Cuomo to pursue progressive reform agenda in State of State address

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks in

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany. (Jan. 7, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Gun control, raising the minimum wage and clamping down on New York State's utilities are among the progressive reforms Gov. Andrew Cuomo likely will roll out in his State of the State address Wednesday.

Spurred by disasters like superstorm Sandy and the Newtown, Conn., school massacre as well as continuing pressure to boost the state economy, the reforms expected in the 1:30 p.m. speech are representative of the popular governor's agenda in the coming year as a new Legislature convenes, said lawmakers, experts and others.

"He's going to focus on some of the really conventional progressive issues people have been paying attention to," said state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), the new minority leader in the Senate.


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HUDSON VALLEY ROLE

Stewart-Cousins' leadership role highlights how Hudson Valley lawmakers are set to play a bigger role in shepherding the governor's plans to fruition in 2013.

Democrats hold a majority of seats in the Senate, but a group of five Democrats that includes two local legislators broke with the party and formed a coalition with Republicans, where the two sides have agreed to share the chamber's presidency.

Mainstream Democrats are bitter about the defection, but Stewart-Cousins has vowed to work with the renegade Democrats to pass legislation that suits left-leaning New Yorkers.

A member of the breakaway group, Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown), already is discussing details of progressive proposals with Cuomo.

"On Friday, I met with the governor for two hours and went over his agenda for the coming year," Carlucci said. "The governor's top priorities are going to be gun control, raising the minimum wage [and] dealing with emergency preparedness in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy."

But Cuomo isn't going to indulge every progressive fantasy.

He isn't going to call for raising taxes to boost aid to cities and towns struggling to pay their bills under a state law enacted two years ago that caps property tax increases, Carlucci said. Instead, he'll propose other measures that will help municipalities struggling to balance revenue limits with ever-increasing bills, including for services mandated by the state.

"The governor is committed to not raising taxes and working on mandated relief specific to certain communities," Carlucci said.

ANTICIPATED RESPONSE

Curbing state mandates, even partially, could blunt criticism from Republicans like Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who have blasted Cuomo for capping taxes without addressing spending on state mandates.

"There needs to be some real mandate relief, which was promised by the governor as a way of getting the property tax cap," Astorino said on radio station WNYC. "One was supposed to be hitched to the other. Unfortunately, they got their headline with the property tax cap, but they have not addressed the other problem."

But Cuomo isn't likely to address local officials' complaints about state laws that give unions an advantage in labor negotiations and drive up costs, such as rules that compel public employers to honor expired labor contracts, including periodic pay increases, if they can't reach new deals with workers.

"We have money versus unions," said Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale). "I haven't seen a strong desire to battle some of those very tough measures that the unions are completely opposed to."

Much of Cuomo's speech will reflect measures that he already has vetted in public to lay the groundwork for debates in Albany, a strategy that leverages his consistently high popularity among New Yorkers, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College. In December, a Siena College poll gave Cuomo a favorability rating of 72 percent.

"He's been able to rally public opinion in terms of influencing the Legislature," Miringoff said. "There is no sense that any of his skills have faded in that regard."

GUN CONTROL

On at least one measure, however, Cuomo is liable to stir up vocal opposition.

George Rogero, a Washingtonville-based gun safety expert and advocate who manages the website Orange County Shooters NY, said Cuomo would stir up a hornets' nest if he follows through with his proposal for a new ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

New York State already bans semiautomatic guns. Now the governor wants to take advantage of recent tragedies to punish legitimate gun owners, Rogero said.

"An assault weapon for the politicians can be anything they want it to be," Rogero said. "They don't really care if it's a single-shot, black powder rifle or the most popular form of a modern semiautomatic or self-loading firearm."

Republicans could also block the governor's proposal. They have floated alternate plans that would crack down on illegal gun ownership and strengthen mental health services.

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