By GREGORY ZELLER //
There wasn’t much new content in the Long Island edition of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 State of the State speech, but the review of several previously announced initiatives did indicate a big year ahead for the Island.
Fresh from delivering his Mid-Hudson regional address, Cuomo took the stage Tuesday at Farmingdale State College to offer his Long Island stump to an appreciative audience of Island rainmakers – FSC President John Nader, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Long Island Association President Kevin Law earned nods, among others – and regional stakeholders.
Cuomo’s Long Island speech – he’s doing one for each of the state’s 10 economic zones, in lieu of his traditional one-shot state-of-the-state stump in Albany – did include some new proposals, and they were significant. Topping the list: a fresh $120 million for “enhancements” of 16 existing Long Island Rail Road stations and the construction of new spurs connecting the railroad directly to Brookhaven National Laboratory and Long Island MacArthur Airport’s main terminal.
Those LIRR initiatives are in addition to two significant station redesign efforts Cuomo announced in 2016: a $121 million modernization of Hicksville Station and a $64.9 million construction effort at Jamaica Station.
Cuomo on Tuesday also unwrapped a $40 million proposal to build localized sewer systems in Smithtown and Kings Park. Those sewer efforts, which the governor framed as an economic-development imperative, are on top of a $388 million state and federal effort looking to connect an additional 10,000 Suffolk homes to sewer services.
The governor also called on the state Legislature to legalize ride-sharing on Long Island – ride-sharing services including Uber and Lyft are currently illegal in New York State, except for New York City – and urged the Long Island Power Authority to approve a 90-megawatt offshore wind project, slated for 30 miles southeast of Montauk. That project, which would be the nation’s largest offshore wind farm, is a key component of Cuomo’s previously stated statewide energy vision, which includes 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind-generated electricity by 2030.
But the rest of the governor’s 45-minute LI monologue was basically a review of prior programs and funding initiatives, including a recount of the “unprecedented social equality” displayed though the first six years of Cuomo’s state administration. The Democratic governor noted New York was the first “big state” to pass a marriage-equality act, followed by a trendsetting minimum-wage increase and a family-leave act that “went right across the country.”
The state’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, has dropped to historic lows on Cuomo’s watch, while New York now boasts a record 7.9 million private-sector jobs, including 106,000 new jobs on Long Island since 2010.
“The success is balanced all across the state,” Cuomo said. “And Long Island is feeling it.”
Backed by visual aids, the governor also reviewed his administration’s record for minimizing annual state-spending increases and reducing state taxes, and highlighted several past state investments in Long Island’s physical and commercial infrastructure, including $25 million for cutting-edge therapeutics research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a $50 million commitment to big-data efforts at BNL.
Cuomo also cited Albany’s all-in leadership on the double-track and third-track LIRR expansion projects and recounted restoration projects at Jones Beach and Bethpage State Park, various clean-water investments – including a $2 million state stipend to kick-start Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology – and the $831 million Bay Park wastewater treatment plant project.
After ticking off previously announced construction projects at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, the Tappan Zee Bridge and Penn Station, and trumpeting his proposal to make public colleges tuition-free for New York students meeting certain economic criteria, the governor acknowledged that “there’s a lot more to do” and turned his attention to several statewide initiatives he’s proposing for 2017.
Those include a “six-point plan” to combat drug addiction across the state – including the creation of “recovery high schools” to help recovering teens earns their diplomas – and tourism investments sure to impact the Long Island region, plus a $2 billion plan to replace aging water infrastructure and protect potable drinking-water supplies around the state.
“I know it’s a lot,” Cuomo said. “But our children deserve it.”
The governor called on neighboring water districts to work together on collaborative solutions, a strategy he also championed for what may prove to be his most progressive, and divisive, 2017 proposal. New York’s local property taxes remain “the highest in the United States,” Cuomo noted, despite a 2-percent annual increase cap imposed by the state – and Cuomo placed the blame for those astronomical tax rates squarely at municipal government’s feet.
“We have a proliferation of local government … that is more expensive than virtually any other state in the nation,” Cuomo said, suggesting Long Island – where Nassau has 305 local governments and Suffolk has 404 – as Exhibit A.
With that in mind, the governor wants statewide county executives to convene local governments “in one room, in one place, and have them work together to find savings and cost efficiencies.”
“Just imagine a private corporation with 404 offices,” he said. “They wouldn’t all be … doing their own purchasing and having one of everything. They would be sharing materials. They would have one massive purchase order to get them economy of scale.”
To reduce costs and start knocking back the state’s property tax rates, that same thinking must now be applied to local government, according to the governor.
“Not everybody has to buy a $100,000 bulldozer,” he said. “They should say, ‘We’ll share the bulldozer, because we don’t use it every day.”
Cuomo wants consolidation proposals ready in time for November balloting, and if those plans are shot down by voters, he wants local leaders to convene again and keep planning until they find a voter-approved solution. The state’s chief executive understands this will not be popular among local politicians – everybody wants their own bulldozer, Cuomo acknowledged – but the time has come to “cut the waste, cut the duplication and give [taxpayers] a break.”
“There’s going to be tremendous opposition on this,” Cuomo said. “The entire political class is going to be against it. But if we want to be economically competitive, we have to focus on property taxes.”
While New York’s “ship of state is stronger than it has been in decades,” there’s always room for improvement, according to the governor, who noted those high property taxes “crush” senior citizens, home sales and economic development alike. In 2017, he added, improvement will come primarily from a smart combination of government-spending controls, local tax reductions and heavy infrastructure investments.
“We’re New York,” Cuomo said. “What made us a success was we were more ambitious and bold and daring than everybody else.
“We have lost that mojo and we have to get it back, and we are.”