'Once we were the laughing stock of this country,' said Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy in his introduction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2012 State of the State Address. Now, said Duffy, Gov. Cuomo has 'set an example for this country, because the gridlock that you see elsewhere is not happening here.'
By most accounts, Gov. Cuomo has indeed restored functionality to government in the Empire State, and Cuomo's speech was, at least in part, a victory lap in which he reflected upon his key accomplishments, including the passage of an on-time budget, ethics reform, a property tax cap and same-sex marriage legislation.
'The situation was grim,' when he took office, Cuomo said, but 'the 234th legislative session had an historic success for the people of this state.'
Cuomo pitched a three-part plan in the address, comprised of a $25 billion economic development program, a reimagining of the role of government and a commitment to making New York the progressive capital of the nation.
The economic development plan included a proposal for $15 billion in infrastructure improvements, $4 billion for building the largest convention center in the nation at the site of New York City's Aqueduct Racetrack, and $1 billion to revitalize the city of Buffalo.
The infrastructure improvements would include a new Tappan Zee Bridge, Cuomo said, and he pledged that projects would happen in 'real time,' not 'government time.'
Cuomo also encouraged the assembled legislators to commit to fiscal discipline and to hold the line on taxes and spending, while pushing for an up or down vote on mandate relief for local governments this year.
In addition, the governor outlined an educational reform agenda in broad strokes, saying 'the purpose of public education is to help children grow,' not to 'grow the public education bureaucracy.'
Cuomo's agenda concluded with several progressive initiatives, such as campaign finance reform, a push to close tax loopholes through the creation of a Tax Reform and Fairness Commission and a proposal to ease barriers to food stamp programs.
The address was preceded by remarks from Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Silver used the podium to suggest middle class tax cuts and increasing support for the state's community colleges. He also proposed raising the state's minimum wage, which he said has increased just ten cents in the last six years, a growth rate that he labeled 'absurd' for working families trying to survive.
Skelos focused on how government could make New York a more business-friendly state in the year ahead, while celebrating the bipartisan cooperation that helped usher in 2011's tax reductions.
Skelos said the legislature 'reached across the divides of partisanship' and 'threw away the playbook' which created Albany's past gridlock and dysfunction.
'We chose to change the culture of Albany,' Cuomo said.
With an ambitious set of proposals on the agenda for 2012, the governor is now hoping that that change sticks.