State of State-New York Jan. 2021

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed a new era for the state of New York in her first State to the State address on Tuesday.

Hochul made history as the Empire State’s first female chief executive officer addressing the New York Assembly promising more than 220 bold initiatives to kick start the state’s comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve endured so much hardship these past two years,” Hochul said. “We’ve buried loved ones, experienced seismic shifts in our daily lives, and missed out on so many of life’s precious milestones — holidays, weddings, graduations, and the birth of a grandchild.”

Hochul said New Yorkers rise from the ashes, which is why she believes this is not a moment of despair but a moment of great possibility. She said while the people of the state are in the midst of an all-consuming crisis they must remember that if they make the right choices, right now, it will end. 

Hochul said when she first took office she immediately enacted a comprehensive pandemic plan. She said her administration did everything it could to keep New Yorkers healthy, setting policies that made New York’s vaccination rate one of the highest in the country, activating a military-style operation with vaccine and testing sites deploying the National Guard to hospitals and nursing homes, and sending out 37 million tests across the state.

She said during the winter surge the administration’s “laser focus” is to keep children in school, businesses open, and New Yorkers’ lives as normal possible.

“We are attacking this virus head on,” Hochul said, “armed with a tactical, science-based approach, and we are ready for whatever comes next.”

Hochul said it’s important to support the people, places and industries hit the hardest by the pandemic. Health care workers and first responders put their lives on line working day after day, night after night, double shift after double shift to save others.

“They’re not only physically exhausted, they are emotionally exhausted too,” she said. “The exhaustion combined with pre-existing staffing shortages has resulted in a crisis.”

Hochul said the state owes health care workers a debt of gratitude, and will act to pay that debt. A retention bonus is promised of up to $3,000 to health care workers and direct care workers, along with the promise to drive health care workers’ salaries higher.

“A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic demands a once-in-a-lifetime response,” Hochul said. 

She said she was setting an “ambitious goal” to grow the health care workforce by 20 percent over the next five years. Also, she will make the largest investment in health care in state history of $10 billion.

Hochul said she was also grateful to teachers, school superintendents, administrators, parents and teachers for working so closely with her administration to get kids back to school this week. The governor spoke of adding mental health professionals in schools to help those who are affected by remote learning.

The governor said the state will accelerate the $1.2 billion tax cut originally scheduled to go into effect between now and 2025, helping more than six million middle-class homeowners get more “money in their pockets now.” To help with property taxes, her administration will provide a $1 billion middle-class property tax rebate to more 2 million homeowners, she said.

Hochul promised more than $100 million to help more than 200,000 small businesses stay afloat. “These businesses are the economic engines of small towns and cities alike,” she said.

A tax-credit for COVID-related purchases like outdoor heaters and seating is promised, and for those bars and restaurants that have been asking for to-go drinks to be established, they are about to get their wish.

“Cheers, New York,” Hochul said.

Hochul said she believes that SUNY and CUNY are engines of social mobility and still have untapped potential that needs to be harnessed and unleashed. “Today I am outlining a vision to make SUNY the best statewide public education system in the nation,” she said.

Recruiting world-class faculty, creating flagship institutions at Stony Brook and the University of Buffalo, and investing more in premier research facilities at Binghamton and Albany were goals mentioned by the governor. She hopes to increase the student population by 500,000 by 2030.

Fixing the highways and improving substandard infrastructure are also on her list of improvements.

“We’re going to reverse the damage done more than a half century ago,” Hochul said, “with projects like the Kensington Expressway in Buffalo, I-81 in Syracuse, the Inner Loop in Rochester and the Cross-Bronx Expressway.” 

Hochul spoke about fighting to get guns off the streets and the homeless off the streets with a five-year housing plan to create and preserve 100,000 new homes.

Hochul said it’s harder and harder for people to believe in their elected officials, and along those lines her administration is proposing legislation to enact two-term limits for state officials.

“We need to continually pass the baton to new leaders with different perspectives and fresh ideas,” she said.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) reacted to the governor’s speech by saying “clear solutions to current problems were few and far between.”

Barclay said inflation has been climbing for months, but the governor failed to acknowledge immediate action is needed to address a cost-of-living crisis not seen in decades.

“Crime is going to continue to plague New York communities until Democrats reverse course on the pro-criminal platform that’s defined their party in recent years,” Barclay said. “Our state’s oppressive tax burden drives businesses and families away in record numbers because, year after year, New Yorkers have been forced to pick up the tab for the out-of-control spending habits of liberal politicians.”

Barclay applauded the governor’s stated commitment to government reform. “Term limits for statewide offices and an overhaul of the state’s toothless ethics oversight panel are measures that can improve operations of state government,” he said. “But we’ve been here before. Assembly Republicans first introduced legislation to end JCOPE eight years ago. Democrats opted to place their heads in the sand for nearly a decade.”