Speaking in front of a packed crowd of seniors at Sunnyside Community Services, Hochul reflected on what the Cuomo administration has accomplished in its seven-year tenure. She also mapped out what Albany hopes to accomplish in the 2018 session.
The lieutenant governor touted the administration’s ability to cut spending while lowering taxes. She said New York now has the lowest tax rates for corporations since 1968, lowest for manufacturing since 1917, and lowest middle-class rates since 1947.
Hochul also listed the many infrastructure projects Cuomo has championed, including rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge, work at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports, and the Kosciuszko Bridge reconstruction.
She highlighted the $5.4 billion investment in more than 6,000 projects from the Regional Economic Development Council, which Hochul chairs. The Downtown Revitalization Initiative has infused state funding to neighborhoods like Jamaica.
All in all, the Cuomo administration has cut unemployment statewide to 4.7 percent, 3.5 percent in Queens, and has created 8.1 million private sector jobs.
On the social issues front, Hochul talked up the state’s approval of marriage equality, paid family leave, which is now in effect, raising the minimum wage, raising the age of criminal liability and the Excelsior Scholarship for middle-class families to access public higher education.
Hochul then turned her attention to Washington, whose values she contrasted with the diversity and acceptance of New York. She blasted the recently passed tax bill, which she said will devastate taxpayers in the state because of the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions.
“It’s nothing short of a frontal assault on states like ours,” she said. “Never before in the history of the United States tax code has that occurred until the president and the Congress decided they wanted to punish states like New York and California.
“We’re not going to just take this lying down,” she added. “We’re going to challenge it in court. We’re trying to find an alternative so people can continue to deduct this.”
In his State of the State in Albany, Cuomo floated the idea of scraping state taxes in favor of a payroll tax. Hochul said Washington’s tax bill not only affects taxpayers, but the state as well.
She feared that New York will lose businesses and high net-worth residents, which will affect funding for services and programs.
The governor’s ambitious agenda includes criminal justice and bail reform. Hochul briefly shared the story of Kalief Browder, a Bronx teen who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial. He eventually had his case thrown out, but his mental health suffered while in jail.
Browder eventually took his own life, sparking national cries for criminal justice reform.
“We’re going to turn our system upside down, it is fundamentally unfair,” Hochul said. “Let’s not let the difference between life and death and freedom and incarceration be whether or not you come up with bail.”
Following the “Me Too” movement of addressing sexual harassment, the Cuomo administration is looking to end the practice of using taxpayer dollars to settle harassment claims. They will also examine companies that do business with the state to see if they have an environment of sexual harassment.
Hochul also addressed the ongoing opioid epidemic, which she said has caused life expectancy in the country to go down two years in a row. She pinned the blame on pharmaceutical companies “who have a profit motive,” and encourage doctors to over-prescribe drugs to patients.
“You can get addicted to these drugs after 14 days, it changes your brain chemistry,” she said. “Be careful about what you’re taking.”
The lieutenant governor said the state hopes to have more oversight on pharmaceutical companies, and may go to court to receive it.
The last two issues Albany will look to address are ethics and voting reforms. After the long saga over increasing the income for state lawmakers, Cuomo’s agenda now includes eliminating outside income for legislators, a practice that is already in place for New York City lawmakers.
“It’s tough to serve two masters,” Hochul said about state elected officials who have another job on the side. “Let’s pay them more, let’s make it full-time, let’s eliminate this possibility for conflict of interest.”
On election reform, Hochul said New York is currently 41st in the nation in voter participation. To change that, lawmakers will debate reforms such as early voting and same-day registration.
Hochul warned that there will be “forces” against these proposals, especially from upstate.
“People recognize most of the population in the state is New York City, and New York City tends to vote a certain way,” she said. “People upstate want to suppress that.
“I don’t think we should let that happen,” she added. “We should allow more access to the ballot box.”