Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech a mixed bag for Hudson Valley
Yonkers, Mount Vernon and other Hudson Valley cities could benefit from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's calls Wednesday for an assault weapons ban, expanding prekindergarten education, raising the minimum wage and other progressive reforms.
"When you make $7.25 an hour, you'll have taxes taken out. What will you come home with?" said Mount Vernon City Council President Roberta Apuzzo. "For a good day's wage, we have to increase it."
Touting his accomplishments in the Hudson Valley -- such as the expedited Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, the state's response to superstorm Sandy and the promotion of high-tech clusters in the region -- Cuomo told lawmakers and other officials gathered in Albany that state government had become efficient and responsive in his first two years in office.
"We are building a new Tappan Zee Bridge," he said in his State of the State speech. "It is big. It is bold. It is beautiful. We did it in one year when they talked about it for 10."
Now, he said, the state needs to live up to its responsibility as the "progressive capital" of the country and address issues that long have hurt low-income families and others.
"Yes, it is an aggressive agenda. It's a lot of work," Cuomo said in the address, which lasted more than an hour. "But they elect us to lead, my friends, and we will. They elect us to perform, and we will. We have proven that we can lead, and we have proven that we can perform."
EDUCATION REFORM EMBRACED
Hudson Valley educators applauded the governor's speech, saying his proposal to bring full-day prekindergarten to school districts, beginning with those in high-need communities, would greatly aid children in urban communities.
Yonkers mother Lekia Hill, a longtime advocate for early education through various parent-activist groups, said she was glued to her television during Cuomo's address.
"Wow, am I dreaming?" Hill said. "He's admitting to so many things we've been pushing and fighting for so long and basically saying, 'I'm on your side' publicly."
"There's a lot of potential in the academic initiatives [Cuomo]'s talked about," said Ken Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown School District in Orange County. "The big question for me is where's the money going to come from?"
Experts often have questioned how the governor will reform education as long as labor laws favor unions that negotiate with school officials and state law imposes caps on property tax increases. However, in his rousing conclusion to the speech, Cuomo asked his audience to imagine how much better the state would be if the goals of the reforms were realized.
"Yes, it's hard to reform education," the governor said. "But can you imagine how smart this state would be when we actually educate all our children to the best of our God-given potential?"
DIVISION ON GUN CONTROL
Gun control was among the most controversial of Cuomo's proposals.
Invoking the Newton, Conn., shooting and the deaths of two firefighters killed in December by a crazed gunman near Rochester, Cuomo said he intended to tackle the gun lobby to enact the toughest firearms regulations in the country.
"It's simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle," Cuomo said. "No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. Too many innocent people have died already. Stop the madness now."
Hudson Valley gun rights advocates, including state Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), have decried the governor's call for more regulations on firearms, saying they reflect a downstate bias against hunters and other honest gun owners. Republicans have proposed stiffening current gun laws.
"Certain members [of the Legislature] don't know the front end of a mule from the back end of a white-tailed deer," Ball told News12.
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano was firmly behind the ban, however. Although gun owners still would bring weapons into the city from other states, an Empire State ban would curb gun crimes and have great symbolic value, he said.
"I am 100 percent with the effort to do it," Spano said, referring to Cuomo's call for an assault weapons ban. "We should lead the way and hopefully other states will do it."
But Spano said he was concerned about the governor's plan to open upstate casinos if it meant unfair competition for the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway.
"We don't want to build a world-class facility 50 miles up the road while our facilities become second class," the mayor said. "That would not be good for Yonkers."
PROPERTY TAX CAP RELIEF
Notable in its absence from Cuomo's speech was a discussion of altering laws that cap property tax increases at 2 percent without voter referendums but don't change state mandates that force local governments to provide services whose costs keep increasing at greater rates.
"While I applaud the governor for an ambitious message, I was disappointed that a viable state initiative was not included that would assist counties and municipalities [to] deal with the increasing costs of unfunded state mandates," said Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, a Republican.
"There was no mention of mandate relief, which is the biggest and most urgent problem facing local communities and schools all across the state," Astorino said. "Nine current state mandates already consume 85 cents of every Westchester County property tax levy dollar. We need real relief now."
Cuomo also complained about government inaction in his speech.
He blasted federal politicians for not giving New York and New Jersey their $60 billion in superstorm Sandy aid they've requested to help pay for recovery efforts. Congress has appropriated only around $9 billion of the requested funds.
Staff writer Meghan Murphy contributed to this story.