This past week, Gov. Cuomo presented his 2014 State of the State address.
For the first 30 minutes of the approximately one-and-a-half hour speech, the Governor reviewed what he saw as successes during his first three years in office. During this part of his speech, his main point was that state government, which has often been labeled by the media as dysfunctional, is now working again thanks namely to his leadership.
In some cases, he has a point. For example, we have passed several on-time budgets which were a rarity under previous administrations. In addition, over the past three years, state spending has been held in check (although it might be argued that spending was held in check due to economic realities and not because of strong political leadership. Nevertheless, increases have been kept under 2 percent). Cuomo also stated while great strides have been made to improve the Upstate economy, more needs to be done. As far as “more needs to be done,” I strongly agree with the Governor.
It was at this point in his speech that the Governor pivoted away from what he labels as his successes to what he wants to accomplish this year. I was pleased that providing tax relief was his number one priority. If we are ever going to revive the Upstate economy, the first order of business needs to be to lower the state’s tax burden on its citizens. In his address, the Governor proposes to:
** Eliminate the Corporate franchise tax for Upstate manufacturers;
** Speed up the phase-out of 18-A, a surcharge on utilities that is passed on to consumers; and,
** Freeze property taxes for two years by having the state provide a personal income tax credit to homeowners if localities stay within the 2 percent property tax cap and take steps to share or consolidate services.
These proposals are a good start in helping New York shed its reputation as the highest-taxed state in the nation. Indeed, I would like to go further and address why our state taxes–primarily, our property taxes–are so high. To provide long-term property tax relief we need to address the problem of state mandates on school districts and localities, our Medicaid system, and equitable state funding for schools.
Following his call to lower taxes, the Governor then stated that there is no greater economic development program for our state than our education system. In many respects, he is right. A raise in socioeconomic status begins with a quality education. In order to improve our state’s education system, the Governor proposes a $2 billion bond referendum to provide capital for the state to improve technology in the classroom. In his speech, he also proposed bonuses of for teachers who are deemed “highly effective.” I think both of these proposals have merit and look forward to seeing more information regarding them.
The Governor concluded his speech by saying generally that we need to restore public trust in state government. It would be hard for anyone to argue with this proposition in light of the rash of legislators who have been accused of public corruption as of late. To combat this problem, Cuomo calls for, among other things, public financing of campaigns. Unfortunately, it seems lost on the Governor that the large majority of legislators who have been accused of corruption are from NYC–a place where they have public financed campaign (albeit not for state offices). Indeed, some of the alleged corruption actually arose from NYC’s system of public financing of campaigns. Simply put, public financing of campaigns will not help restore the public’s trust on government.
Obviously, there were several more proposal set forth in his State of the State address and I look forward to hearing more details about them over the next few weeks. I remain optimistic that 2014 can be a very successful legislative year for New York state.
Correction: In the column dated Dec. 30, 2013, there was an error. It stated there were roughly 1.6 billion people that have enrolled in Obamacare when it should have read 1.6 million enrollees. I apologize for the mistake.
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