Andrew Cuomo’s 10th State of the State speech—the opening act of New York’s political year—began, as it has for several years, with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul introducing key officials. Allegiance was pledged to the flag. The National Anthem was sung. And then Rev. Phil Turner, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Syracuse, petitioned God.
“Sharpen our attention so that we will see the progress that has been obtained through rigorous planning and application, administered by our governor and his devoted and talented team. Direct our thoughts toward opportunities to support the governor’s efforts and to continue our upward mobility,” Turner said. “Pray for our governor, who has taken the initiative to vigorously lead our great state at a time when transition is an enormous challenge and of the utmost importance.”
“We thank you for our governor, who has compassion and appreciation for all people and is concerned for the safety and welfare of every sector of our population,” he continued.
Turner also prayed for peace, compassion and tolerance. Then the people said “Amen” – although it was not clear whether every bowed head in the room endorsed the rather favorable description of Cuomo that the reverend transmitted to the Almighty.
Shortly thereafter, the governor delivered his hour and 18 minute speech. It included a long list of infrastructure accomplishments, a few snatches of self-deprecating humor and a rousing exhortation to state lawmakers to make New York an antidote to a national atmosphere of hate and polarization.
It also included a sketch of the governor’s policy program for the year—a drawing where some sections were colored in more than others.
On Wednesday’s WBAI Max & Murphy Show, Sen. Liz Krueger reacted to Cuomo’s speech (hear the audio above). A resounding theme in the veteran Democrat’s remarks was that the governor’s precise intentions remained unknown.
Voting rights and homeless help
Krueger also outlined the Senate Democrats’ own agenda, which includes expanding voter rights and reorienting economic development policies to focus on small and medium-sized businesses.
A personal priority for Krueger is passing the Housing Stability Support program, which would provide rent subsidies to families either at risk of homelessness or who are actually homeless.
“We think it’s critical, the city of New York thinks it’s critical. The governor has not supported it in the past,” she said. “He made some statements about much greater investments in fighting homelessness and investing in affordable housing so I don’t know if we’re talking the same thing or we’re talking around each other.”
The same goes for the governor’s comments about education funding.
“With all due respect, I’m not sure anyone knows what the governor specifically was proposing,” Krueger said.
On marijuana and Medicaid
Krueger is optimistic that the governor’s budget will parallel her own bill on legalizing marijuana like making sure proceeds from the new pot industry go back to the communities where harm was done.
Krueger says Cuomo didn’t go enough into detail about the state’s rising Medicaid costs, which she sees at least partly as a result of positive policy developments like a higher minimum wage–“If you raise the minimum wage all those workers who work in programs that are funded by Medicaid, they have to get paid more and should get paid more, which increases the cost of the state to pay the workers,” she noted—and expanded access to healthcare.
“The people who came on board through the health exchange, 40 percent of them joined Medicaid because they were eligible. They’ve always been eligible, they didn’t know. Now they knew and were being signed up to Medicaid. Now we have significantly more people on Medicaid.”
In Cuomo’s defense, the State of the State speech is always an overview. The briefing book released after the speech revealed a few more details. The governor’s upcoming budget address will offer more.
With reporting by Anika Chowdhury