ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday used his State of the State speech to implore Congress to raise federal taxes on wealthy people while contending that a hike in the state's income tax for high earners would fall short of closing New York's budget gap.
With the state facing what he estimated is a $15 billion deficit, Cuomo offered no indication that he would move to cut spending before the next budget takes effect April 1.
It was the first installment of four such speeches, giving Cuomo a chance to showcase his biggest policy initiatives before revealing a much more detailed blueprint of his fiscal plans later this month in a proposed executive budget.
Several of Cuomo's goals have been offered previously, such as legalizing recreational marijuana, expanding access to high speed broadband and encouraging the development of renewable energy.
He also said the state will work to set up a public health corps in conjunction with Northwell Health on Long Island and Cornell University in Ithaca to assist with the COVID-19 vaccination effort. That proposal comes amid a clamor from numerous county administrators for a wider role in offering inoculations and arguments that the state's vaccine rollout has been plagued by delays.
The governor outlined a push for greater reliance on telehealth to bring greater efficiency to health care and expand access.
Several lawmakers said the pandemic and the move by many schools to online instruction has accentuated the need for a more aggressive buildout of internet connectivity.
Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, said the focus on expanded telehealth services highlights the need for the state to end delays in broadband accessibility in all regions of New York.
"I've seen the emails and phone calls from people who say, 'Hey, we still don't have it,'" Stec said. "So let's not forget that we haven't finished the work with broadband."
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said he supports improving telehealth services, but added, "I believe we must first focus on expanding broadband access for our families in rural communities to ensure these services can benefit every New Yorker."
Jones also said he supports Cuomo's proposal to allow mobile sports betting across the state, suggesting it will help raise needed revenue.
State Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, who was elected in November to replace retiring state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, questioned Cuomo's assertion that 98% of the state has access to broadband internet and asked the governor to visit his rural 51st Senate District to see for himself.
"I was glad to hear the governor express support for reopening the economy," Oberacker added. "Unfortunately, it is too late for many that have been devastated over the past ten months and are either fleeing New York State or struggling to stay afloat. Immediate action is needed to help our communities bounce back.
Whether Cuomo, a Democrat, can resist calls for a more progressive tax scheme from members of his own party in the Legislature was in question Monday night given the severity of the state's financial crisis.
Michael Kink, director of Strong Economy for All, a coalition of labor groups, said if New York embraces the income tax tiers that California has, the state would generate some $11 billion in new revenue.
"The bigger picture is the federal government will help us but the federal government won't be the sole answer to all of our problems," Kink said. "If the governor wants to prevent savage budget cuts, job cuts and service cuts, he is going to have to tax the rich."
Kink also noted that many of the newly-elected Democrats in Albany favor higher taxes on the highest-income earners in New York.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org