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Cuomo brings State of the State Address to Buffalo today

WBFO News file photo

The State of the State is coming to Buffalo Monday afternoon, as Governor Cuomo has moved the Constitutionally-mandated message and speech from Albany to six sites around the state. Monday morning he will deliver the address in Manhattan before flying to Buffalo for an appearance at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts.

While many aspects of the speech have already been leaked, like free tuition for many SUNY and CUNY students and better public cybersecurity, local state legislators are looking for other possible proposals.

"The Buffalo Billion, the second round, is good news for this area," said new State Senator Chris Jacobs, who will look to begin his own push for term limits for state lawmakers. 

"I would hope it's more broad-based focused than putting it all in one pot in terms of the SolarCity model."

Another Albany newcomer, Lancaster Democratic Assemblymember Monica Wallace says she wants details of the free tuition proposal and more money for elementary and secondary education. Infrastructure investment is another area of interest.

"I know that there are plans to unveil spending proposals for the Second Avenue subway and upgrades to JFK, but I want to see a commitment to invest in Upstate infrastructure," Wallace said.

"Especially our water and sewer systems and transportation systems. Investing in our infrastructure creates jobs and makes Western New York an attractive place to live and work."

Olean Republican Assemblymember Joseph Giglio  says he's looking for more money for his rural and often small school districts.

In response to the Governor's decision to take the annual State of the State message to the legislature out of the capitol, New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox will be holding a series of his own press conferences immediately following Cuomo's remarks.  In Amherst, Cox will be speaking in the Center for the Arts Atrium Lobby at 4:30 p.m.

Legislative leaders say they will not be attending Cuomo's mini-State of the State addresses.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie gave his own State of the State message, laying out Assembly Democrats’ priorities for the session. Senate Leader John Flanagan also gave a message.

Cuomo was in New York City at that very same hour, talking to a group of business leaders and explaining why he’s not giving a traditional speech to the legislators.

Cuomo’s been inching away from the tradition in recent years, first holding the speech in a convention center controlled by the executive branch, then delaying the event until later in January, combining it with his budget presentation. He’s now scheduled six separate speeches in several regions of the state.

“Why?” Cuomo asked rhetorically. “Because there’s too much to do in one 40-minute segment in Albany. We have so much going on in this state.”

Cuomo said under the constitution, the governor doesn’t have to give a speech at all; he need only provide a written “memo” to lawmakers, which his office said he will produce very soon. He said it was former Gov. Al Smith who in 1923 decided to deliver a speech in the Assembly chambers, where Smith once served.

“Because he was from the Assembly, and you always want to play to a favorable audience,” Cuomo explained.

Having a receptive crowd might be the key to Cuomo’s change in plans this year.

The governor had a falling out with the Legislature in December. Negotiations to hold a special session that would have included pay raises for senators and Assembly members failed. They have not seen their salaries increased in 18 years.

There were rumors of a boycott of a State of the State speech, which would have left embarrassingly empty seats. In 2016, Cuomo endured a heckling from Assemblymember Charles Barron, who has long had differences with the governor.

“You were wrong!” Barron shouted on Jan. 13, 2016, as Cuomo, from the podium, tried to quell the outburst.

The six mini speeches outside the Capitol have left lawmakers feeling angry and slighted. All four major and minority party legislative leaders say they are not going to any of the speeches, even ones held in their home regions.

Flanagan, who has had a rocky relationship with Cuomo lately, does not think much of Cuomo’s statewide tour.

“The State of the State should be delivered in the Assembly chamber,” said Flanagan. “I’ve always believed in that tradition.”

A spokesman said Flanagan was invited to the address in his home region of Long Island, but declined because it coincides with a session day scheduled months ago.

Heastie tried to downplay any ill will the governor’s move might be causing.

“What’s more important for us is what’s in the message,” Heastie said, “and not where the message is delivered.”

Cuomo will be giving an address in Albany, though it will not be at the Capitol. It will be held at the State University campus a few miles away and it will be on a day when the Legislature already has adjourned for the week.

There is another reason the governor might want to take the emphasis off the Capitol. It has been the focus of several major corruption scandals, including two that led to jail time for both former legislative leaders, and nine Cuomo associates, including a former top aide and the former architect of his upstate economic development programs, are facing multiple charges, including bribery and bid-rigging.

Despite the mutual State of the State boycott between Cuomo and state lawmakers, they will all have to work together eventually on issues like passing the budget, which is expected to have a deficit, and perhaps implementing new laws — to make college tuition free for more students, and allowing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft in more places in New York.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.