In 11th State of the State Address, Governor Advances Bold Agenda to Defeat COVID-19, Begin Jumpstarting New York’s Economic Resurgence, and Create a Safer, More Just State
Governor Cuomo: “There are moments in life that can change a person fundamentally, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Likewise there are episodes in history that transform society and COVID is one of those moments. New York sees the moment for the crisis it is, but also the opportunity it presents.”
Governor Cuomo: “This next year, we will see economies realign and reset around the world. We see the risk and the peril but we also see the promise and the potential. The question to be answered is, what will we make of this moment? Is it positive or is it negative? Do we move forward or do we move backward? Is America, is New York stronger or weaker in the post-COVID world? Those my friends are the questions that we alone will answer in 2021 because the future is in our hands. We built the greatest state in the country once before and we will do it again.”
Yesterday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered his 2021 State of the State address. The Governor’s 2021 agenda – Reimagine | Rebuild | Renew – features nation-leading proposals to not only defeat COVID-19, but also tackle critical issues facing New York and the country, including jumpstarting New York’s economic recovery; creating a fairer, more just state; reopening the state; becoming a leader in the growing green energy economy; and rebuilding and strengthening New York’s infrastructure. To defeat COVID-19, address New York’s short-term economic issues, and ensure social and racial justice, the Governor has put forth a number of proposals focused on reimagining our health care and housing systems; finding new sources of revenue through the legalization of adult-use cannabis and online sports betting; continuing the fight for well-deserved federal recovery funding; and creating fairer and more just criminal justice and election systems.
AUDIO of today’s remarks is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Good morning to all. Please welcome Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul who is here with us today and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Attorney General Tish James, Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt and Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay who are all joining us electronically in this special year.
Happy New Year to all. I believe it is with near universal relief that 2020 has come to an end and I say, amen. We now turn towards 2021 with the spirit of optimism that is grounded in experience.
Today I address you from the magnificent War Room in the State Capitol. The War Room is fitting because we are at war — a war that began early last year when we were ambushed by the COVID virus and a war that continues today. The artwork in this room reminds us that we have been at war before. It memorializes epic battles. The Revolution, the Civil War, World War I. It honors the unknown soldier, also reminding us today of our lost frontline heroes. And as our forbearers before us, we will win this war and we will be the stronger for it.
Today, I’m called on to answer what is in most years a straightforward question, but at this time is anything but. What is the state of our state? Well, in some ways, it is like the state of the nation and indeed the state of the world. We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious. We are shocked that an invisible enemy could wreak such death and destruction, especially in this, the wealthiest and the most powerful nation on earth.
And it was not only the virus itself that showed our vulnerabilities. It’s that COVID created low tide in America and the ugliness that lurked below the surface was exposed and became visible for all to see. The racial divisions, the religious tensions, the government incompetence, the health care disparities, the social injustice, and the danger of hateful leadership.
New York is of course are not immune to those currents. In New York we experience all of it but in other ways. New York State of the State is different because New York is different. Our DNA is different. Our character is different. What COVID did to us is different, and how we responded to COVID is different.
We have a confidence born from accomplishment. We know what we must do and we will do it. We will win the COVID war and we will learn and grow from the experience. We are smart, united, disciplined and loving. We are as we say, New York Tough.
There are moments in life that can change a person fundamentally, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Likewise there are episodes in history that transform society and COVID is one of those moments.
New York sees the moment for the crisis it is, but also the opportunity it presents. We understand the international trauma and disruption that COVID is causing. It has affected every aspect of society around the globe and generated new fundamental dynamics. Even this presentation today is different. Normally it is given in the Albany Convention Center with thousands of people. Today I’m speaking in person with a small group but broadcasting, Zooming and streaming and in this new and different world the audience is actually larger, not smaller. Technology and technology-based relationships, work from home, these are new realities that will have dramatic consequences.
This next year, we will see economies realign and reset around the world. We see the risk and the peril but we also see the promise and the potential. The question to be answered is, what will we make of this moment? Is it positive or is it negative? Do we move forward or do we move backward? Is America, is New York stronger or weaker in the post-COVID world? Those my friends are the questions that we alone will answer in 2021 because the future is in our hands. We built the greatest state in the country once before and we will do it again.
In normal times, a governor’s State of the State address is issued on one day in one presentation. But these are no ordinary times and our plan is more complex and detailed. I will give an overview today and then three additional presentations of specific action plans in the coming days. Allow me to outline the scope of our seven-point plan.
First, we must defeat COVID and beat back the assault as the virus rages in these next few months. It will not be easy. A high-performing hospital system as well as the diligence of New Yorkers are the keys to stop the spread.
Second, the vaccine will end the COVID crisis. We must vaccinate 70 to 90 percent of our 20 million New Yorkers and we must do it quickly, safely and fairly. We must also learn the glaring and costly lessons of America’s failed public health system so we are better prepared for the next time, and as we all now should realize — there will be a next time.
Third, we must deal with the short-term economic crisis: a record $15 billion state deficit that must be addressed in the next several weeks.
Fourth, we must plan our economic resurgence. We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. The cost is too high. We will have nothing left to open. We must reopen the economy, but we must do it smartly and safely. Also, we must energize our lagging private-sector and rebuild our economic platform, our transportation system, our infrastructure system for the next generation of growth.
Fifth, we must seize the opportunity to make New York the global leader in the long overdue, economic shift to green energy. That is the smart thing to do. That is the right thing to do and it will create thousands of good, secure jobs.
Sixth, we must be the first to anticipate how COVID will transform our society and economy and we must capitalize on those coming changes.
Seventh, we must address the systemic injustices exposed during this year’s low-tide in America: the inequity, the racism and the social abuse. And my friends, if that wasn’t ambitious enough, all of these plans must move forward simultaneously. It will be hard. It will be the greatest test for government since we mobilized to fight World War II. It will be the greatest opportunity for advancement since post-World World II. Today, I will address the first steps we must take.
Most immediate, until the vaccine reaches critical mass, we must regulate and implore New Yorkers to be diligent. COVID fatigue is not an option until COVID itself is fatigued. We must defeat the enemy. If we tire before the enemy tires, we lose the war. It’s that simple. We must slow the spread to keep our COVID numbers down. In the interim, we must manage hospitalizations so the system is not overwhelmed. We need the highest level of performance from our hospitals and local governments. If the caseload threatens to overwhelm the hospital system, we will need to close that region again. That is the worst-case option. But even more broadly, we must realize that it is time for an entirely new way of thinking of our public health system. Our nation’s public health system was just not prepared for this. Despite the experience of SARS 17 years ago, MERS and Ebola six years ago, several Dengue outbreaks in the last few years — this country couldn’t produce something as simple as enough nasal swabs. Our laboratories were unprepared and our hospital systems had no ability to manage the surge. The federal government did not even screen visitors at the nation’s gateways here in New York and it still doesn’t. Our nurses and doctors were heroic, but our country couldn’t provide them with enough masks and gowns. It was like sending soldiers into battle without bullets. We have had 100 years of medical breakthroughs since the last pandemic in 1918, yet we were decimated by this virus. That can never happen again. COVID revealed the grave vulnerability in our medical supply chain: too many essential products are made in China. We must have in the United States and even here in New York. We are already acting to solve the problem. We’ve ordered more than $20 million to 36 New York businesses to make medical equipment here at home. Going forward, I propose the state pass the Medical Supplies Act to incentivize New York companies to manufacture medical supplies, and New York will then purchase from that supply first. This nation cannot be caught flat-footed again.
COVID showed us the limits of our health system, but it also fostered innovation. Telemedicine was invaluable in keeping people remote, while providing care. Public access was uneven and inequitable. At the recommendation of the Reimagine New York Commission, I’m introducing the most comprehensive telehealth bill in the nation to ensure accessibility to all New Yorkers.
Most pressing for the immediate future, we must vaccinate all New Yorkers. It is a massive undertaking and much greater than anything this nation has done to date. We are expanding today our distribution system to include thousands of outlets, but the federal vaccine supply must increase. Today, we have about 1 million doses in New York State for over 4 million eligible people. We only receive 300,000 doses per week from the federal government. At this rate, it will take us 14 weeks just to receive enough dosages for those currently eligible. Now, we will schedule appointments for vaccines weeks into the future. We would rather have people signed up and awaiting the vaccine than have the vaccine awaiting people. I understand millions of people want the vaccine today. But, we must be patient, even though it is an impatient time. I believe the new federal administration will see the vaccine supply increase and we will be ready for that increase.
We will also bring social and racial justice to the vaccination effort by making vaccines available to all New Yorkers, and supplement the private health system to reach more underserved communities, predominantly Black, Latino, Asian, and poor communities.
We will not allow politics or wealth to dictate the distribution of this life-saving vaccine.
Today we’re announcing the launch of the New York State Public Health Corps.
The Public Health Corps will be a joint effort with Cornell University and Northwell Hospital System. We will hire 1,000 Health Corps Fellows who agree to serve for one year. They’ll be trained to facilitate a statewide coordinated vaccination operation and do it safely and quickly in every part of the state.
The Public Health Corps will also help New York learn from this experience and establish a best-in-the-nation emergency response capacity that lasts beyond COVID, so we are better prepared for future crises.
We will also empower and educate New York’s citizens to be prepared for the next public health crisis. Too many New Yorkers felt anxious because they were uninformed and untrained to handle this new emergency. We will develop a citizen public health training program designed by Cornell. It will be offered online and it will be free, to educate and certify tens of thousands of citizens all across the state who will then be better prepared to help themselves, their families, their co-workers, and will be trained and ready to volunteer to help their community in the next public health emergency. Our goal is to train and certify 100,000 New York health emergency volunteers.
Rapid testing not only saves lives, but it is a key to our economic reopening plan. We will open a network of new rapid testing sites all across the state.
While we’re continuing to battle COVID and expedite the vaccine, we must also deal with the cost of COVID.
COVID has been costly in every sense of the word. The greatest cost of COVID is the lives lost, and for that we pray every day for God’s grace and peace. Businesses have been lost, lifetime savings have been exhausted, personal debt has mounted, and our State government faces a $15 billion deficit – the largest in history.
While this fiscal crisis is larger than ever, the dynamics are not new. In the 1970s, New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy, a bankruptcy that threatened the whole state and in fact the whole nation.
At that time, Washington famously told us to quote, drop dead. Well, in recent years Washington not only told us to drop dead, they dug a grave and they tried to push us in. But their efforts failed. New Yorkers would not give up. Fortunately, this nation rejected Washington’s hyper- partisan politics and today is a new day in America after a long dark night and the new federal government has no credible argument against the fact that New York’s damage from COVID is clearly, legally and ethically Washington’s liability.
This crisis was caused by two factors and both were created by the federal government. First, allowing COVID to ambush New York last spring without the knowledge or notice of the federal government was an act of gross negligence. The federal government thought the virus was still in China but they were wrong. COVID had already traveled to Europe and 3 million Europeans had already traveled to New York before the federal government ever warned New York or the nation or enacted a travel ban from the continent. New York unlike any other state had no notice and no time to prepare for the attack. As soon as we found out, the COVID enemy was already amongst and had been coming for months.
We just saw the same federal negligence reenacted when they to test travelers from the UK where a new strain of the COVID virus had been detected. The United States did nothing even though 120 other countries had already acted. New Yorkers were called on to flatten the curve created by federal failure. New Yorkers cannot now be asked to pay the financial bill for federal incompetence. New Yorkers already paid too high a cost.
Second, the federal government has failed to realize that this is a national crisis. This is not a state crisis. They delegated responsibility for COVID to the governors and then failed to provide the resources. Washington, as they say, passed the buck without passing the bucks. Again in December, Congress failed this nation when they failed to pass state and local financing during their last legislative session.
This is a national challenge. It is a war and like every war before, it must be financed by Washington. If the federal government needs revenue, it should raise income taxes on the wealthy to finance the state’s resurgence from this national devastation. That is basic economic justice and economic prudence. Look what has happened in America, the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer and the middle class has gotten smaller. Washington should not force any state to bear the cost alone – especially New York State.
Washington has savaged us for 4 years. No state in the nation pays more to Washington and receives less in return. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out, this has been true for decades and it has never been remedied. In fact, it has gotten worse. Over the past 4 years, Washington took even more funding from New Yorkers as a sheer exercise of political extortion.
Today, New York subsidizes 42 other states. On top of that, the new federal SALT provision has cost New York $30 billion more over 3 years. It increased property taxes on hardworking New Yorkers $2,600 per year. Look at the gross injustice. Washington raised our taxes to benefit other states and those states then appeal to our residents to relocate to their lower tax states. The infuriating irony is that New York subsidizes those state’s lower rates. Washington didn’t stop there.
The abuse was unrelenting. Our Medicaid reimbursement rate was the lowest in the United States. They starved our infrastructure funding and they illegally impeded our global travel. You ask me today, what is our state of the state? New York is suffering and New Yorkers are tired of being abused and demand that Washington stops causing damage and starts resolving the damage they caused.
We expect SALT to be removed from our wounds fully and quickly and we expect to be compensated for our economic loss. We expect basic fairness from Washington. Finally. With our new President, new Senate and the House members, I believe they will do justice. If Washington does tell New York to effectively drop dead once again, I will be shocked, but New York will fight back.
We will do what we did in the 70s, we came together. We organized. We sacrificed and we averted financial ruin. Make no mistake, my friends, it would be very painful. To close our $15 billion budget gap on our own would require extraordinary and negative measures. Imagine this: If we raise taxes to the highest income tax rate in the nation, on all income over $1 million – billionaires, multi-millionaires, millionaires – any income over $1 million, we would only raise $1.5 billion.
If we postponed our important tax cut for our struggling middle class, we would save $500 million. If we froze labor contracts on our hard working public employees, we would save $1 billion. If we cut education funding for our children 20 percent, we would save $5.2 billion. Even after all of that pain, we would still need billions in cuts to healthcare in the middle of a pandemic. We would need to borrow billions at the cost of future generations. It would be devastating to all New Yorkers. After 4 years of Washington’s assault on New York their inaction would compound their crime. Our federal representatives must deliver fairness for New York and they must do it quickly because our budget is due April 1.
New York will do its part, we will legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, joining 15 other states who have already done so. This will raise revenue and will end the over criminalization of this product that has left so many communities of color over policed and over incarcerated.
We propose state sponsored mobile sports betting to raise additional funding. We are a fiscally responsible state; we only ask for an equitable partnership from Washington.
Those, my friends, are the immediate issues for our focus: crushing COVID and the short-term economic consequences for our state.
But that’s just the beginning for us. As this room reminds us, after the war is when the reconstruction begins, and in the reconstruction is when progress is truly made. We must plan and start our post-COVID war reconstruction now to seize the advantage, and I will be outlining initiatives to do just that over the coming days.
The truth is we cannot stay closed until everyone is vaccinated. The economic, psychological and emotional cost would be incredible. We must begin increasing economic activity and using science to do it, making COVID testing and vaccinations available so that we can reopen restaurants, and art spaces, and theaters and commercial businesses. We just tested the concept with the Buffalo Bills playoff game and early indications are that it was a great success.
We must also aggressively plan for the post-COVID economic opportunities. How do we adjust to the new world dynamics? Our Reimagine Commission has been identifying those opportunities in telemedicine, broadband, and workforce retraining.
We also need to jumpstart the economy now. We will commence the most aggressive construction and transportation development program in the United States of America: new air, road and rail systems upstate and downstate; more affordable housing; and more economic development to create jobs, jobs and more jobs. FDR – a great governor of the State of New York, and President – set the precedent, and New York State knows how to get things done and we know how to build. We proved it over, and over, and over again, and now is the time to do it.
We will also expand the infrastructure of tomorrow. The infrastructure of tomorrow is our broadband system. Today broadband discriminates by race and income. We have invested $500 million to successfully expand broadband access and 98% of the state now has access to broadband. But, New York will also lead the nation now in making broadband affordable, because accessibility is not enough if it’s not affordable. And because without affordable broadband, people are not just disconnected, they are disenfranchised. Broadband must be available to everyone, everywhere. And in New York we will make sure it is.
We will then launch the most aggressive green economy program in the country. COVID is the existing threat but climate change is the existential threat. New York will be the green energy capital of the world. Not only will we construct renewable projects; we will develop manufacturing capacity, research and development expertise, and state-of-the-art worker re-training, all here in New York and we will do it this year.
We will then set our sights to repair our social infrastructure, and that starts with our fundamental responsibility as a society and as a government to ensure public safety. Last year exposed the tensions between the community and the police more starkly than ever before. This is a national crisis. Feelings are deep and complex. Emotions run high on both sides. But divorce is not an option. We all need an effective public safety function.
It’s not just a question of criminal justice but also social, economic and racial justice. We have a scourge of gun violence. The victims of crime are predominantly poor, Black and Latino. In New York City, in the last six months of 2020 there were over 1,200 shootings – double from 2019. Of those shootings, 94% percent involved Black or Latino victims, and well under half have been solved. There can be no economic revival without effective public safety.
This is especially true for our cities. If the attractions of a city are reduced and crime is increased, urban decline is inevitable. That point has been made over and over again through the economic cycles in our cities. We will not allow it to happen again.
Public safety, like so many other functions, must adapt to the times. There are many new questions to answer. Does every 911 call require an armed police officer to respond? What role should mental health and domestic violence professionals play in public safety? What is the transparency and disciplinary policy? What is the use of force policy? But some elements are absolute. Mutual respect is absolute. Individual rights are absolute. Rejecting brutality is absolute. Allowing police to do their job and do it safely is absolute. But for most issues there is no top-down solution, one-size-fits-all approach. We have 500 communities with police departments in New York, and each one must develop an approach that works for them. Now, I have said that each community must redesign public safety in a collaborative process, include all stakeholders, all opinions, all voices. Have the conversation. And then they must pass a law instituting a new public safety function and they must do it by April in order to receive state funding. This is an imperative for the State, and every community within the State.
Many communities have seized the opportunity and are already making good progress. In Steuben and Ulster Counties, citizens and officials are using listening sessions and surveys to increase participation. Syracuse launched the Citizen Dashboard to track development and implementation of each reform. Schenectady has created a diverse Citizen Advisory Panel to help evaluate new applicants for the police force. Yonkers is developing a new policy for dealing with people who are emotionally disturbed. Binghamton enlisted a professional institution to help in their redesign and Salamanca has the distinction of being the first locality to complete and pass a new plan. April 1 is just weeks away. Elected leaders must lead and people must engage now. Reforming public safety is hard, but in life we will never solve the problem that we refuse to acknowledge, or for which we deny reality and responsibility. Problems don’t just go away. They mount. This is a national crisis, but New York will lead.
We will also set the bar higher for our post-COVID war reconstruction. The damage to repair is not just from COVID. The low tide in America has exposed fundamental schisms and flaws in our society. We have seen the rip tides building over these past few years. We saw the racism in the KKK parading on the streets in Charlottesville. We lived through the anti-Semitism and the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue and across the country. The distrust exploding after the George Floyd killing. And last week, we all watched in horror and attempted coup at the Capitol. These demons may not be new, but they are worse. Visionaries that have had the ability to see beneath the surface of America have long warned of the ugly reality below. Governor Mario Cuomo spoke of the danger of two Americas 40 years ago, but the low tide has exposed the ugliness for all to see.
Today there is no denying the injustice and rhetoric is not the solution. The public is tired of unfilled political promises. Results are the solution. Doing justice is the solution. True justice, racial justice, social justice, economic justice, and that must be New York’s banner to carry in America’s post-COVID reconstruction. Let’s tell the plan truth. Blacks died at twice the rate of whites. That’s the truth. Latinos died at one and one-half times the rate of whites. That’s the truth. Education divided by race and class as remote learning furthered the divide. That’s the truth. We saw the lack of access to affordable childcare disrupt low-income families and force caregivers, primarily women, to choose between putting food on the table and caring for their children. That’s the truth.
We have thousands of tenants and owners who lost their jobs and livelihoods, through no fault of their own, and we will not leave them behind. We will provide them the resources they need for rent and mortgage relief to keep New Yorkers in their homes, and that’s the truth and New York must do more to protect homeowners and tenants by prohibiting penalties and late charges on past rent. Many small businesses have been decimated by COVID, and we must protect them eviction and help them to reopen and restart.
The pandemic has illustrated once again, that healthcare must be affordable for all, and I propose this year we eliminate premiums for 400,000 more low-income New Yorkers. Our new Americans have suffered mightily from increased discrimination over these past few years. We must ensure all immigrants are protected and have legal counsel by fully funding our Liberty Defense Project. We see undocumented New York families struggling to survive with no financial assistance. The federal government should provide these undocumented New Yorkers with hardship funding. And if they don’t, they should at least allow New York State to do it.
We have seen elections determined weeks after Election Day. This fuels distrust in our system. We must pass a law mandating Boards of Election perform professional, accurate, timely and complete counts. The housing problem in our cities has gotten worse. But, but, the crisis of growing vacancies in our commercial property provides an opportunity. We should convert vacant commercial space to supportive and affordable housing and we should do it now. Take the negative and make it a positive. Homeless shelters must be available, safe and secure. It’s not just our moral obligation, it is our legal obligation.
My friends, rest assured, we can see the future and it is bright. We just have to get from here to there, and that’s what we need to do together. The old saying is true, fortune favors the bold. Well, this is another once in a lifetime opportunity. America must seize this moment of international transformation. Some countries will succeed and some will fail. Some regions will rise and some will fall. But this is a moment that is made for New Yorkers. This will be a moment to reimagine, reinvent and recreate. Life is about change and growth. Will we restore what we had? No. But neither should we try. Life is about moving forward. An enlightened society learns from its challenges, makes adjustments and forges ahead better than before. That is the New York story. That is our destiny, and I am confident and optimistic that we can do this, and my confidence is not uninformed or wishful or blind optimism. My confidence is born from experience. I know how difficult our challenge is going to be. I know the height of the mountain. I hear the naysayers. I hear the hatemongers. I hear the voices of doubt and insecurity. I hear the fears of those without the confidence to build or the vision to dream. But I know who we are and what we can do, and I know what we have done. Do you remember last spring? Do you remember what New Yorkers did in their darkest hour? I hope so, because I will never forget it. When COVID ambushed New York and we went from one case to hundreds of cases in a matter of days. When sirens filled the night stillness and mass graves were dug on hard island. When fear gripped New Yorkers like a vice. When the global experts told us there was no way we could slow the spread, but New Yorkers said yes we could, and yes we would. And they wouldn’t give up. And New Yorkers united and they rose to the occasion. That is New York at her best. That is the New York miracle. Time and again we have heard the voices of doubt and defeat. The state can’t do a budget on time, we can’t enact common sense gun safety, we can’t pass marriage equality, we can’t raise the minimum wage, we can’t fix subway tunnels, we can’t build a new Tappan Zee Bridge, we can’t turn around the Buffalo economy, and we can’t end the AIDS epidemic, we can’t provide free college tuition to the middle class, we can’t construct a new Penn Train Hall: they were wrong. We did. We can’t, only if we believe we can’t. That is what we mean when we say, New York Tough.
The understanding that there are moments that actually liberate our capacity and potential. When the little strings that hold down the giant that is New York are torn away. When incompetent is overpowered by the competence of good people. When petty divisions give way to the power of unity. When self-doubt is overcome by self-confidence. When the voices of our better angels win the day. We have seen this over the past year that ordinary New Yorkers: nurses, doctors, truck drivers, train operators, teachers, construction workers, food clerks are not ordinary in any way, but rather extraordinary in every way. Over the last year, when forces were trying to convince this country that the strongest four letter word is “hate”, New York showed that the strongest four letter word is “love” and that love wins every time.
There is an indomitable power in our New York credo. The strength of one people, Black, white, brown, Asian, upstate, downstate, straight and gay, all pulling in one direction is unbeatable, undeniable and undebatable. We say it in our state seal in just three simple beautiful words, e pluribus unum, out of many one. And we know the direction we are all headed. We are all headed up. It is our state motto, Excelsior, ever upwards. New York State is the state of aspiration and excellence. That is New York’s legacy. That’s what made us the progressive capital of the nation. We have done this through our history. We did it last year when times were tough and we will do it again this year and New York will lead the way. Thank you, and God bless you.