By Gwendolyn Craig
Fighting climate change remains a top priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, he revealed during his virtual State of the State address on Monday, though it was buried among the COVID-19 pandemic and the $15 billion budget deficit.
More could come, however, as Cuomo announced he would deliver three more State of the State presentations this week. Typically there is only one address, but Cuomo said “these are no ordinary times.” Environmental groups and some lawmakers were glad to see green energy and the climate get a nod on Monday.
Cuomo also highlighted broadband access on Monday. He said 98% of the state now has access, but it is not affordable for all New Yorkers. That’s something he and many legislators said they plan to tackle.
Unlike last year before a crowd of hundreds, Cuomo delivered his remarks virtually from the State New York State Capitol’s War Room. The camera moved from wide shots showing the governor standing under bellicose murals, to close-ups of his face, as he focused on pandemic and a vaccine rollout.
“We will win the COVID war, and we will learn and grow from the experience,” Cuomo said.
The governor said he would focus on seven initiatives this year including:
- Defeating COVID-19;
- Issuing vaccines;
- Addressing the economic crisis and $15 billion state deficit;
- Reopening the economy safely;
- Investing in green energy;
- Studying the long-term impacts of COVID-19; and
- Addressing system injustices including inequity, racism and social abuse.
Cuomo called the $15 billion budget the state’s largest in history. The governor is relying on the federal government to step in and provide relief, especially once President Donald Trump leaves office and Joe Biden takes over.
“With our new president, a new Senate and the House members, I believe they will do justice,” Cuomo said. “If Washington does tell New York to effectively ‘drop dead’ once again, I will be shocked, but New York will fight back.”
Cuomo suggested a number of actions the state could take to close the deficit on its own, all of which he called “very painful.” Some of the things he mentioned included raising taxes on those making more than $1 million, postponing tax cuts to the middle class, freezing labor contracts for public employees, cutting education funding and cutting health care funding.
He has also suggested some ways the state can make more revenue, including legalizing marijuana and enabling online sports betting. Cuomo is expected to present his 2022 budget next week.
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A highlight of last year’s State of the State was a proposed $3 billion environmental bond act, which was approved by the state Legislature to move to a voter referendum. Cuomo pulled the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act from the ballot last year, however, citing the growing deficit. Monday he did not mention bringing it back to the table, though many New York environmental groups have said they’d like to see it return this year.
Cuomo did say the state would focus its efforts on a green economy this year.
“COVID is the existing threat, but climate change is an existential threat,” he said. “New York will be the green energy capital of the world.”
Cuomo provided few specifics, and his office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday about whether the governor would provide more information in his additional three speeches.
Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Long Beach, did say in a statement to Adirondack Explorer on Monday that he was “pleased to hear the Governor discuss his commitment to safeguarding our environment by investing in renewable energy to spur job creation.”
“Protecting the Adirondacks—including addressing the overuse of the High Peaks region—will be one of my top priorities this session, and I look forward to continuing to work to preserve this crown jewel of our great State,” Kaminsky, who is chair of the state Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, added.
In a news release just days before Cuomo’s Monday address, the Adirondack Council outlined its hopes for the upcoming state budget and legislative session. Some of those priorities include: addressing the crowds in the High Peaks Wilderness; keeping the $300 million Environmental Protection Fund; investing in clean water infrastructure; expanding the outreach of diversity initiatives; funding an Adirondack Lakes survey; and bringing back the $3 billion environmental bond act.
“The Adirondack Park once again displayed its priceless value this year as it became the escape hatch for millions of people who sought relief from the pressures of an extended economic lockdown, severe travel restrictions and efforts to avoid the potential contagion of crowded cities,” said Willie Janeway, Adirondack Council executive director. “New York needs to invest in protecting and preserving the park as a place of much-needed refreshment and renewal for generations to come.”
The New York Public Interest Research Group, an educational nonprofit, stressed the importance of environmental considerations in the State of the State in a news release on Monday. The group continued to call on the state to eliminate nonessential tax subsidies to fossil fuel companies and rake in new revenues from those companies by forcing them to foot the bill for climate initiatives.