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Cuomo says State of the State message will offer more hope, now that Democrats will control DC

Office of the Governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after nearly a week’s delay, is scheduled to deliver his State of the State speechon Monday. He said in the midst of a worsening pandemic and economic losses, the message will be a bit brighter now that Democrats are set to control both houses of Congress, and President-elect Joe Biden said he’ll push for a bailout for states like New York that were hit hard by the pandemic.

After Democrats took two U.S. Senate seats in special elections Tuesday in Georgia, Cuomo said he has new hope that the federal government will help New York close what Cuomo said is a $15 billion budget deficit. Much of the gap is due to steep revenue declines because of pandemic-related economic shutdowns.

“I now have to rewrite the State of the State,” Cuomo said on Jan. 6.  

Cuomo said the state was treated unfairly under the administration of President Donald Trump and Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who refused to approve any relief for state or local governments. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the states suffering deficits under the pandemic should consider declaring bankruptcy.

“We want a return of the state’s property that was stolen by Washington over the past four years,” said Cuomo, who added that the state’s budget gap is due to “negligence” by the federal government in its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

The federal government is not likely to solve all of the state’s fiscal problems, though, and the governor has already said he’ll consider expanding sports betting and legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana. Those actions could bring in $800 million a year in revenue when fully implemented.

Cuomo and Democrats who lead the state Legislature also face growing pressure to impose new taxes on the state’s wealthiest. A coalition of progressive groups and unions, chanting “tax the rich,” demonstrated outside Cuomo’s New York City offices, and are planning more events for later this month.  

Both legislative leaders are on record supporting new taxes for the wealthy. The governor has not ruled them out, but he continues to caution that it could cause the state’s richest residents to leave. He also has said that in the end, it wouldn’t raise that much money -- about $1.5 billion, one-tenth of the state’s deficit. 

The one issue overwhelming all of the others in 2021 is the ongoing -- and worsening -- COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts to distribute a vaccine to the public as it becomes available. Early vaccination distribution programs have been rocky, and the governor on Friday expanded sites to include pharmacies, doctors’ offices and county health departments.  

Despite the rising infection rate, Cuomo allowed 6,700 Buffalo Bills fans to attend a weekend playoff game. He said the pre-testing requirements and post-game contact tracing can be a pilot program for opening other larger venues, even before most people are vaccinated.

“If you test negative, you could go into a restaurant. If you test negative, you could go into a theater,” Cuomo said. “Or you test negative, you could go into a commercial office building.”

The governor initially said he wanted to attend the game, but he gave his ticket to a nurse instead, saying he had too much to do to get ready for Monday’s speech. 

Cuomo also released some of his other 2021 proposals, including strengthening protections against tenant evictions during the pandemic. He also wants to change rules that require boards of elections to wait days or even weeks before opening absentee ballots. Instead, they could begin counting ballots on Election Day.

WBFO will provide live coverage of the governor's State of the State address beginning at 11:30 a.m. Monday.

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.
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