By GREGORY ZELLER //
He’s Andrew Cuomo, and he approves this message.
With a deft comedic touch, impressive stamina and a decidedly presidential timbre, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a no-holds-barred 2018 State of the State Address Wednesday, blasting “federal” targets, touting seven years of statewide socioeconomic progress under his watch and laying out an ambitious New Year’s agenda.
The governor’s 90-minute address rocketed from business-development programs to clean-energy initiatives to environmental-remediation efforts to the new national outrage over institutionalized sexism and racism, pausing only to gas up on raucous applause – first responders, the late Mario Cuomo, new Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, humanitarian missions to Puerto Rico, state judges, even the judges’ penchant for not clapping during political speeches all earned separate ovations.
As did some two dozen “proposals” comprising Cuomo’s 2018 agenda, which covers everything from homeland security to homelessness, from prison reform to student-loan protections, from infrastructure revitalization to offshore wind farms to new minority- and women-executive requirements for companies seeking state contracts.
While his plans are all over the map – algae blooms in upstate lakes, poisonous plumes threatening Long Island’s water supply, “sextortion” laws, school lunch programs, state payroll taxes, the Long Island Rail Road, cashless New York State Thruway toll plazas, public education and the Islanders’ ballyhooed homecoming all get some play – one common theme tied together Cuomo’s lengthy address.
“We in this state have been working together for economic progress,” the governor told a handpicked and highly supportive crowd packed inside Albany’s Empire State Plaza Convention Center. “But our federal government is trying to roll back everything we have done.”
While customarily cautious not to name names – he made no mention of President Donald Trump or the Trump Administration – Cuomo was not shy about the biggest challenges facing the Empire State in 2018, referencing a “federal assault” and picking apart several components of Trump’s trumpeted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
“Our federal government has hurt our state’s economic position both nationally and internationally,” Cuomo charged. “They have made us less competitive. They are helping other states at our expense … and devolving into a more divisive government.”
While much of his disillusionment with federal policy stems from the TCJA – and much of that based on the new law’s rescinding of state and local tax deductions from federal returns, effectively shooting New Yorkers’ tax burdens into the stratosphere – Cuomo proved an equal opportunity critic on Wednesday, taking the current White House and GOP-controlled Congress to task on a number of issues.
“They are trying to roll back a woman’s right to choose,” the governor said. “To roll back environmental protections. To roll back access to college loans. To roll back LGBQT rights. To roll back our historic tax cuts … of the last seven years.
“We cannot, we must not let those things happen.”
Cuomo also framed many of his 2018 plans as contrasting current White House policies – not just expanding the state’s Excelsior Scholarship college-tuition program, but doing so “while the federal government makes college more expensive.” Not just investing in state parks (including a new waterfront park for Brooklyn), but doing it “while the federal government deconstructs parks.”
And he took several opportunities to speak over swelling applause, a run-on cadence that built momentum atop the rising cheers, creating very much of a campaign-rally environment inside the convention center.
But Cuomo’s eighth State of the State address was not only a sustained volley against the Trump White House. The governor praised state legislators for their bipartisan cooperation and for displaying “the political will and the talent to tackle the issues;” he lauded declining statewide crime rates and rising clean-energy initiatives; and he served up a number of optimistic statistics, such as the greater percentages of New York high school graduates attending college, Albany’s unprecedented land-conservation efforts and New York’s 8.1 million private-sector jobs, the most ever in state history.
“We have done more with less,” Cuomo noted. “Every New Yorker’s tax rate is lower today than when I took office. We have the highest credit rating in 40 years, and unemployment is down … in every single region of the state.
“Our state has made unprecedented progress,” Cuomo added. “Our economy is strong today and we are once again the nation’s beacon for social progress.”
He even threw in some advice for new Nassau Executive Curran, with forecasts calling for a potential blizzard Thursday on Long Island. “The glamour of the inauguration will be gone at the first snowstorm,” he warned. “My advice: gloves and boots.”
But the bulk of the speech was reserved for a blistering tirade against Trump’s social and fiscal policies. One of the address’ largest and longest ovations was reserved for Cuomo’s promise that Albany is planning several counterstrategies against the administration’s economic machinations – including plans to sue the federal government over certain components of the TCJA, in addition to launching “a repeal-and-replace movement of our own.”
“Washington’s plan uses New York and California as piggy banks to finance tax cuts for Republican states,” Cuomo said. “They’re robbing blue states to pay for red states. It’s crass, it’s ugly, it’s divisive.
“It’s an economic civil war,” he added. “And make no mistake, they are aiming to hurt us.”
If it wasn’t a starter’s pistol for his campaign for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, the State of the State certainly served as a guns-blazing kickoff to Cuomo’s third run for New York governor, coming this November.
But whomever he faces on his 2018 road to re-election, Cuomo left little doubt about the identity of his (and the state’s) true political opponent in the coming year.
“We will lead the resistance to this injustice … and we will not stop until economic justice is restored for every state and every taxpayer in New York,” Cuomo said. “These are challenging times, but we have to rise to the challenge, for the survival of our state economy.
“The threat from this federal government is not going to derail the great State of New York,” the governor added. “That I promise you.”