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Analysis: Kathy Hochul puts her own stamp on Albany in first State of the State address

Analysis: Kathy Hochul puts her own stamp on Albany in first State of the State address

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State of State-New York

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.

It was back on Aug. 24 that Kathy Hochul took the oath of office as New York's 57th governor, charged with simply stabilizing a shaken state government in the midst of yet another scandal.

But on Wednesday, in her first State of the State speech amid all the trappings of her office, Hochul pressed her own stamp on New York government by emphasizing all that is "new." She labeled her program a "New Era," introduced a slew of initiatives aimed at stemming the ravages of Covid-19 and highlighted her status as the first woman to ever deliver the speech that outlines the governor's agenda for the new year.

Through it all, she addressed head-on at least some of the issues upon which both Democratic and Republican opponents will challenge her in 2022 – such as Covid-19, crime and taxes – to separate herself from her days at Andrew M. Cuomo's side. And like fellow Democrat Joe Biden's successful appeal during the 2020 presidential campaign, she elevated fighting Covid-19 to paramount importance so the state can attack its other, myriad challenges.

"But first, we must weather the storm around us," she added. "That means controlling this virus and not letting it control us."

To that end, Hochul proposed a $10 billion health care plan aiming to replenish a diminished and exhausted workforce, including direct payments to workers.

"We are attacking this virus head-on, armed with a tactical, science-based approach and we are ready for whatever comes next," she said. "But as we all know too well, this is more than a public health crisis. We now need to support the people, places and industries hit hardest, starting with the New Yorkers who have been on the frontlines since day one."

While the new governor piggybacked on many programs initiated by Cuomo, she saved her most emphatic pitch for her own initiatives. On the day after one of her principal rivals for this year's Democratic nomination for governor – Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi of Nassau County – highlighted the need for tax relief to stem New York's business and population exodus, Hochul took it on directly.

She proposed accelerating a $1.2 billion tax cut originally slated for between now and 2025, as well as $100 million in relief for small businesses.

"That means more than 6 million middle-class taxpayers get more money in their pockets sooner at a time when inflation is robbing them of any gains in income," she said. "To help with property taxes, we will provide a $1 billion middle-class property tax rebate to more than 2 million homeowners."

Those efforts, she said, must stem from dealing with the "harsh realities" of 300,000 residents leaving the state last year – the steepest population drop in the nation. Cuomo famously once blamed the South's warmer climate for enticing New Yorkers to leave, but Hochul moved forward with her tax-cutting plans, as well as several "investments" to make New York the "most business-friendly and worker-friendly state in the nation."

But Suozzi has consistently labeled the state's tax and regulatory polices as "unfriendly" to business as part of his "common sense Democrat" approach, and further blamed Hochul for a "botched" effort to contain Covid-19 as her first failure. He cited her proposed mask mandate with a delayed start date, her "blame" of nursing home residents and their family members for not getting their booster shots and creating "chaos" by delaying testing kit delivery to school districts.

Other Democrats joined in. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, while appreciating many of her initiatives, said few went far enough. Signaling an expected left-leaning approach to the Democratic primary, Williams said the governor's proposal for 100,000 affordable housing units is not sufficient. Her anti-gun violence ideas, he added, failed to include "a broader, bolder vision that reimagines public safety and examines its intersections with housing, health care, education and other issues."

And her proposals to reform current ethics oversight agencies fail to "eliminate the systems, structures and incentives that empowered and enabled the previous governor’s abuses."

"Discussion of these issues is important, acknowledged, and appreciated," Williams said, "but that discussion must be accompanied by the political courage to envision and enact transformational change for New York City and across the state."

But Hochul tackled the crime criticism by touting her own program. She acknowledged an 80% spike in gun homicides from 2019 to 2020, then proposed partnering with New York City and neighboring states, and providing additional resources for community-based organizations and programs to strengthen public safety.

But even that program is unlikely to quell the continuing GOP criticism over the administration's crime policies, centering on opposition to new and liberalized bail laws. State Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy found little to like in the governor's speech, zeroing in on her crime proposals.

"When you look at who is being treated as a priority by our governor: it’s criminals, it’s lobbyists and it’s people in this country illegally," he said. "Democrats’ deadly bail reform law has resulted in nearly 3,500 cases where criminals who were released without bail went on to commit violent felonies."

And Rep. Lee Zeldin of Suffolk County, considered the leading contender for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, blamed the "Cuomo-Hochul administration" for "punishing taxes and a skyrocketing cost of living, out-of-control crime, suffocating attacks on our freedom and unending scandals. "

"Unfortunately, New York’s current Governor Kathy Hochul and one-party rule in Albany have continued the attacks on your wallets, safety, freedoms and kids’ education," Zeldin said.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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