FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to tackle the "anger" in the country while also upholding the state's "progressive principals" through a series of proposals made Monday at the World Trade Center during his annual State of the State address.
"There is a recent and powerful belief that America’s diversity, openness and acceptance is in conflict with the success of America’s middle class working families," Cuomo said referencing the mood that many believe helped lead to Donald Trump's election.
"That belief is both misguided and incredibly dangerous," he continued in the speech, the first of several he will give around the state. "We understand the anger and we will address it."
Rather than place blame and point fingers, New York State will help prepare residents for future jobs and promote economic growth while aiding middle class and poor New Yorkers, the governor said.
"Automation has taken American jobs far more than any immigrant has taken American jobs," said Cuomo.
He proposed what he called a "Middle Class Recovery Act" to focus on infrastructure, jobs and access to education.
Cuomo touted his previously announced plan for free tuition at SUNY and CUNY junior and senior colleges for New Yorkers whose families earn $125,000 or less per year. He also pitched a new effort to create 22,000 new afterschool slots around the state and double the childcare tax credit for middle class families, which will affect 200,000 families who pay $25,000 per year on average.
The state would invest $650 million to create a "life sciences economy" in the city in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson and the Genome Center.
And investments will flow to the city's outer boroughs with a plan to invest in the long-delayed plan to turn the Kingsbridge Armory into an ice sports center. The state will also invest $50 million in Montefiore Hospital, which is pursuing a merger with St. Barnabas Hospital. Another $10 million will be used to redevelop the Orchard Beach pavilion at Pelham Bay Park.
Investments in transportation include previously announced improvements to John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport. Cuomo also proposed a permanent toll reduction on the Verrazano Bridge to aid Staten Island residents.
Toll reductions were first introduced in 2014.
Cuomo also proposed voting reforms to what is regarded as one of the most antiquated voting systems in the country after last year's disastrous presidential primary. Proposed changes include reforms that advocates have long called for: early voting, automatic voter registration and same day registration.
The governor also proposed criminal justice reforms such as overhauling the bail system, speeding up trials, raising the age of criminal liability to 18 from 16 and recording police interrogations.
"New York knows that our progressive principles of acceptance and diversity are not the enemy of our middle class and we know that the middle class success is not the enemy of our progressive beliefs," Cuomo said.
Comptroller Scott Stringer said Trump and his agenda was "the 800 pound elephant in the room" but that Cuomo's speech offered a rebuttal that left him feeling optimistic.
"The fact that he could lay that out without being antagonistic is refreshing, it's strategic, it's smart and I leave here today with the glass half full," Stringer said.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said Cuomo's proposal for the Kingsbridge Armory and Orchard Beach initiatives have been "neglected" for too long by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"On both fronts, I'll be honest, we've seen either varied interest in terms of partnership by the city of New York or downright resistance," Diaz said.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman praised the governor's voting system reform proposals, which Cuomo acknowledged were based on a report from the attorney general on voting problems around the state and the dysfunctional Board of Elections.
"The voting system in New York is completely unacceptable. We're way behind many other states," said Schneiderman, adding that the issues constitute "legal voter suppression."
But Cuomo was criticized for the location of his speech. Instead of one speech in front of the state Legislature, the governor will give six state of the state addresses around the state.
State GOP Chairman Ed Cox, speaking outside of the World Trade Center, said no legislators attended the New York City speech. The governor "invented this tour around the state, delivering great speeches to adoring groups selected by him" to avoid opposition.
"If you don't listen to the opposition, you're going to go in the wrong direction, you're going to have corruption," Cox said.
Corruption in Albany has affected both Republican and Democratic law makers, with aides to the governor currently under federal indictment for a pay to play scheme.
Yet Cuomo made no mention of ethics reform in his speech.
"The fact that Governor Cuomo failed to mention any ethics or campaign finance reforms in his State of the State address is shocking and unacceptable," Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY, said in a statement.
"Simply ignoring the continuing corruption crisis within state government — including the Governor's own administration — will not make it go away."