BUFFALO, NY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday used the first day of a three-day State of the State tour to unveil his plan to allow Uber to expand statewide, a new round of investment in Buffalo and proposals to reform the justice system.
The Democratic governor launched a six-city tour of the state to unveil his 2017 agenda, kicking things off with speeches in Manhattan and Buffalo on Monday before heading to New York City's suburbs Tuesday.
Cuomo eschewed tradition this year, opting for six regional State of the State addresses rather than a single speech in the state's capital city.
Buffalo Billion 2
At the University at Buffalo, Cuomo portrayed himself as a defender of upstate New York, with a graphic declaring "Upstate Matters" appearing throughout an accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
Declaring his "Buffalo Billion" program a success, despite the major players in its cornerstone Solar City project being the subject of federal corruption charges, Cuomo called for an additional half-billion dollars of investments which he referred to as "Buffalo Billion Squared"
These include supporting a plan to turn 1,000 acres of the former Bethlehem Steel complex in Lackawanna into an advanced manufacturing park, construction of a grand lodge for tourists on Goat Island in Niagara Falls, expansion of Buffalo's light rail rapid transit system into suburban Amherst, and pushing a planned manufacturing hub on Buffalo's economically challenged east side.
Though the event was invitation only, two persons were escorted from the speech in Buffalo after they interrupted the Governor.
The first was a man who, while loudly noting the corruption allegations surrounding the Solar City project, yelled to Cuomo that (U.S. Attorney) "Preet Bharara is watching you".
The man, wearing a green, "Cuomo's Gotta Go" t-shirt, which he revealed after taking off his jacket, stood up and yelled at Cuomo, calling him a "traitor".
The second interrupter was a female Buffalo Public Schools teacher, who chided Cuomo on what felt is a lack of adequate support for public education.
"Free" SUNY Tuition.
Cuomo once again espoused his plan to offer taxpayer funded SUNY tuition for students from lower and lower middle class families, which he unveiled last week in a joint appearance with Vermont Senator and 2016 Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
However, once again, he offered no details on how it would be funded.
Even SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, when asked by Channel 2 News in Buffalo if she had any idea, responded she had not been told either.
A spokesperson for the Governor told WGRZ-TV last week those details would be part of Cuomo's upcoming budget presentation.
Uber, Lyft plan.
Cuomo also unveiled a plan to allow ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to expand statewide.
The companies, which currently operate in New York City under its taxi laws, have been involved in a wide-ranging lobbying campaign to create statewide regulations and change state insurance law to allow it to expand across the state to cities like Buffalo, Rochester and the New York City suburbs.
"This is one of those examples, my friends, where it is just an unfair duality," Cuomo said of ride-hailing apps. "If it makes sense for downstate, it makes sense for upstate."
Cuomo's ride-hailing plan calls for the state to regulate the industry while requiring the companies to participate in a fund that tacks a 2.5 percent surcharge on rides to pay for worker's compensation for drivers.
The companies would also be required to carry at least $1 million in insurance coverage when a driver is picking up or transporting a customer. The insurance rates became a sticking point between the Assembly and Senate last year, which kept the matter from being resolved.
Cuomo's proposal was hailed by ride-hailing companies and various business groups, who have long pushed for more transportation options statewide.
Critics of ride-hailing weren't pleased, including the Upstate Transportation Association, a coalition of upstate taxi companies and insurers who have been pushing for fingerprint background checks for drivers, a provision Uber opposes.
"Ridesharing companies already fingerprint drivers in New York City and it would be reckless for lawmakers to consider any legislation that lacks this basic protection for upstate passengers," John Tomassi, the group's president, said in a statement.
Cuomo's administration spent the past week slowly releasing portions of his agenda, ranging from the plan to offer free tuition at SUNY schools for families making less than $125,000 annually to a newly signed agreement to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Manhattan.
A noticeably hoarse Cuomo used his first address in Manhattan to outline changes he wants to see to the justice system, including an overhaul of the state's bail process and a plan to cut down on how long defendants are kept in custody before trial.
Cuomo's criminal-justice plan -- parts of which would require legislative approval -- would give judges more flexibility to release defendants from jail before a trial if they haven't met bail and don't pose a risk.
Defendants, and not only their attorneys, would be required to sign documents waiving their right to a speedy trial under Cuomo's plan.
"We still have a judicial system that is supposed to be blind but that all too often finds the scales of justice tipped by resources and race" Cuomo said at the World Trade Center.
Cuomo's State of the State tour will take him to Westchester County on Tuesday, where he will deliver an address at SUNY Purchase's Performing Arts Center at 10:30 a.m. before heading to Long Island in the afternoon.
He'll wrap up the tour Wednesday in Albany and Syracuse.