Gov. Kathy Hochul pledged last week to help New York recover from COVID-19 with policy priorities that restore the ranks of health care workers and educators, provide middle-class tax relief and make green initiatives a priority.
In her first State of the State address last week from a nearly empty Assembly chamber, Hochul said that despite so many residents worried about the future, taking bold action today will put New York on a road to recovery when the pandemic abates.
“This is not a moment of despair, but a moment of great possibility because while we’re in the midst of an all-consuming crisis, we also remember that if we make the right choices right now it will end,” Hochul said.
One of her more notable proposals is to pour $10 billion toward increasing the health care workforce by 20 percent. About $4 billion of that money would be used to increase workers’ salaries and bonuses while also expanding health care training and education, recruiting workers in underserved areas and strengthening home care.
Hochul proposed a $3,000 bonus for health and direct care workers.
“A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic requires a once-in-a-lifetime response and that’s why I’m setting an ambitious goal of growing our health care workforce by 20 percent over the next five years. and we’ll make the biggest investment in health care in the state’s history,” Hochul said.
The governor also said she would commit to more funding for K-12 education, which includes providing incentives to attract teachers and school workers, providing learning and mental health grants, creating a state teacher residency program and funding for training of teacher support workers to earn their certifications.
As part of the emphasis on education, Hochul hopes to extend access to child care to another 100,000 families statewide by increasing the threshold to be eligible for subsidies from 200 to 225 percent of the poverty level. Another $75 million would be earmarked to attract more child care workers, she said.
Hochul said she would speed up the phase-in of a $1.2 billion middle-class tax cut by two years from its original 2025 start. That would help an estimated six million New Yorkers. Additionally, she’s advocating a $1 billion property tax rebate program for another two million families and $100 million for close to 200,000 small businesses.
“Families, small business owners, they all need our help and they need it now and they’re going to get it,” Hochul said.
By making it a goal to build another two million “climate-friendly” homes by the end of the decade and investing $500 million for offshore wind energy to create good-paying jobs, it would start to help address the climate crisis, the governor said.
Hochul also hailed the $4 billion green referendum that will be on the ballot in November as a major step toward achieving those and other goals.
Hochul took a couple of thinly-veiled swipes at her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, by saying the days of the governor disrespecting the legislature and “the days of the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City wasting time on petty rivalries are over.”
Toward that end, she proposed the formation of a new independent ethics agency to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, she said. The governor also supports a two-term limit for governor, state comptroller and state attorney general.
“This pandemic did not create all the problems we are facing today,” Hochul said. “It simply forced us to hold up a mirror and see the cracks in our society that has been so easy to ignore before. This crisis created an opportunity to redefine ourselves.”
Reaction was mostly positive, certainly from the Democratic side or from those who generally lean that way, although it drew sharp criticism from leading Republican candidate for governor Rep. Lee Zeldin and one of Hochul’s most serious Democratic rival Thomas Suozzi.
State Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) called Hochul’s address “optimistic yet realistic,” something needed at this moment.
“I especially appreciate her willingness to listen to and work with members of the legislature and to find cooperative solutions to the problems our constituents face,” Mayer said. “As we move ahead, I look forward to examining the details of each of the proposals outlined as well as their budget implications.”
Another Democrat, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Pleasantville), was mostly positive as well, although he said he is interested in seeing Hochul’s budget proposal next week that would give clues on funding the proposals.
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) said he was encouraged by the acceleration of middle-class tax relief, support for term limits for statewide offices and to prohibit outside income on those officeholders.
But she gave short shrift to public safety policies, particularly the problematic effects of bail reform, he said.
“I thought it fell a little flat,” Byrne said of the address.