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Prioritizing New York for 2017

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent last week travelling to six cities around the state to deliver regional State of the State speeches. Traditionally, the governor of New York gives one State of the State speech in Albany with lawmakers in attendance. But after a special session at the end of 2016 failed to materialize—a special session that would have allowed legislators to give themselves raises—some lawmakers are not very happy with the governor, and he decided to take his show on the road.

Among his goals, he wants the state to provide free tuition to all students who go to two- or four-year SUNY and CUNY colleges, and whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. Sen. John Bonacic said he is opposed to the idea because college students need to have “some skin in the game.” We agree with Cuomo’s point that a college degree is as important today for a person to become successful as a high school degree was 75 years ago, and anything that helps reduce the cost of college is beneficial.

Cuomo also announced that he has reached an agreement with Entergy, the company that owns the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, and that plant will shut down for good in 2021. Some have criticized the move because they say’s it’s not clear how the electricity from the 2,000 megawatt facility will be replaced. But to allow that aging facility to continue to operate in the midst of one of the most densely populated areas of the country and just 24 miles from New York City is too risky, and the earlier the plant is closed, the better.

Cuomo also said he wants to address the issue of ethics—or the lack thereof—in Albany. He wants to limit the amount of outside income a legislator may earn, and he wants also to adopt term limits. Those were ideas that were also brought up last year, and they were rejected by the legislature and are not likely to be approved this year.

More important moves in the area of ethics would be public financing of election campaigns, and closing the so-called “LLC Loophole,” which allows individuals or businesses to donate nearly unlimited amounts of money into campaigns. We strongly support both ideas; unfortunately, while there is certainly support among many Assembly members for both proposals, there will likely be insufficient support in the Senate for them to move forward.

Another initiative Cuomo announced is the creation of an Enhanced Middle Class Child Care Tax Credit that he says “will help more than 200,000 middle-class families make their child care more affordable.” Child care is a necessity for many working- and middle-class families, and it seems likely there will be support in the legislature for this tax credit.

Cuomo has also pointed to cyber security as a top priority and he created a package of initiatives to address it, including the creation of a new “Cyber Incident Response Team to provide cyber security support to state entities, local governments, critical infrastructure and schools.” With all of the reported Russian hacks in the recent presidential election, cyber security is certainly top of mind for many people, as it should be. It seems likely that this one will also be approved by the legislature.

Another issue involves the promotion of the use of electric vehicles in the state. That would be pushed along with the construction of 500 new workplace charging stations and 69 new charging stations along the Thruway. The governor has said these stations are key to increasing the use of electric vehicles, which will lead to the release of fewer greenhouse gases. We certainly support advances like this that lead to the burning of less fossil fuel.

Another initiative would be to update the voting practices in the state. New York is one of just 13 states that does not provide any opportunity for early voting. Cuomo’s proposal would allow for early voting on at least one day in the 12 days before an election. Another related proposal would allow for automatically registering people to vote when they register with the New York Department of Motor Vehicles and would also allow for same-day voter registration. He made the same proposals last year, but legislators did not adopt them.

Many Albany watchers are saying Cuomo’s proposals are more progressive this year than in the past because he is eyeing a run for the presidency in 2020. It’s impossible to know at this point whether that will happen, but whatever the motivation, he is offering some good proposals.

If you agree, let your state representatives know. For most of our New York readers they are Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, 845/794-5807 (assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Aileen-M-Gunther) and Sen. John Bonacic, 845/344-3311 (www.nysenate.gov/senators/john-j-bonacic/contact.)

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