He urged a series of bold measures to meet the challenges brought by superstorm Sandy. His most dramatic proposal would, rightly, privatize the Long Island Power Authority. "It's time to abolish LIPA -- period," he asserted, and says he'll do so in a way that protects customers and freezes rates for a year.
How would a privatized LIPA satisfy Long Island's electrical customers when its predecessor -- the private Long Island Lighting Co. -- could not? The success of the plan would depend on strengthening the Public Service Commission, the state's weak and understaffed utility watchdog.
Also in response to Sandy, Cuomo wisely called for a strategic fuel reserve, backup generators for service stations in key locations and wastewater treatment plants strengthened to withstand higher storm surges.
Especially critical for Long Island, with its patchwork of 275 local governments, was his plan for a statewide emergency training system that would set up protocols and grant certifications for disaster workers. These necessary preparedness measures would include a stockpile to ensure communities of readily available food, water and generators when a crisis strikes.
The governor, who presented flags to the families of two firefighters killed by a gunman in upstate Webster on Christmas Eve, also addressed the challenges highlighted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut. He asked the State Legislature to toughen what is already among the most restrictive assault-weapons bans in the country. How could strengthening the Empire State's ban make a real difference, if other states still have relatively weak laws? The governor wants to make New York a model that other states might follow.
Most of these big-ticket items had been widely reported leading up to yesterday's speech, as had others, including a hike to the state's minimum wage and addressing stop-and-frisk policies in New York City, but Cuomo offered at least one surprise: a state-funded program to provide more classroom time for students. Districts that change to longer school days, a longer school year, or a combination, would get a 100 percent reimbursement of the added costs. "We are still doing education as if we're an agrarian society," the governor said, adding that in countries whose students do better than ours, the kids spend more time in the classroom.
But Cuomo didn't say how the state would pay for the program. In fact, while no one expects a State of the State speech to sound like a detailed policy presentation, many of the governor's proposals involve some major ifs.
Is Albany really in a mood to toughen the state's assault-weapon laws? And even if the answer is yes, would other states readily follow? How easy will it be to abolish LIPA and beef up the Public Service Commission?
Credit Cuomo with offering New Yorkers an ambitious 2013 agenda that's chock full of great destinations.
Now, how do we get there?