Andrew Cuomo (51864)
Credit: Pat Arnow

Special to the AmNews

It was difficult to discern whether it was laughter or groans that emitted from the audience in the convention ballroom adjacent to the capitol building in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday afternoon, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said because he was combining the State of the State and the budget, it would take three hours. Fortunately, he was only joshing.

Even so, his speech did not begin on time because of a Senate vote, to say nothing of the multitude of introductions of those in attendance, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, fresh from his trip abroad. In any event, we were able to hear most of it via NY1, particularly the critical parts on the economy, education, public safety and the criminal justice system.

In several ways, the governor’s State of the State and budget mirrors some of the same measures and objectives proposed Tuesday by President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address, and, to a great degree, the governor faces similar opposition, though not from Congress, but rather from the Legislature as well as some unions.

While Obama was reflecting on the past 15 years, Cuomo limited his time frame to the past four years in terms of the economic rebound. The first round of sustained applause came when he announced—and, as ever, his speech was enhanced by a PowerPoint presentation—that the unemployment rate was at 5.9 percent, the number comparing favorably with the national rate.

The tax rate, he said, was the lowest in 50 years, “and when you spend less, you tax less,” he added.

On the issue of small businesses, which he declared was the lifeblood of our community and economy, many women and minority entrepreneurs were probably excited to hear that a 25 percent boost was planned.

One of the troubling proposals, and where there is sure to be a public outcry, is the governor’s proposal on the minimum wage hike, which for the state will be $10.50 and $1 more for the city. Bill Lipton, director of the Working Families Party, voiced his opinion on the number, saying, “It’s nearly impossible to raise a family in this state on even $12 or $13 hour.” Obama said something very similar about trying to raise a family on $15,000 a year.

Next, the governor addressed education. All of his grand schemes on teacher evaluation, testing and “bar exams,” to say nothing of his ideas on charter schools, will encounter massive resistance from the state’s teachers’ unions, which have already stated their complaints about his intentions.

De Blasio should be pleased to know that the governor plans to extend mayoral control of the schools and pump $1.5 billion into the pre-K to 4-year-old program. Likewise, $25 million is slated for getting 3-year-olds on the education track. “The earlier you start them, the better,” the governor said.

There was an extensive outline on community relations and the police, which amounted to mutual respect from both quarters. But Cuomo was clearly cognizant and concerned about the recent outbreak of police misconduct.

He is sure to get some pushback on the proposal to have a new AirTrain run to LaGuardia Airport, much like the one that currently runs to JFK. It will cost $450 million to get the train to connect to the No. 7 train.

Much like Obama’s bold initiatives, lawmakers have raised questions about where to find the money to pay for these things. After all was said and done, he presented a $141.6 billion state budget, an increase of $4 billion. In short, this is his so-called “Opportunity Budget,” which was emblazoned on the podium from where he spoke.

In the tradition of his late father, who was honored with a moment of silence before the event unfolded, the governor ended with a rousing piece of oratory, and much in the same way he said his father would be proud of the merger of the budget with the State of the State, he would also be proud of his son and his two terms in Albany.