Environment, school aid on Hudson Valley's wish list for Cuomo's State of the State

File photo of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. File photo of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Nov. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo will roll out proposals on a cluster of issues in his State of the State address Wednesday, but leaders in the Hudson Valley said Sunday that they will be watching closely for movement on "fracking," Indian Point, the new Tappan Zee Bridge and other hot-button issues.

Assemb. Thomas Abinanti (D-Tarrytown) said the annual address is important because it sets the agenda for the upcoming year.

"It doesn't mean the things in there are necessarily going to happen," Abinanti said. "But it sets a direction, especially with this governor who is still riding high in the polls."

DEVELOPMENT, ENVIRONMENT TOP CONCERNS

Marsha Gordon, chief executive of The Business Council of Westchester, favors relicensing the Indian Point nuclear power plant, while Paul Gallay, president of the environmental group Riverkeeper, has sought to shutter the plant through the courts and at hearings held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Gordon also is hoping that Cuomo will unveil a key component to plans to building a new Tappan Zee Bridge -- a detailed financial plan. The prime contractor has been chosen for the $3.1 billion project, but it remains unclear what portion of the cost will be shouldered by Washington and what mix of bonds and increased tolls will be needed to pay the remainder.

In previous State of the State addresses, Cuomo has steered clear of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, used to free natural gas from shale rock formations, but Gallay said that issue should be near the top of his list in 2013.

"He's got to come to grips with data that shows a huge amount of leakage of methane," Gallay said.

Cuomo has been a vocal advocate of addressing climate change, and Gallay said that 9 percent of methane is released into the atmosphere, making the process worse for the climate than burning coal.

Gallay also urged Cuomo to increase staffing at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has fallen to 2,900 versus 4,200 when Gallay served with the agency during the administration of Cuomo's father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.

EDUCATION AID A PRIORITY IN THE HUDSON VALLEY

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On education, Abinanti said he would like to see Cuomo provide more state aid to suburban school districts, which increasingly are forced to tighten their belts.

The state pays around 15 percent of school costs in suburban districts on average, while districts in cities and low-income rural areas might receive as much as 90 percent of their budgets in state aid, said Abinanti.

"There's a high cost of living," he said. "We need to find a way to give more money to the suburbs' school districts."

James Langlois, district superintendent of the Putnam-Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services, agreed that the state has to step in with funding.

"There are a number of districts in the state that are quite literally on the verge of bankruptcy," he said. "They are raising a question about whether they can provide the basic education kids are entitled to."

A relatively modest proposal to bolster education, however, would be to create regional high schools shared by small districts that could save money while giving students more opportunities, he added.

CRIME-FIGHTING MEASURES NEEDED

Cuomo has been pushing for a new ban on assault rifles and high-capacity clips for bullets in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and could seek limits on the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk procedures that critics say violate civil rights.

Joseph Ryan, the criminal justice and security department chair at Pace University, said that pockets of the Hudson Valley have crime problems identical to those in New York City.

"Yonkers, New Rochelle, Newburgh -- they're all mini-New York Cities," he said.

While legislating limits on high-capacity clips could be politically feasible, he said, barring stop-and-frisk tactics would strip police of an effective tactic.

Rather than end stop-and-frisk, Ryan advocates combining it with community policing, which allows officers to get to know an area and would reduce the frequency of the stops.

CALL FOR CASINO GAMBLING

Gordon, who is going to Albany to attend the speech, said business leaders are hoping that Cuomo moves to legalize casino gambling as an effort to boost revenue and stem the exodus of gambling money to neighboring states where table games such as blackjack and roulette are sanctioned.

"We'd like to see legalization," she said. "New York's money is going out to other states, between New Jersey and Connecticut."

An effort by Cuomo to boost casino gaming would echo his remarks in his State of the State address a year ago. In that speech, he also proposed a plan to build a giant convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, a plan that quickly lost momentum.

Scott Wohl of the Builders Association of the Hudson Valley, proposed relieving local governments of costly state mandates that lead to higher property taxes.

"Property taxes are still one of the biggest hurdles," he said, noting that a house can be built, "but nobody can afford to buy it when it's done."

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