NEW YORK CITY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for tougher gun laws and to dissolve the Long Island Power Authority in a lengthy and empassioned State of the State address Wednesday that included his customary quirky videos.
Adding his voice to the national debate on gun control in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Cuomo called on Albany to enact “the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation,” by closing loopholes, forcing background checks on private sales, and stiffening penalties for the purchase of illegal guns.
"It's simple. Nobody hunts with an assault rifle. Nobody needs 10 bullets to kill a deer,” said Cuomo, who spoke with an emotional intensity he rarely displays in public. “End the madness now!”
Cuomo also outlined his plan for rebuilding New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, along with reforms to education, a new “Women’s Equality Act,” and even a new whitewater rafting contest to draw tourists upstate.
As New York City sits on the cusp of losing a quarter of a billion dollars in state education aid because of an impasse with the teachers union over a mandatory new teacher evaluation system, the governor called for universal, full-day pre-kindergarten for all students as well as more learning time through an extended school day or an extended school year.
“We need more learning time, my friends, if we really are serious about improving education,” he said, vowing full state funding to launch the programs in any county that decides to opt in.
Following in the footsteps of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he also called for a new “bar exam-type test” that all teachers would have to pass before getting state certification, and a new $15,000 bonus for high-performing “master teachers” who would serve as mentors to fellow staff.
“You have to say to a teacher, if you work harder and you do better and your students do better, you will do better,” he said.
Cuomo also used the speech to outline a series of measures to rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, including a new “smart home” program to subsidize the building of flood-resistant homes on high-pilings and a new buy-out program for people who might want to re-locate.
He also called for major changes to the city’s infrastructure, including erecting new barriers along the harbor and adding new protections to the subway system to prevent flooding.
“It’s closing tunnels, it’s closing vents, its roll-down doors, it’s inflatable bladders. The technology is there,” he said. “It’s expensive but it is necessary.”
He also called for the dissolution of the Long Island Power Authority, which he repeatedly criticized in the aftermath of Sandy.
“It’s never worked. It never will. The time has come to abolish LIPA. Period,” he said, calling for privatization of the service. Under the plan, rates would be frozen to prevent increases for a number of years.
He also pressed for a hike in the minimum wage to $8.75 — a move, he said, that “is long overdue.”
In his laundry list of new proposals, Cuomo called for a new “Women’s Equality Act,” which would include measures to improve pay equity and crack down on sexual harassment in the workplace.
“We passed marriage equality," he said. "Let’s make history again and pass a women’s equality act in the State of New York!”
This plan was accompanied by a slick video that demonstrated the discrepencies that still exist between the opportunities for men and for women.
He also outlined a number of initiatives to boost upstate New York’s struggling economy, including a new chain of tax-free stores that will sell local-products across the nation, the opening of up to three new casinos upstate to act as a "magnet” to attract visitors, and a new whitewater rafting competition, “The Adirondack Challenge,” which will be held in the North Country later this year.
Cuomo acknowledged the agenda was “clearly the most ambitious... of the three I have outlined in State of the States,” but said the breadth was a measure of the depth of the challenges faced by the state.
“This is a lot of work, but they elect us to lead, my friends,” he said. "And we will."