abortion rights. Those are among the goals the governor laid out on Tuesday. Cuomo delivered his State of the State address and executive budget message for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

The governor stressed social, racial and economic justice, which he said can coexist with fiscal responsibility.

As the governor likes to say, the devil will be in the details. There is more to be revealed about his proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. His desire to let upstate casinos take wagers on sports included no specifics.

There was no reboot of the Buffalo Billion to announce, but Cuomo showed his awareness of our region’s concerns, from education to the economy.

New York already spends more on education, per pupil, than any other state, as the governor said, but the way it is distributed has to change. Cuomo called for a 3.6 percent increase in overall aid to 700 public schools, but there was no breakdown by district. He mentioned the Buffalo Public Schools as an example of incongruities in how state aid is apportioned. He said Buffalo spends about $15,000 annually per student on poorer schools, and $17,000 on wealthier schools. How that imbalance is corrected remains to be seen but, plainly, it cries out for attention.

The proposed budget includes $1.3 billion in tax and fee hikes, including the creation of three new taxes from legalizing marijuana that should bring the state $300 million annually.

The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act will regulate marijuana from cultivation to retail sales, and the state will create an Office of Cannabis Management. While there are good reasons to legalize pot, tight regulations are needed to protect the public from possible dangers. Alcohol and tobacco are similarly regulated.

Cuomo added a sweetener to the pot proposal for localities that are wary of legalization: Counties and large cities would be able to opt out of participating. Marijuana as a cash crop could be a revenue-producing powerhouse, a fact that municipalities will have to consider before deciding whether to just say no.

Once recreational use is legalized, the state needs to keep a tight rein on the pricing to discourage consumers from buying pot on the black market, which has been a problem in California.

The governor also mentioned middle-class tax relief, long an issue for him, including an ongoing lawsuit against the federal government over ending SALT deductions.

Cuomo directed some funding for Buffalo, including $50 million over three years to help revitalize portions of the East Side, which must be a critical part of the city’s revival.

Cuomo wound up his speech by listing some welcome ethics reforms, including closing the LLC loophole, though he didn’t give the loophole more than one brief mention in a one-hour speech.

The governor is surely energized by having his political party in charge of Albany. Unless differences arise that divide his fellow Democrats, this is sure to be a historic session. And that, of course, can be good or bad.

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