Thrice-elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s legislative agenda address laid out his ambitious plans for the coming year on Monday. Among progressive policies discussed, including marijuana legalization and infrastructure overhauls, Cuomo repeatedly sought to draw a comparison between his agenda and FDR’s New Deal.
“Governor Cuomo has moved to replicate the Roosevelt record in New York State,” stated Harold Holzer, a historian and longtime Cuomo family aide. The question on the administration’s mind, he added, is “What would FDR do today?”
Fundamentally, Cuomo’s plans for New York’s state government, newly with Democratic majorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, is a repudiation of the federal administration.
“Let us announce New York’s rebellion against our current administration,” Cuomo declared. “Let this agenda be New York’s Declaration of Independence.”
Cuomo declared his intent to enshrine in New York state law, legislation under threat by the Trump administration, to include protection for pre-existing conditions and insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) under Obama.
Another break from federal policy on Cuomo’s agenda is the legalization of recreational marijuana thereby joining a number of other states, including California, Colorado and Washington, in decriminalizing the drug for adults.
“Let’s legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all,” Cuomo said.
Looking to the future, Cuomo plans to legalize marijuana consumption in the state of New York this year. However he was silent on the subject of amnesty for those currently serving prison sentences for marijuana possession, which, despite equal usage among all races, is disproportionately black.
According to New York’s “Under Custody Report,” there were 6,520 people serving felony sentences for drug offences as of January 1, 2016. Of these prisoners, twice as many are black as are white.
“The fact is we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and well off, and one for everyone else,” Cuomo declared.
According to the New York Times, yearly tax revenue on the drug could be as high as $1.3 billion, though this budgetary boon does not account for the reduced costs in arresting, prosecuting and jailing future marijuana users.
Infrastructure, the MTA and the Green New Deal
Such a windfall could prove vital, as in addition to marijuana legalization, substantive infrastructure reforms were a highlight of Cuomo’s address. After already proposing a $100 billion infrastructure budget in the past, Cuomo announced that it would be increased significantly, reaching $150 billion, and promised that it would not only improve New York’s roads, bridges and trains, but provide thousands of “good, middle-class jobs.” Additionally, Cuomo announced plans to fund public housing in New York more than ever before, but did not give any specific numbers as to what that amount might be.
The governor got into specifics when it came to the MTA, describing its current administrative establishment as bureaucratic, inefficient and undemocratic. In addition to promising a dedicated funding stream to fix the subway’s myriad problems, Cuomo announced plans to bring the MTA under state authority and making it more accountable to New York voters.
“Congestion pricing is the only alternative,” Cuomo stated, something that Queens commuters are already fighting against.
These infrastructure reforms are only one part of a larger effort, however, as Cuomo promised that he would work to pass the Green New Deal in New York state, a policy championed by Queens representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“It is not an ussue of present inconvenience, it is an issue of future viability,” Cuomo said. “If not for us, then for our children.”
Cuomo declared that this legislation would see New York completely carbon neutral by 2040, and reiterated his commitment that this state lead the way for progressive causes elsewhere in the country.
One such issue with which Cuomo plans to lead the nation is that of voting rights, proposing automatic voter registration, synchronized federal and state elections as well as expanding both mail-in and early voting.
“We have to address the cynicism and skepticism that people feel,” Cuomo said.
By far the most significant part of his voting reform plan, however, is establishing Election Day as a state holiday, which would allow those holding lower-income and more precarious jobs to make their voices heard much more easily, something Bernie Sanders has been advocating for since 2014.
All in all, Andrew Cuomo’s legislative plan is ambitious, but the governor emphasized the need to stay pragmatic.
“Big problems require big solutions,” he stated, later adding, “FDR was not an incrementalist.”