On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2019 State of the State and Budget Address in Albany, outlining what he plans to accomplish within the first 100 day of his third term, while also detailing his nearly $170 billion spending plan.
In the days leading up to the address, Cuomo was busy ticking items off of his ambitious 20-point agenda, rolling out a series of new proposals that aim to accomplish things like reinstating and doubling the city’s speed camera program to banning single-use plastic bags. Other items on his agenda include passing a congestion pricing plan, pushing for a plan to legalize recreational marijuana, reform rent regulations to end vacancy decontrol and repeal preferential rent, and launching a multi-billion dollar infrastructure plan.
Cuomo began his address by highlighting the noteworthy projects that have been successfully launched or completed since he took office. For New York City, those included the Empire State Trail—a 750-mile path that will stretch from Manhattan to northern New York—set to open in 2020; the $8 billion overhaul of LaGuardia Airport that is set to wrap up in 2021, and the ongoing $13 billion overhaul of JFK airport that is aiming for 2025 completion.
Here are some of the noteworthy agenda items that Cuomo is working to achieve next:
The city is set to see the program that allows for speed cameras in school zones expanded as part of the 2019 executive budget. Cuomo’s office announced that not only will the program be reinstated, but the number of cameras on city streets will be doubled—from 140 to 290—while also expanding the areas of coverage.
The current speed cameras are the result of a pilot program that was enacted by Cuomo and implemented by the city’s Department of Transportation in 2014. The program brought speed cameras to 140 school zones across the city; however, it expired last summer and at that time, the Republican-controlled state Senate refused to vote on an extension bill that had passed the state Assembly. In late August, Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the City Council came to an agreement that got the cameras turned back on.
Cuomo has been having a tough time getting lawmakers on board with a congestion pricing plan, which would place a surcharge on vehicles entering central business districts in Manhattan. Now that both the state Assembly and the state Senate are controlled by Democrats, he’s confident that it will finally pass.
The governor has suggested an $11.52 surcharge for cars, a $25.34 charge for trucks, and a charge of $2 to $5 per ride on for-hire vehicles entering congestion zones. It could generate between $810 million and $1.1 billion annually, which could then be used to fund critical repairs to the New York City subway.
Though the plan has already suffered a setback by way of a lawsuit filed by the Taxi Workers Alliance against the congestion fee that was take to go into effect on January 3rd, many are optimistic that this year will see the approval of a congestion pricing plan.
“There have been many attempts to pass a congestion pricing plan through Albany in the last decade, but there has never been a moment as ripe as this one,” said Transportation Alternatives Senior Director of Advocacy, Thomas DeVito. Advocacy group Fix Our Transit echoed similar sentiments, saying that it is “clear that congestion pricing has the support to be enacted as part of this year’s budget.”
Cuomo plans on pushing for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which he says could generate as much as $300 million annually in tax revenue by 2024. While some local elected officials have suggested using that money to fund subway repairs, Cuomo noted it could create economic opportunities in poor communities that have “paid the price” when it comes to marijuana-related prosecutions.
According to Cuomo, sales would be limited to those 21 and older, but a quirk of his proposal is that any county or large city would have the option to opt out of the program. So, while recreational marijuana could be legal in one part of the state, it could be outlawed in another.
Cuomo suggested that state officials consider revising the leadership structure of the MTA. During his speech, he criticized its current 17-member board, claiming that conflicting interests has led to dysfunction, “When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge,” said Cuomo in his speech.
The MTA governance problem, Cuomo said, stemmed from the disparate interests of its board members—which consists of six members appointed by Cuomo (including the chairman), four appointed by the mayor, and seven members selected by regional county executives. This structure makes it easy to “point fingers at someone else,” said Cuomo.
Cuomo suggests exerting more authority over the MTA in efforts to bring “clear authority” when it comes the agency. He also suggested that the city should be channeling more funds into the MTA and proposed a 50-50 split. During a press conference held after Cuomo’s address, Mayor de Blasio rejected the idea of a 50-50 split, stating that the city’s budget cannot afford to include the MTA and that the state needed to find an appropriate long-term funding solution.
“If we’re not serious about a major independent funding source for the MTA, we’re not going to solve the problem,” said de Blasio. “There’s a lot of good ideas on the table and here’s a chance to decide which combination of those ideas will actually solve the problem. But yet you can’t take it out of the city budget, it’s not going to work.”
Bottle Bill expansion and single-use plastic bag ban
The 2019 Executive Budget will include funds to expand the state’s bottle bill, making most non-alcoholic drink containers eligible for a 5 cent redemption. The governor is also planning to advance legislation that will place a ban on all single-use plastic bags.