ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State speech on Monday in Manhattan will promise free college tuition for many middle-class families and a massive infrastructure repair program among other aspirations. But some of the most important elements of the state’s 2017 agenda loom back in Albany, including a decline in tax revenues and an angry legislature threatening to block it all.
Cuomo will push his multibillion-dollar building boom, including statewide highway, bridge and tunnel projects that could include connecting Long Island to Kennedy Airport via the AirTrain.
His JFK plan would expand and connect terminals, make taxi pickups easier, expand parking, add fine dining and the TWA Flight Center Hotel, and more security measures including facial recognition software. He predicts the state project could attract as much as $7 billion in private-sector spending.
Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, and a Cuomo ally, said the state has lost billions in economic activity because of difficult access and limited capacity at JFK and LaGuardia airports.
Cuomo, who has tried to toe a centrist line during his six years in office, also will propose measures to try to mend wounds with the important left wing of his Democratic Party and appeal to a middle class he said has been hit hard by lingering depressed wages and job opportunities from the Great Recession.
He proposes supplementary college aid to provide free tuition to public colleges for households making as much as $100,000 this year and up to $125,000 in 2019. The idea is widely supported by the politically influential teachers unions and the politically important Working Families Party. But the proposal he announced with former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at his side also is widely questioned by those who doubt Cuomo has proposed enough funding — $163 million annually — and overestimates the number of students who could benefit — 200,000 — according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo also proposes expanding a middle-class tax credit for child care. It would increase the tax credit to $605 for a household making $50,000, with smaller credits for household incomes of up to $149,999.
But the State of the State speech Cuomo will deliver at six venues statewide is about dreaming and promising big. The speeches usually reveal no details as to how to pay for the big ideas until his $150 billion budget is revealed a couple weeks later.
That’s where state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says Cuomo will face a difficult task. Just as Cuomo would like to make big promises in part to aid a possible 2018 re-election campaign and any hope of a 2020 presidential campaign, state revenues are dwindling.
“Given the reduced revenue projections we’ve seen, new spending pressures in several areas and heightened uncertainty about federal fiscal policies, the state will have to grapple with some tougher budget choices in 2017,” DiNapoli said.
That concern, shared by Cuomo and legislators, makes it likely Cuomo will again extend a temporary income surcharge on New Yorkers making more than $1 million a year that was created in 2009 as an emergency measure to raise revenue during the recession. The millionaire’s tax brings in $2 billion a year.
Extending the millionaire’s tax is a major goal of advocates for the poor. At the annual People’s State of the State address last week, advocates said they wanted to use the tax revenue for what they say are the neglected plight of the malnourished, the rising number of homeless, and the poor. The groups called on Cuomo and the State Legislature to end partisan fighting that blocked the release of up to $2 billion in funding to build homes for the homeless in December. That deal was supposed to be part of a special session that also would raise lawmakers’ salary for the first time since 1999.
And that’s another obstacle for Cuomo in 2017.
Legislators were expecting a 25 percent raise to kick in this month after a ruling by a pay commission created by Cuomo and lawmakers to avoid making the politically dicey vote themselves. But Cuomo derailed the effort days before the commission was to make a decision and required the legislature to adopt his priorities — including ethics measures. The effort failed Dec. 23.
Two legislators predicted angry senators and Assembly members will deny Cuomo an on-time budget adopted by April 1 — if only by a few days to muddle his campaign narrative.
“He’s getting nothing,” said one Democratic legislator and one lobbyist in separate interviews.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, in office since 1992, said he has never before seen this level of tension between the legislature and governor.
“But it’s not only the governor,” said DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). “It’s partially our fault that the governor thinks he can dictate these things.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s running mate, tried to head off a rocky session during her brief speech opening the Senate session on Wednesday.
“How will we be judged? It won’t be by points scored,” she said. “It will be about points we won for New Yorkers . . . we will all be winners. Let us embrace the challenges together.”
CUOMO TAKING HIS SPEECH ON THE ROAD
Cuomo is dispensing with tradition this year and taking his State of the State speech on the road to six locations, rather than making the usual speech in or near the Capitol before a joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate along with the top judges.
He is scheduled to offer regional speeches instead, tailored to highlight promises and plans for each region. The speeches are scheduled for:
- Monday at 11 a.m. at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan
- Monday at 3 p.m. at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
- Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in Westchester County at the Performing Arts Center of the State University of New York at Purchase
- Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Farmingdale State College in Farmingdale
- Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center
- Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Carrier Theater in Syracuse