Cuomo broke with tradition, delivering his speech in a cavernous convention hall instead of the smaller ornate legislative chamber. The big space allowed a bigger crowd, many of them average citizens chosen by lottery.
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Cuomo told the crowd of 2,000 that New York, faces a crisis of fiscal and ethical challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to “seize the moment” and “transform” the government.
Cuomo announced an emergency financial plan that includes a wage freeze, and zero growth in spending and taxes. He vowed to redesign government, saying Medicaid, which represents one of the largest parts of the budget, “needs a desperate overhaul and is dysfunctional on many levels”.
“The State of New York spends too much money, it is that blunt and it is that simple,” Cuomo said. “Our spending has far exceeded the rate of inflation.”
Cuomo says the state is also spending too much money on schools without achieving results, and he announced two new competitive based programs to reward schools that are successful. Cuomo is also creating a new executive level team to get rid of rules and regulations, known as mandates, that often lead to higher costs for schools and local governments.
The governor repeated his promise to cap property taxes, saying the high taxes are “killing” New Yorkers.
“New York has no future as the tax capital of the nation,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo seems to have persuaded at least one former opponent of the worth of a property tax cap. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, for the first time told the crowd that he now backs the cap, too.
“That means working together to cap property taxes,” Silver said, to applause.
In another break with tradition, Cuomo invited the majority party legislative leaders to also address the crowd, before the governor delivered his speech.
Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos said he expected to agree with Cuomo on nearly everything.
“Taxpayers don’t want more spending or more government,” said Skelos.
“They want more jobs, more individual choices.”
Cuomo says he also plans to beef up economic development programs, saying New York will be a “business friendly state”, and reform the ethical environment, proposing public financing of campaigns, an independent ethics panel, and full disclosure of outside income. He also will merge the banking, insurance and consumer protection agencies into one Department of Financial Regulation, he says will better police Wall Street.
In the hour long address, Cuomo offered more details than in most State of the State speeches using charts, and a power point presentation. Saying the budget process has become like “partisan political theater”, he used a bit of theatrics himself, as well as humor, to get the point across. He displayed a graphic of three battle ships to represent the failed three men in a room tradition, saying they were like “ships passing in the night”. The ships then sprouted cartoon like heads of Silver, Skelos, and Cuomo as battleship commanders.
“And look, it’s commander Sheldon Silver, oh, and there I am”, Cuomo said to the delighted laughter of the crowd.
He then added in a bomber plane that fired torpedoes at the governor’s ship.
“And here are the special interest groups,” said Cuomo, to more laughter.
Speaker Silver later offered his reaction to the parody.
“I didn’t like the boat,” Silver said, with a chuckle. “The size of it.”
Cuomo’s ship was bigger than those of the legislative leaders.
Cuomo is going to need to use all of his resources, including both carrots and sticks to push through his ambitious agenda. At the end of his address, he appealed to the lawmakers’ and the public’s better natures, saying the dysfunction and corruption rampant in Albany is a temporary “aberration”, and that New Yorkers are better than that.