Cuomo Calls for Teacher Overhaul, Wage Hike, Tax Cuts in State of the State Address

Gov. Cuomo called for big investments in education and transportation, a higher minimum wage and an overhaul of teacher tenure and evaluations Wednesday in a sprawling address that laid out his priorities for 2015. 

In the first State of the State address of his second term, the Democrat proposed tax cuts for small businesses and relief for homeowners struggling with high property taxes.

To address concerns about police misconduct and officer safety, Cuomo called for a series of changes including the appointment of an independent monitor to review cases in which grand juries do not indict officers in the killings of civilians.

"New York is the state that leads, and it always has," Cuomo told the 2,200 people gathered in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. "While Washington fights and gridlocks, we find compromise and move forward. Their politics divide and our politics unite."

The speech was accompanied by the release of Cuomo's $141.6 billion state budget proposal, which is likely to drive much of the debate in the Legislature.

To spur the economy, Cuomo is pitching a small-business tax cut and $1.5 billion for upstate economic development. Seven upstate regions would compete for the funds, which would be disbursed to three regions.

He also proposed raising the minimum wage at the end of 2016 to $10.50 an hour and allowing New York City to raise it to $11.50. The wage is now $8.75 and is set to increase to $9 at year's end.

"If you work full time, you should be able to pay the rent and pay for food and not live in poverty," Cuomo said. "That's the basic promise of employment, and we're not there yet."

Supporters of a higher wage have pushed for a bigger increase, and Mayor de Blasio has asked for state authority to raise it to $13.30.

"It's a big step forward, but $11.50 doesn't do it in New York City and $10.50 doesn't do it in many parts of the state," said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat.

To help homeowners struggling under high property taxes, the governor has suggested a $1.66 billion tax credit program that would provide an estimated $1,000 in savings to homeowners with an income below $250,000 and whose property tax burden exceeds 6 percent of their income.

Cuomo's educational proposals were his most controversial. He called for big changes in the teacher evaluation and tenure system to enhance standards, encourage teacher improvement and make it easier to remove failing teachers. He also proposed lifting a charter school cap to authorize 100 new schools, and he proposed a tax credit for those who donate money to public or private schools.

If lawmakers agree to the changes, Cuomo vowed to increase funding to schools by more than $1 billion.

"This is the area where we need to do the most reform and where, frankly, reform is going to be difficult," Cuomo said.

Already teachers unions were lining up against the measures. Karen Magee, president of the state's largest teachers union, said Cuomo missed an opportunity to talk about the need to reduce class sizes and target resources to poorer districts.

"This would work if we were putting cars together, and these were widgets," she said. "But these are children. ...The governor truly doesn't understand education."

Police misconduct is another contentious issue likely to mark the year in Albany.

To address concerns raised about police killings, Cuomo proposed greater diversity in police ranks and the appointment of an independent monitor to review cases in which grand juries do not indict officers in the killings of civilians.

To protect officers, Cuomo proposed investing in better equipment such as bullet-proof glass in police cars.

"The community has to respect and trust the police, and police have to trust and respect the community," Cuomo said.

Cuomo proposed an approach to infrastructure that balances upstate and downstate needs.

For upstate, that means $500 million for broadband access, along with a promise to avoid toll hikes on the Thruway. Cuomo also vowed to set aside $1.2 billion for the Thruway and the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

For downstate, Cuomo proposed money for a rail link to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, four new rail stations to connect the Bronx to Manhattan and $750 million for new buses, subway cars and upgrades for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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