In his eighth state of the state address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extolled the importance of infrastructural investment to keeping New York economically competitive and the need to address the state’s pervasive issue of homelessness.
He also accused the federal government of shooting “an arrow aimed at New York’s economic heart” by capping state and local tax deductions at $10,000 and threatened to sue over the recently passed tax reform bill.
“We will challenge it in court as unconstitutional,” Cuomo said, “the first federal double taxation in history, violative of state’s rights and the principle of equal protection.”
In the speech, titled “Realizing the Promise of Progressive Government,” Cuomo rolled out an ambitious agenda that touched on everything from workplace discrimination to racial prejudice in the criminal justice system and the growing specter of division in an increasingly polarized America.
The Governor, who is expected to face primary challenges from his political left should he seek a third term this fall, did not address the real estate and development industries directly, though he did roll through a list of achievements that included improvements to the Javits Center and the overhaul of Penn Station that will include linking it with the Moynihan Train Hall at the Farley Building across the street.
Taking aim at the Port Authority, Cuomo called on the entity to expedite the construction of the AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport and adopt cashless tolls at its various Hudson River crossings to ease congestion and increase security through the implementation of additional surveillance equipment. He also redoubled his commitment to building a tunnel connection Long Island to either Westchester County or Connecticut to curb traffic.
Cuomo said the state is in need of both short- and long-term funding for the beleaguered subway system to cover badly needed emergency repairs as well as investments to modernize it.
“We’ve failed to maintain an engineering marvel that was a gift from our forefathers,” he said. “Our 100-year-old system needs an overhaul. We have 40-year-old subway cars and 80-year-old electric signals.”
Using technology to carve out improvement zones within the system and levy additional charges is one option on the table for financing the project, though Cuomo said the Fix New York Panel will have a full report covering potential strategies in the near future. He also floated the idea of adding a new subway line in Red Hook to stimulate the area’s economic growth.
New York Building Congress President and CEO Carlo Scissura praised the infrastructure-heavy agenda laid out in the state of the state address as well as the governor’s continued commitment to the Gateway project, which aims to run a high-speed rail line through a new tunnel between New York and New Jersey. Cuomo did not mention Gateway by name during his speech but he affirmed his commitment to tackling big projects despite cuts to federal aid.
“The Building Congress has long advocated for preserving and enhancing our cross-Hudson access and expanding rail capacity at Penn Station to ensure the stability of our national economy,” Scissura said. “In addition, Governor Cuomo’s plan for reducing congestion and rebuilding the MTA is more necessary than ever.
“The Building Congress is committed to working alongside the Governor to realize these projects, drive further economic growth and create thousands of good-paying jobs for workers across this state.”
Other city projects he mentioned by name included the Hudson River Park—linking Battery Park City to 59th Street on the city’s West Side with a continuous belt of green space—which he wants to be completed by year’s end as well as a new state park set to occupy 407 acres along Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, making it the largest park within the five boroughs.
Although he did not offer any additional funding for housing, the former head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said a lack of affordability was a key contributing factor to the city’s persistent battle with homelessness.
Cuomo said he wants to increase outreach to the homeless through the state’s various agencies and transportation authorities. He also said wants to work with local governments to address the issue, particularly those that say the law prevents them from intervention. This appears to be a nod to the governor’s 2016 spat with New York City Hall that began when Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to follow an Albany directive to force homeless people into shelters during bouts of extreme cold.
“Now, some jurisdictions can say case law prevents them from helping mentally ill street homeless,” Cuomo said. “If that is their excuse, they should tell us what law stops from helping sick homeless people and we will change the law this session.”
Describing the current economic climate in Washington as “the most hostile and aggressive toward New York in history,” Cuomo pledged to follow through with his robust plans for investment infrastructure and education despite a project $4 billion state deficit that will be compounded by a $2 billion cut in funding from the federal government.
Also, in light of the strict limits put on state and local tax, or SALT, deductions from federal filings—a move that will disproportionately affect expensive, high-tax states such as New York and California—the governor said he’s working with the legislature to come up with new systems to circumvent the new national tax code.
“Different states have different tax structures,” he said. “Some use a gross receipts tax. Some have a severance tax. We are developing a plan to restructure our tax code to reduce reliance on our current income tax system and adopt a statewide payroll tax system.”
He added that the state is looking into creating new charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in exchange for deductions and it’s exploring methods for closing the carried interest loophole that benefits financial firms.
Cuomo also warned of efforts by Republicans in Washington to undermine organized labor and solidified his support for the state’s unions.
“We believe labor unions have built the middle class and we are proud that New York State has the highest percentage of union workers in the country,” he said. “Today let us all pledge that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our union brothers and sisters in this fight and we will not give up and we will protect union workers in the State of New York. We stand in solidarity and we will not lose.”