ALBANY (WSKG) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his eighth State of the State speech, told lawmakers that 2018 will be the “most challenging” year, and he said they will have to fight against what he said are “threats” from the federal government. He also announced steps to combat sexual harassment and reform the state’s criminal justice system.
Cuomo told lawmakers, the state’s top judges and hundreds of others assembled inside the state convention center that 2017 “was a tough year by any measure.”
But he said “2018 may be the hardest year in modern political history.”
Cuomo said they will all have to work together to fix changes from the federal tax overhaul that no longer allows New Yorkers to deduct state and local taxes from their federal tax returns.
Calling the tax overhaul an “economic civil war,” he said he’s studying how to revamp the state’s tax structure to convert the income tax into a payroll tax. And he generated applause when he vowed to file a lawsuit to overturn what he said is double taxation.
Cuomo also outlined anti-sexual harassment proposals, announced earlier, that would end secret settlements and state taxpayer-financed payouts to victims, as well as establishing a statewide whistleblower protection system for alleged victims of sexual harassment.
“Our country is finally taking a long look in the mirror as to how we treat women,” Cuomo said. “And we are disgusted with what we see.”
The governor also mentioned the state’s ballooning deficit. There’s a $4.4 billion structural gap, and he said at least $2 billion more in funding cuts in health care from the federal government. Cuomo did not offer many details on how he’ll deal with the gap, saying only that “Santa Claus did not visit the state Capitol this year.”
Cuomo also outlined a plan to speed up the state’s criminal justice process and reform the bail system, and he proposed cashless tolling on the entire state Thruway, saying it’s faster and safer.
Throughout the speech, the governor, who has said he’ll seek re-election to a third term this year, railed against the politics of Republicans in Washington, saying they are “divisive” and threaten unions and gay and transgender rights. He said New York is different and will offer an alternative vision for the nation.
Cuomo ended the slideshow accompanying his speech not with a picture of New York, but of the Oval Office in the White House, and he took a shot at President Donald Trump. The governor said hanging “right behind” Trump’s desk is the flag containing the seal of the United States of America, and on it is engraved the words “e pluribus unum” — out of many, one.
“To find the way forward, the president only needs to turn around,” Cuomo said as many in the audience cheered.
Democrats, not surprisingly, liked the speech, including Sen. Diane Savino of the Independent Democratic Conference.
“It was probably one of his better speeches,” Savino said. “It outlined the stark challenges that the state is facing, in terms of our financial situation, the effect that Washington is going to have on us.”
Sen. Brad Hoylman, a mainstream Democrat, said the governor — considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020 — sounded like he could be running. Hoylman said he’s OK with that.
“I think the governor always sounds like he could be a national candidate,” Hoylman said. “But the reference at the end, with the Oval Office, was none too subtle.”
Cuomo has said he’s concentrating on being governor.
But Republicans said Cuomo did not focus enough on New York state and its problems. Assembly GOP Minority Leader Brian Kolb, who is the only announced Republican running for governor, criticized Cuomo.
“I absolutely think he was focusing on his national aspiration,” Kolb said. “Certainly, this was a self-promotional speech at times.”
Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said the governor should have talked more about New York’s economy and the exodus of its population. Flanagan said he’s not sure that substituting a payroll tax for the state income tax is a good idea.
“It sounds like you’re going to give an additional benefit to corporations,” Flanagan said. “Which is kind of antithetical to what the governor was saying about corporations.”
The Senate leader said he’d like to hear more details on how to curb spending and reduce taxes. And he’s likely to get them, when Cuomo releases his state budget in two weeks.