With Democrats soon to control the White House and Congress, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ratcheted up pressure Monday on President-elect Joe Biden to deliver billions in aid that would help New York state’s cash-strapped government dig out from the coronavirus-fueled recession after he takes office.
During his 11th annual State of the State address, which was heavy on rhetoric and light on specifics, Cuomo threw down the gauntlet for his fellow Democrats who will be running DC — even invoking the New York City fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when Washington and President Gerald Ford were accused of leaving a teetering Big Apple in the lurch.
“So you ask me today: What is our state of the state? New York is suffering,” Cuomo said during an unprecedentedly brief 45-minute virtual address without the usual audience of thousands of people in attendance because of COVID-19.
“We expect basic fairness from Washington finally. With our new president, a new Senate and the House members, I believe they will do justice.”
But Cuomo continued, “If Washington does tell New York to effectively drop dead again, I will be shocked, but New York will fight back. We will do what we did in the ’70s. We came together, we organized, we sacrificed and we averted financial ruin. But make no mistake, my friends, it would be very painful.”
Cuomo can no longer blame President Trump and Republicans for New York’s woes — as he has done for the past 10 months — with fellow Democrats about to take control in Washington. And the three-term governor said he won’t be shy about leaning on members of his own party.
New York City laid off thousands of teachers, cops and firefighters and other workers during the mid-’70s fiscal crisis, and a state entity was created to borrow billions to keep Gotham from having to declare bankruptcy.
Cuomo claimed Albany can’t dig out of a $15 billion budget hole by just hiking taxes on wealthy New Yorkers — picking a fight with the left-wing activists in his New York Democratic Party, who are pushing for an array of tax increases on the rich that they claim would generate $50 billion in revenue.
“To close our $15 billion budget gap on our own, it would require extraordinary and negative measures. Imagine this: If we raise taxes to the highest income tax rate in the nation on all income over $1 million — billionaires, multimillionaires, millionaires, any income over $1 million — we would raise only $1.5 billion,” the governor said Monday.
He said suspending scheduled income tax cuts on middle-income New Yorkers would generate another $500 million and freezing scheduled wage hikes to government workers spelled out in union contracts would save another $1 billion.
Spinning a worst-case scenario, he said slashing school spending would save $5.2 billion.
“Even after all that pain, we would still need billions in cuts to health care in the middle of a pandemic and we would need to borrow billions at the cost of future generations. It would be devastating to all New Yorkers,” Cuomo said.
“Our federal representatives must deliver fairness for New York and they must do it quickly because our budget is due April 1.”
Cuomo did say he would help generate revenues by legalizing both mobile sports betting and the recreational use of marijuana.
Much of Cuomo’s speech was devoted to themes addressing the coronavirus. Five of the seven focused on taming COVID-19 once and for all through vaccine distribution to New Yorkers while planning for a post-bug economic revival.
And Cuomo did propose a few new initiatives in his address. He said he will spell out more policy proposals in three other speeches in the coming days.
Among the initiatives:
— Create a Public Health Corps with Cornell University and Northwell Hospital System to hire 1,000 Health Corps Fellows to help coordinate vaccination distribution.
— Launch a citizen public health training program, also designed by Cornell, to certify an army of up to 100,000 emergency volunteers to help tackle COVID-19 and other public health disasters.
“The Public Health Corps will also help New York learn from this experience and establish a best-in-the-nation emergency response capacity that lasts beyond COVID, so we are better prepared for future crises,” he said.
— A Medical Supplies Act to encourage New York firms to manufacture personal protective equipment so the state is less dependent on China for medical supplies.
— Increase COVID-19 rapid testing sites throughout the state.
— Convert vacant commercial properties into locations for affordable housing to help alleviate the homelessness crisis.
He also extended a ban on evictions on commercial tenants through May 1.