“Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address was a little different this year. Instead of giving a single speech to legislators and lobbyists in Albany, he spent more than a week going up and down and across the state, from Buffalo to Westchester to Long Island, giving eight speeches outlining 35 policy proposals, winnowed from list of 149 proposals in a 380-page State of the State book. The 35 points all had subpoints, and the overall effect was: daunting. Not since Anthony Weiner ran for New York City mayor with a 64-point plan for saving the city has a New York politician explained himself with such enumerative zeal.
Not until there is a budget, in spring, will we have a clearer sense of where the wish list is headed. In Albany there is a will and there is a way, and the two frequently diverge. Take the once-overriding priority of ethics reform, ending the sick pay-to-play culture in which lawmakers dance with lobbyists and corporate interests until they are indicted or dead. “Imagine what we could do if we had the complete confidence of the people,” Mr. Cuomo said in Albany, on the last stop of his tour, sounding almost wistful about his perennially dead-on-arrival proposals to crack down on lawmakers’ outside income and campaign contributions and create a system of public campaign financing.
Mr. Cuomo’s annual failure to reach a comprehensive ethics deal has become a depressing routine. Every year reform bills are offered; every year they die. Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats are part of this game, but Mr. Cuomo bears much of the blame for not showing the tenacity, creativity and commitment to get this done. With another subdued call for reform in 2017, he has set himself up to fail again.
Is there encouraging news? Yes: His deal to close the Indian Point nuclear plant, 35 miles north of Manhattan, by 2021 is intriguing. The decision is a good one, on safety and environmental grounds — the aging reactors threaten millions of people and kill tons of fish, and their licenses should not be renewed. Mr. Cuomo’s challenge will be to find clean electricity to replace what’s going away. His administration and environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council expect this to be achieved through improved transmission capacity and new power lines from western and central New York and Canada.
Then there are the plans for ocean wind farms off Long Island and the Rockaways, the beginnings of what may be vast New York-based investment in renewable offshore energy. New Yorkers will most likely be breathing easier, too, if the state pursues another Cuomo goal — achieving more ambitious carbon-emissions standards under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a groundbreaking alliance of Northeast states whose aggressive stance on climate change contrasts sharply with the oil-burning, science-hostile priorities of the incoming Trump administration.
It’s not just on the environment that Mr. Cuomo seems to be establishing himself as a Trump antithesis. His new proposals for more college tuition assistance and for early voting and automatic voter registration, along with policies to help unauthorized immigrant college students, should, if enacted, go a long way to bolstering Mr. Cuomo’s image as the progressive governor who gets things done. But where the money is coming from, and whether the Legislature will go along, are the perennial questions.
Most of the ideas in the Cuomo book have evident merit; who could oppose revitalizing Kennedy International Airport, bringing ride sharing to upstate New York, defeating cyberattacks and opioid addiction, or replacing the aging I-81 viaduct in Syracuse? Not us. The trick for Albany watchers, as always, is discerning between the easy lifts and the hard ones, between what is real and what Mr. Cuomo is merely asking us to imagine.”
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