Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed big spending on Long Island infrastructure projects Tuesday, including rail transportation, sewers and an offshore wind farm, while calling on county, town and village governments to reduce spending.
Cuomo, who was in Farmingdale to deliver one of six regional State of the State addresses, said signature infrastructure projects — such as connecting MacArthur Airport to the Long Island Rail Road and building the nation’s largest offshore wind power generator — would spur the economy and create jobs.
He also proposed a $2 billion bond for water infrastructure around the state; $40 million for sewer improvements in Smithtown and Kings Park; and $80 million to renovate 16 LIRR stations.
Cuomo, a Democrat, also outlined proposals to address heroin and opioid addiction, including establishing a “recovery high school” (one upstate, one downstate for starters) to help high school students with addictions finish school. Under his proposal, local Boards of Cooperative Educational Services would coordinate with the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse to establish the schools, which would be run by BOCES. It’s an idea state legislators have proposed in the past.
But when it came to reining in property taxes, Cuomo pointed the finger at local governments. He said state spending isn’t to blame and contended he’s “tried everything” he can to reduce property taxes, which are levied by local governments and schools.
“When you’re annoyed at high taxes, don’t look at me,” Cuomo told an audience at Farmingdale State College. “The problem has always been property taxes in the state of New York. They crush citizens . . . I have tried everything to get property taxes down.”
Cuomo said he was proposing a plan that would compel county and other local government officials to come up with cost-savings plans to put before voters in a referendum. But it wasn’t clear exactly what leverage he would use to do so.
“Put the local governments in a room. Come up with a plan. Find out how to save money and put that plan on the ballot in November,” he said. “If the citizens accept the plan, they accept . . . If the citizens don’t accept the plan, come back with” another plan.
Republican state chairman Ed Cox said Cuomo was being disingenuous about the driving force behind high property taxes. “Typical misrepresentation by Andrew Cuomo,” said Cox, who has been following Cuomo around the state to give a GOP rebuttal at each location. “Because 85 percent of local property taxes are unfunded mandates that come down” from Albany.
Cox also criticized Cuomo’s tour, saying he’s eschewing the customary State of the State speech because “he’s not faring well” in Albany. “Relations with the legislature couldn’t be worse,” Cox said.
The Republican also said Cuomo’s infrastructure proposals should be put under increased scrutiny because Cuomo administration projects in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and the Hudson Valley are now a part of state and federal indictments that involve the governor’s former close adviser, Joseph Percoco.
Cuomo aide Rich Azzopardi responded that Cox “sat mute when the top Republican in the state was convicted of corruption” (referring to ex-state Sen. Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre) and called his criticism “nonsensical.”
At Farmingdale, Cuomo repeated many of the proposals he’s floated in the last week: Creating a pathway to tuition-free college for some low- and middle-income families, and legalizing “ride sharing” companies such as Uber and Lyft on Long Island and upstate.
He also called for $2 billion in spending on water infrastructure — a plan that the State Legislature would have to approve.
“I want to make sure we have the state-of-the-art water filtration . . . that we’re protecting our water source. These are our children who are drinking it,” Cuomo said. “I don’t want to find out in 10 years we had a chemical that is causing some disease.”
The governor said he would back several proposals to expand access to drug-addiction treatment and prevent overprescription of opioids.
Along with the “recovery high schools,” the governor called for establishing 10 “urgent access centers,” open 24 hours a day, to provide “individuals in crisis” with access to clinical help. He also wants to add fentanyl — an opioid sometimes mixed with heroin — to the list of controlled substances that are subject to criminal drug penalties. And he wants to expand the list of authorized people to prescribe buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction.
Cuomo will have to put details behind his ideas when he presents a state budget to legislators, which he must do by Jan. 17.
Highlights of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposals in his regional State of the State address Tuesday in Farmingdale:
- $80 million to renovate 16 LIRR stations.
- $40 million for sewer improvements in Smithtown and Kings Park.
- $20 million to add a stop on the LIRR Ronkonkoma branch at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
- $20 million to support the development of a new terminal at MacArthur Airport to provide direct service to the LIRR.
- Add fentanyl to the New York list of controlled substances.
- Increase access to buprenorphine treatment by recruiting health care providers to become prescribers.
- Establish 24/7 crisis treatment centers.
- Create New York’s first “recovery high schools” to help young people with addictions finish school.