Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at Farmingdale State College on Tuesday. Below is a video of the event and a transcript of his speech.
Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much. What a pleasure it is to be here today and how about the Color Guard and the choir. Weren’t they great? Let’s give them another round of applause. It’s my pleasure to be here with our great County Executive Steve Bellone who is doing a great job. Let’s give him a round of applause. Our Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul who has been fantastic. All of my colleagues from Albany. We also have the head of the MTA here with us today, Chairman Tom Prendergast, and the head of the State Police Superintendent George Beach.
This is the time of the year that we talk about the State of the State. You’ll hear the new president soon talk about the State of the Union and what the country is doing. You’ll hear the mayor talk about the State of the City, the County Executive will talk about the State of the County and we talk about the State of the state which is where we are today and what the plans are for what we are going to do going forward. The short answer as we stand here today is the ship of state is stronger than it has been in decades. When you look at all the indices, New York State really has made remarkable social and economy progress. Not since the time of FDR and Robert Moses has our government produced more, achieved more, passed more meaningful legislation, or built more than it has over these past few years. So let’s give all of the state employees who are here, the members of the legislature. Let’s give them a round of applause and thank them for their good work.
What makes our economic progress even sweeter, frankly, is that it has been matched by unprecedented social progress. We were the first big state to pass marriage equality and that sent a ripple all across this country. We did the same thing – we were the first to pass paid family leave and now we are right across the country. We passed the minimum wage increase because working people need help to make ends meet because you can’t make ends meet at $9 an hour and all of this at the same time we are generating more and more jobs. Unemployment came down from 8.5 percent to 5.1 percent and that is the best news of all. that economic growth, my friends, is all across the state of New York. It’s not the old story where New York City did very well but everywhere else suffered. This success is balanced all across the state. Long Island is feeling it and that’s worth applauding.
Simply put, we have more private sector jobs today than have ever existed before in the history of the state of New York – 7.9 million jobs and we have 106,000 new jobs on Long Island just since 2010. So we’ve made progress and we made progress because we took dramatic action. It didn’t just happen. It happened because we made significant changes that made it happen.
For decades, New York was spending money like a drunken sailor. It was really out of control. It was spending money at a faster rate than the people in the state were earning money. Think about that. The old adage was ‘you can’t spend more than you earn,’ unless you are New York State. Then you can spend more than the people in your state actually earn. And that’s what it was doing and that’s why people felt for many years that the state was taking a bigger and bigger piece of their paycheck, because the state was taking a bigger and bigger piece of their paycheck. This is the state spending for several years, and it goes back to Nelson Rockefeller. And Democrat, Republican, it did not matter. These are the numbers. Nelson Rockefeller, Republican, 11 percent on average, year after year. Hugh Carey, Democrat, 7.9 percent. Mario Cuomo, 6.9 percent a year increase. George Pataki, conservative Republican, elected to reverse the big spending of Mario Cuomo, 5.2 percent. So the difference between big spending liberal, Mario Cuomo, and conservative George Pataki came out to be 1.7 percent per year. We dramatically changed that, over six years 1.4 percent.
Now when you get spending down low, good things happen. It’s New Year’s, after New Year’s everybody’s on a diet. If you keep calories low, good things happen. The only problem is it’s hard to keep calories low. But we have kept spending low and when spending stays down, then you have money to actually cut taxes. We have cut taxes all across the board. Every person in the state of New York pays a lower tax rate today than the day I took office. Business taxes are down, estate taxes are down, corporate taxes are down to record low levels, and that changed the attitude of New York.
We’re no longer the anti-business state. We’re no longer the state where businesses say, “Oh we could never go there, we would never go there. It’s hostile to business.” Because we did have that reputation. Because we did have that attitude. We were New York. We had that swagger about us. We’re New York, they’re going to stay here. Where else would they go? You can’t leave New York. Actually, you can. If you look at a map and you look to the west of New York, you will see these other shapes on the map. Those are called “other states.” And if you torture people and businesses enough, they will go to those other shapes. They have been proven to be habitable. They’re not great, but you can live in those other states.
So we want businesses coming in. We want young people coming in, changing our economic policies was very, very important. And we changed our economic development policies fundamentally. The old days, the politicians would in Albany would sit there and tell Long Island what they should do. Or the spending was in pork barrels spending. We changed that. We said, “Long Island, you put together the business leaders and the academic leaders and you tell us what you need to grow your economy.” Because New York State is so diverse, there is no one economy. You have Long Island. You have the North Country, which is totally different. You have Buffalo, which is totally different. You have the Southern Tier, which is totally different. There is no one size fits all. So region by region, we’ve been working through the economy. And the Regional Economic Development Councils have been doing exceedingly well, especially here on Long Island, and it’s working, and that’s what the 210,000 jobs created by the investments in the REDC shows. 5200 projects, 210,000 jobs thanks to the great work of the REDC. Kevin Law, congratulations.
We’ve invested a total of $486 million dollars in 590 projects. We have invested heavily in tourism which is paying off all across the state. Especially on long island but our tourism industry is now the highest in history. $102 billion dollars annually it just hit a new record. This state is continuing to make strategic investments to build on the success in long island. We spent $36 million dollars to restore Jones Beach to restore its former grandeur because it was a beautiful project and we forget how Robert Moses built that project and the architecture and the mosaic and the item and consideration that went into it. I went there as a kid all my life and it was a steady deterioration for my entire life. It just got worse and worse and worse. And now you go there and you see what is was in its hay day and it is beautiful and I am so proud of it.
$3.8 million for the Beth Page State Park which is a world class destination and it’s even better now. Beth Page State park hosted this year the 101 PGA and the 45th Rider Cups. I didn’t participate because I was busy but it generated $235 million in economic activity. We’re also embracing the innovation economy which is growing very well on Long Island. It’s creating jobs all throughout the community and we’re investing heavily. $25 million dollars in Cold Spring Harbor for genetic diseases.
$25 million for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Hofstra. $50 million for the Brook Haven National Laboratories for what they call the Big Data Market and all these companies are synergizing one with the other. And after years of discussion and hand ringing, we are finally going to build more capacity for the Long Island Rail Road first with the double track and then with the what they call the third track project which will finally relieve congestion on the railroads busiest corridors. This is long overdue. It was really when you think about it, it was unbelievable that it had gone on so long that in some parts of the LIRR there were literally one track. And every morning I hear the radio and there’s a delay on the LIRR and I call Tom Prendergast who always loves to hear my voice first thing in the morning. Who else would he want to talk to? And I ask him what happened on the LIRR this morning? And he said something fell on the track. There’s one track. A tree falls everything stops. We never developed the redundancy. We talked about it, but we never did it and now we’re doing it. $388 million dollars in Suffolk county to connect more than 10,000 homes to sewage systems. It is not sexy but this is essential.
County Executive Steve Bellone is exactly right. This is the way to preserve and grown Suffolk County and we’re proud to be a partner. We’ve invested $831 million after Sandy and the Bay Park Waste Water Treatment Plant which one again is a way to protect our environment. So we’ve done a lot of good, but there’s a lot more to do. And this is not time to congratulate ourselves we have to move forward especially to help the middle class. Because this economic recovery has been unlike most. Some people have done extraordinary well. The middle class has lagged behind. And the middle class in real wages are actually earning what they earned 20 years ago. So the middle class has taken it on the chin. And they’re feeling it. And that is the roar by the way we heard on election day. All that anger because the middle class really has been overlooked and we’re going to remedy that. The long Island agenda has five parts. We’ll start with jobs, infrastructure and transportation.
On what I call the Middle Class Recovery Act jobs and infrastructure go together to drive the economy we need invest in infrastructure and we have been big time. $100 billion dollars statewide investment infrastructure the largest investment in infrastructure in this state’s history. Why? Because we let it go on for too long without doing the work we needed to do. We ignored the infrastructure and other places passed us by. Pat Foye is here from the Port Authority. We’re going to build the new LaGuardia airport and new JFK airport why because we desperately need them. We needed them years ago. They’re an embarrassment. We’re going to build a new Penn Station why because it is an embarrassment to have Penn Station as the entranceway to New York.
We’re building a new Tappan Zee we’re buying 1,000 MTA cars. You have to keep up with the infrastructure because if you’re not developing, your competitors are and they’re going to pass you buy. You fly into almost any international airport on this globe and they have already passed us by. We’re New York. We are a built environment. What made us a success was that we were more ambitious and bold and daring than everybody else and we have lost that mojo and we have to get it back and we are. Part of that infrastructure especially on Long Island is something that we don’t normally think about. Which is our infrastructure in terms of water quality. Now this is a very big issues Assemblyman Joe Saladino is here and he has been a great champion for this in Albany. Clean drinking water is one of the society’s most important functions and it is critical here in Long Island because two things are happening.
Number one, the pipes literally get old, the infrastructure gets old and it has to be replaced. But number two there’s questions about the quality of the drinking water. And we announced last year at Stony Brooke University a Water Quality Task force to safeguard the water quality. There are significant water issues on Long Island. You can talk about the grum inside, you can talk about POFOS, Gabreski Airport Site, salt water intrusion. Almost every week the Federal Government is coming up with a new chemical to add to the list of what is unsafe to drink and it changes all the time. I want to make sure we have the state of the art water filtration. We’re protecting our water source. These are our children who are drinking it. I don’t want to find out in 10 years that our water had a chemical that was causing some disease. We have to have the best water system in the country period. We have a three pronged approach. We want to fund state of the art drinking water treatment systems, replace failing water infrastructure and protect drinking water at its source. I want to invest $2 billion dollars in this enterprise. I know it’s a lot but our children deserve it. We’ll have our local communities work together to come up with a joint plan so water districts cooperate and this state will fund.
Step 2, we need sustainable mass transit. The Long Island Railroad began in 1834. Long Island’s population was 37,000 people. It is now 2.9 million people. The Long Island Railroad has not kept the scale. I don’t mean that as an insult, I’m just saying. We need to make changes, and we need to make them quickly. We have to grow to stay ahead and we’re going to start that this year. We’ll invest $80M to modernize 16 major MTA and LIRR stations. The station enhancements will include new facilities, Wi-Fi, charging stations, clearer signage for travelers, public art in every station. Believe it or not, we’re going to do it right. We’re not just going to clean it up, it’s going to be a place to be proud of. And we can do it, and we can do it well. I know when you hear someone say “well government is going to build” a little voice in your head says “oh well that’ll be the day that they get that done.” That little cynical voice. I have a loud cynical voice. We just finished a project in Manhattan called the 2nd Avenue Subway. It was the project that nobody said was ever going to be completed. And it completed on time and on budget and I am telling you it is a beautiful, beautiful sight. It is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, we had a New Year’s Eve party in the new subway station. I mean it is that extraordinary. So that is what the MTA can do, the new MTA can do, and that’s what we’re going to be doing on Long Island. To continue to grow jobs, Brookhaven National Laboratory is a great asset. It’s a tremendous economic generator. County executive had a brilliant idea. He said “we should connect Brookhaven to the LIRR to get direct access to Brookhaven, I will stimulate all sorts of activity.” He’s right, we’re going to put $20M to connecting it to the Long Island Railroad. He wanted to name the station The Steve Bellone Station, we will not be doing that however. Same thing with MacArthur Airport. MacArthur Airport has vast potential. If we can get MacArthur up to scale it can save people hours and hours on commute. It can take traffic away from JFK. It can take a load off LaGuardia. We have to make MacArthur more useable, more accessible. Same thing, we want to connect the terminal directly to the Long Island Railroad, and we’ll invest $20 million to do that.
Ridesharing is an important part of the new innovation economy. Especially for Millennials, it’s a way of life. It is legal only in New York City now. It’s not legal upstate, it’s not legal on Long Island, and frankly, that is just unfair. It can, it will take an act of the legislature to make it legal on Long Island and upstate. And we want it to be legal this year. Ridesharing creates jobs, it saves lives, it produces alternatives for people, it gives people choice—let’s pass ridesharing for Long Island and let’s do it this year.
Second, access to education. A generation ago, if you had a high school diploma, you could be ok. You could make it into the middle class, you could find a way to work, because that was the ticket. That is no longer true. 2024, 3.5M jobs will require a college education. The jobs that are coming back to this country from overseas are advanced manufacturing jobs. Which means it’s this, it’s not this. It’s not your back, it’s your mind. I was in Buffalo a couple of weeks ago, General Motors was opening a new engine plant where they were building engines. Tremendous facility, $300M facility. You would think engines, mechanics, you know the one thing I never saw in this $300M facility? No tools, all automation. And then every 20 feet a computer keyboard with someone at the computer keyboard to troubleshoot the automation. You need the skills to succeed. The smart workforce wins. We want the jobs coming here, we need the smart workforce. College is the key to enter the system. That is coming. The problem is college is too expensive and out of the reach of many people. And the debt is up to $30,000 on average. We know what the future is going to be. The future is going to require college for a state to be competitive. The future is going to require college for this nation to remain competitive on the globe. And an individual who wants to succeed is going to need college. The way we made high school free, we should make college free. And I believe that day will come. I believe that day will come, I want to start our way toward that day. I want to start here in New York by saying any child for a family $125,000 income or less goes to a public university for free. Period.
Number three, we have to keep lowering taxes. And this is an important point. The median income tax is the state tax, $1,874. Median property tax $4,700, ok? $1,800 that’s the state tax, that’s me. $4,700 that’s not me. So when you are annoyed about high taxes, don’t look at me. I am the $1,800, that little skinny yellow bar, and I’ve made that bar thinner since I’ve been Governor, okay? The problem has always been property taxes in the state of New York. Which are two and a half times what the state tax is. And New York is unique in this regard. We have the highest property taxes in the United States of America. It’s not even close. Westchester County number 1 in the nation in absolute dollars. Nassau number 2, Suffolk number 12. Rockland number 4. Upstate, as percentage of home value, we have the highest property taxes. This is what the property taxes are relative to the country. Westchester’s 11, Nassau 10, Suffolk 8, New York State 5, USA $3,000 on average, $3,000. How are our state property taxes so high? Because we have a proliferation of local government in the state of New York that is more expensive than virtually any other state in the country. Well that’s just me. No it’s not just me. There was another Governor, an important guy, who focused on the same issue and was consistent.
FDR, 1932. Increase in real estate taxes is due wholly to the increase in the cost of local, not state, government. Sounds a little defensive. These taxes on real estate are too high – local government has, in many communities, been guilty of great waste and duplication. That was true then, it is more true now. We want to be economically competitive, we want to get the taxes down, and we have to focus on property taxes. They crush senior citizens. They crush home sales. You have a lot of home sales where the taxes are higher than the mortgage that you would pay. In the old days, the question was can you pay the mortgage. Now the question is can you pay the taxes? I have tried everything to get property taxes down. One thing we did succeed at is we passed the property tax cap, which said you can’t raise property taxes more than two percent without a super majority. Why was that important? Because property taxes were going up seven, eight, nine percent – every year. And a cap at two percent actually made a big difference. It has saved homeowners over $16 billion – typical homeowners saved $2,100 dollars since we put the cap in place. But, we have to go further. And I have talked to the local government all across the state and literally tried everything. An incentive for cost savings, I’ve tried the charm offensive, I’ve tried threatening them, I’ve tried everything. I said they had to move to Jersey, whatever it took, I tried. And the only thing we got done is the cap.
I have a new approach this time. Nassau has 305 local governments. Suffolk has 404 local governments. The county executive will say, and you have one of the best in the state in Steve Bellone, one of the best in the nation, Steve Bellone, by the way. He will say I have no authority over the local governments, and that is true. County executive runs the county government, then you have towns, villages, etcetera. What I want to propose this year is the county executive convenes all the local governments in one room, and one place. And they work together to find savings and cost efficiencies. There have to be, there have to be efficiencies and cooperation that you can find. Suffolk County, 404 local governments. Just imagine if it was a private corporation with 404 offices. 404 offices would not all be doing exactly the same thing on their own. Everybody does their own purchasing, everybody buys their own cars, everybody buys their own trucks, and everybody has to have one of everything. They would be sharing material. They would have one massive purchase order to get them economy of scale. They would buy all the vehicles at once to get an economy of scale. They would say, you know what? Not everybody has to buy a $100,000 bulldozer. We’ll share the bulldozer, because we don’t use it every day. There has to be all sorts of savings that you can find.
The problem is it’s not a private corporation. So there is no profit incentive. And the easiest thing to say when you’re in politics is yes. Yes, I needed a new truck. Yes, state police superintendent say they need more police. That boy says I need more police for the airports, yes. Tom Prendergast say I need more trains, yes. The easiest thing to say. No is hard. Not for me, I’ve gotten very accustomed to saying no. but for most people “no” is hard. Put the local governments in a room, come up with a plan, find out how to save money, and then put that plan on the ballot in November. And let the citizens – put the plan on the ballot in November, and let the citizens vote. And if the citizens accept the plan, they accept the plan. And if the citizens say, “uh, it’s not enough,” then they have to go back and they do it again until they come back with a plan that the citizens actually approve. “I can’t do it. I can’t do it. There’s too much strength in that local government and there’s too much apathy because this is a lot of change, and nobody really wants to do it, and everybody really wants to do it their way. And cooperation is a nice concept, but you know what? It’s a pain in the neck, cooperation. I want my own bulldozer. I don’t want to have to share it with you.” And that is the mentality. And the county executive hasn’t had the power to make a difference. Now, the county executive can say, “Hey, friends, this plan is going to go on the ballot. And if it doesn’t get passed, it’s not going to look good for any of us. And then we’ll have to come back and were going to have to do it again.” Giving the power to the citizens is what has to be done because only you can make the difference. I am telling you that. Now, the counties will say – not Steve Bellone – but just so you’re aware, the counties are going to say, “Well you know what, I’ll tell you how to reduce property taxes. The state should pay some of these bills.”
First of all, I’ve already picked up a lot of the costs for local government. The largest single cost for local government is Medicaid. We paid the entire increase for Medicaid every year – over $2 billion – $1.9 billion dollars, $60 million for Nassau County, $64 for Suffolk county. So I am already paying the largest portion. But, the point of the exercise is not to transfer the tax burden from one to another. It’s not to lower property taxes and then give me the cost and then I raise state taxes. Right? You saw the two bars on the chart. We want to reduce the overall cost. I have this discussion with my daughters. They get a budget every month, and the point is that they are supposed to live within the budget. And what they inevitably do is they’ll call and they’ll say, uh, you know, I want to take my boyfriend to dinner for his birthday. And I say, that’s nice. Go ahead. Not crazy about the boyfriend, but you know. If you engage it, then they go the other way. So I said, nice, he’s nice. Yeah, take him to dinner. McDonalds is nice for him. I said good take him to dinner, that’s a nice thing. Well, I can’t take him to dinner because it will go over the budget so I want you to pay. I said, oh yeah. And this is the point: if I pay, then you’re not really staying within the budget. The point is not to transfer the cost to the state so I raise state taxes. We need to reduce the overall tax and that has to be done by the local government. And that has to be done because the citizens say enough is enough. Cut the waste, cut the duplication. And give me a break.
There’s going to be tremendous opposition on this, I can tell you right away. No one is going to like it. The entire political class is going to be against because it’s going to be a pain in the neck. And they’re going to call up your Senators and your Assemblymen and then they are not going to want to do it. Because in Albany, it’s the path of least resistance. I need you to call your Senators and say “You work for me, get this done otherwise you can pay my property taxes next time.” And that’s how we’ll get it done. We’re also proposing a middle-class tax credit for child care.
Child care is up to $25,000 for two children, we’re going to double the credit. It’s going to help 200,000 middle-class families. On Long Island especially, while we’re developing jobs, we need to make sure we protect the asset, because Long Island is a fragile, delicate, beautiful asset and we want to make sure it stays that way. We have committed unprecedented resources to protect and preserve Long Island and we want to keep doing it. $300 Million in the Environmental Protection Fund, more than ever before. $2 million for the Stony Brook Clean Water technology. 1.5 in water treatment for Nassau and Suffolk Counties. But we have to keep it going. I’m going to invest $40 million to build local sewer systems in Smith town and Kings Park to protect the environment. And we have to start to do some big things, we have to do big things in renewable energy to get that cost to power down on Long Island. And we have wind power, we’ve had wind power for years. Offshore wind farms work. They can be done right, they can be done correctly, they don’t have to be an eyesore.
I’m calling on LIPA to approve a 90 megawatt wind farm. It’s enough to support 50,000 homes. They will not be visible from the beach. They will be 30 miles southeast of Montauk. Not even Superman standing on Montauk Point could see these wind farms. But the upside is tremendous. It will be the largest offshore wind project in our nation’s history, not just in existence. Its jobs. It’s clean energy and it’s inexpensive energy which then drives the economy. And we are not going to stop there. We have a mandate of 50 percent renewable power by the year 2030. We want to get 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and we are not going to stop until we reach 100 percent renewable because that’s what a sustainable New York is really all about.
One more priority for Long Island and that is combatting addiction. We have a terrible heroin epidemic on Long Island, we have had for years that we have been battling. But opioids and the over-prescription of opioids has caused an epidemic in this state and in this nation that has cost us many, many lives. We’ve changed the prescription policies, mandatory prescriber education. We made it easier for the insurance companies to pay for treatment, we’ve had too many people die waiting for treatment, frankly. We have over 200 slots for substance abuse but still we have more to do. There’s now a new drug, fentanyl, which is wreaking havoc on communities. Emergency rooms are seeing an explosion, more than 150% increase in the last 5 years. Nassau. Suffolk has it even worse than Nassau County. We have a 6-point plan to combat drug use.
First, eliminate the prior authorization requirements to make substance use disorder available to all. Add fentanyl to the logs of the controlled substances so when they come up with a substitute that is almost like fentanyl, it’s covered by the laws. Increase the access to life-saving BPH treatment by recruiting healthcare providers to become prescribers and administrators. 24-7 crisis centers and require emergency department prescribers to consult the prescription monitoring program to combat doctor shopping- where a person goes from doctor to doctor and gets numerous prescriptions. We’ll create New York’s first recovery high-schools to help young people in recovery to actually finish schools and not compound the problem.
In closing, my friends, Long Island has every asset imaginable. God gave you every gift that he could give a place. He gave you a natural beauty that is unsurpassed. He gave you a beautiful, pristine environment. You’ve attracted cutting-edge companies who are the companies of the future. You have first-rate educational institutions, like Farmingdale, and the cluster of those educational institutions is even stronger. We have cut taxes and with your help we are going to cut property taxes this year. We are improving the Long Island Railroad, we’re still protecting the environment and we’re going to combat addiction. It is up to us to continue our smart growth. And it is up to us to have the courage we need to make the changes to improve Long Island. It cannot take us 30 years to build the Long Island Railroad Second track and 30 years to build the Long Island Railroad Third track. It can’t take us 10 years to replace a rest area on Long Island.
I know change is hard, I know there is a desire to remain in control, but if we want to make Long Island better than it has ever been, we are going to need to step up and have the courage to do it. And at the end of the day, the responsibility of all of us, as a parent, as a citizen, as a resident, is God put you here to leave this place a better place than when you found it. And you are here to use your talents to do that. We have to leave our children a more beautiful Long Island than we found it, and we will do that working together.