Andrew Cuomo speech to focus on post-Sandy rebuilding on LI, gun control

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a meeting in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany. (Jan. 3, 2013) (Credit: AP )

ALBANY -- Rebuilding Long Island after superstorm Sandy will be a key focus of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's annual State of the State address, officials said Tuesday.

Cuomo, who will deliver the speech Wednesday afternoon, is expected to offer an agenda based on five broad topics: guns, disaster recovery, economic development, government efficiency and a so-called progressive agenda. The governor is expected to unveil a detailed proposal to strengthen New York's ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, an initiative he's been suggesting for weeks.

Gun negotiations have been ongoing in a bid to make New York the first to enact stricter laws since Newtown, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) indicated the sides were close to an agreement.


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Other Cuomo proposals are likely to include a call for raising the minimum wage, overhauling NYPD "stop and frisk" police policies, putting teeth into anti-discrimination laws, tying some education "reforms" to economic development and privatizing the Long Island Power Authority.

A major theme will be "tackling the challenge of rebuilding Long Island," which took the brunt of the Oct. 29 storm, along with New York City, an administration source said. "It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity to determine how to rebuild in storm areas," the source said.

Cuomo received recommendations from his hand-picked panels on storm preparations and response last week, including creating a strategic fuel reserve, mandating that certain gasoline stations maintain on-site backup generators and creating a statewide emergency-training program.

He is expected to adopt some of those recommendations, and offer housing and transportation proposals in flood-zone areas.

A theme of rebuilding could fit into the profile Cuomo has tried to carve in his first two years in office, said Gerald Benjamin, a dean at the State University of New York at New Paltz and longtime political observer.

"I think he's seeking a reputation as a problem solver and a doer," Benjamin said. The "Achilles heel" of any rebuilding program, he added, "is where will all the money come from?"

Two possible sources -- casinos and natural gas drilling -- might not get any mention in the speech. Cuomo has backed a constitutional amendment to add up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos in the state, which the State Legislature is expected to take up this year. His administration also is studying whether to expand gas drilling; a decision is expected soon.

Cuomo has a "strong bully pulpit" to push his agenda because of his 70 percent approval rating with the public, said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily for Republicans.

"He also has two touchstone events that could be effective in forcing a legislative agenda: Sandy and Newtown," Dawidziak said.

Cuomo has aggressively pursued an agreement with the Senate and Assembly on guns, trying to get an agreement before the State of the State. Cuomo wants to ban high-capacity magazines and "make sure that people with serious mental health issues don't possess guns," said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), Senate co-leader and a Cuomo ally.

Silver said Tuesday a gun-legislation deal could be near. "I think it's achievable," he said.

He said any deal would likely include a stronger ban on assault weapons by clarifying the legal definition and a "reasonable closing of loopholes" in the current ban. He said it would also include tougher penalties on criminals -- something Republicans favor.

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