ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered her first State of the State address Wednesday after becoming New York’s 57th Governor by virtue of Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in August.
Hochul made refence to what was often described as the heavy handed approach of the Cuomo administration, by claiming that in the four months since she took office, her administration “has demonstrated that there is a different, better way to get things done”, and insisted, “Since day one as Governor, I have not made a single decision in a vacuum. I have listened to the experts and the elected officials on the ground.”
Hochul also acknowledged a “harsh reality” that nearly 300,000 New Yorkers left the state last year, reflecting the steepest population drop of any state in the nation.
The Governor spent much of her time during her speech before a joint session of the New York State Legislature focusing in on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as case numbers continue to climb despite the state’s relatively high vaccine rates and efforts by Hochul, including the imposition of a statewide indoor mask mandate, to try and bring the numbers down.
She also referred to the “bone-tired healthcare workforce” as the “heroes” of the pandemic, thousands of whom were fired as a result of her order that they had to be vaccinated to keep their jobs.
Here are some other items from the State of the State.
Hochul did not address any plans for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills in her State of the State, but did mention “a strong community desire” to recreate the character of the former Humboldt Parkway, which was transformed into the Kensington Expressway.
She indicated support for a project to reconnect and restore the east-west neighborhoods across the depressed section of the Kensington Expressway corridor (between Best Street and East Ferry Street), and re-establish the green space originally provided by the Humboldt Parkway without compromising the long-term capacity provided by the expressway.
Getting More Healthcare Workers
Hochul wants to increase the healthcare workforce by 20 percent over the next five years, in part through a $10 billion investment, including $4 billion to support wages and bonuses for healthcare workers.
Additionally, Hochul is calling on the state to provide direct financial support for the education of healthcare professionals, provided that they work in New York State for a specified period after obtaining their credentials. This would include free tuition, covering instructional costs for high demand health occupations and provide stipends to make up for lost income while in school. Money would also be provided to students for wraparound services such as childcare or transportation support.
To entice medical professionals to work in so called underserved areas, particularly in rural parts of the state, another proposal would provide loan forgiveness up to $120,000 for doctors who work in underserved areas for three years.
A practice temporarily allowed by Executive Order during the COVID-19 pandemic which enabled doctors and nurses to relocate to New York and use their existing license to more quickly be able to practice in the state is a measure which Hochul would like to continue, by proposing legislation for New York to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact and the Nurse Licensure Compact.
Hochul also wants to expand eligibility for state sponsored healthcare programs including Essential Plan, Child Health Plus, and Medicaid. The income eligibility threshold for the Essential Plan, for example, would rise from 200 percent of federal poverty line to at least 250 percent subject to federal approval. She is also calling for the elimination of the $9 monthly premium contribution per child in the Child Health Plus insurance plan, which would affect 146,000 low income households.
Hochul announced several steps to try and reduce New York’s highest in the nation total tax burden. These include accelerating $1.2 Billion in middle-class tax cuts for six million New Yorkers.
A middle-class tax cut, begun in 2018 and scheduled to stretch out through 2025, Hochul wants to start providing the full benefit of the tax cut two years earlier, fully phasing-in the 2018 middle-class tax cut beginning in the 2023 tax year.
She also proposes a property tax rebate for than 2 million New Yorkers, with low-income households and seniors receiving higher benefits. Eligible homeowners will receive their benefit in 2022, to the tune of $1 billion.
Hochul seeks to provide $100 million in tax relief for 195,000 small businesses, to help them keep their doors open and weather what the next few months bring. According to the Governor, this relief will come from increasing a tax return adjustment (known as a “subtraction modification”) that reduces a small business’s gross taxable income, as well as from widening eligibility to more entities.
Term Limits for Statewide Elected Officials
As was announced before her State of the State Address, Hochul is proposing a Constitutional amendment to limit all four statewide elected officials (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller) to two consecutive four-year terms in office. Hochul also proposes that all statewide public officers be prohibited from seeking any work to supplement their income upon being elected (except academic positions approved by the ethics board).
Under the Cuomo administration the independence of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) was often called into question.
Hochul proposes to repeal and replace JCOPE with a rotating board of five members made up of the 15 state-accredited law school deans or their designees. They would abide by majority voting — eliminating the “Special Vote” practice used by JCOPE, which Hochul claims was a large part of its dysfunction.
In addition, while JCOPE was made exempt from the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and operates largely in executive sessions, the new watchdog agency would be subject to FOIL and Open Meeting Laws like other State agencies. All votes would be public, subject to public due process hearings, and required to adhere to all final determinations.
In response to revelations that the Cuomo administration would exert influence individual members of JCOPE, members of the new ethics body would be prohibited from communicating with outside parties regarding any potential or ongoing investigation, and would be subject to sanctions for doing so.
Hochul upped the anti on the state's already ambitious plans to rely heavily on renewable energy sources in the coming year.
In addition to the goals previously outlined in the state's Climate Act, Hochul announced that she will propose legislation to require that, by 2027, all new school bus purchases will be zero-emissions, and by 2035, all school buses on the road will be zero-emissions. Along with it, a pledge for the state, through its taxpayers, to provide aid to schools to install electric bus infrastructure, including charging stations, and purchasing or leasing electric buses. Additionally, the legislation would enable school districts to contract for buses for longer than the current five-year limitation, expanding their ability to meet this goal
Hochul will call on the Legislature to amend State law to lower the voter registration deadline from 25 days to 10 days before Election Day, which does not require a Constitutional amendment.
Hochul is proposing to require polling places on college campuses, to ease the ability to vote for students away from home who ordinarily would be made to vote by absentee ballot.
Amid surging numbers of incidents involving gun violence in the state, Hochul announced a series of initiatives she believes will strengthen gun tracing efforts, support successful local law enforcement programs, and invest in law enforcement data analysis and intelligence networks.
Hochul wants to make the State’s tuition assistance program available to part-time students. She is also pledging to launch a new “Jails-to-Jobs” initiative to provide incarcerated people with the help and support they need to find employment after release and stay employed.
Assistance to Veterans
Hochul is proposing to extend and enhance tax credits for hiring veterans, expand programs to help veterans navigate from military to civilian life, and to increase the minimum annual state funding for county and city veterans service agencies by 150%