Instead of delivering one traditional State of the State speech this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo opted to deliver six regional speeches throughout the state.
Hochul has been traveling throughout New York to hammer home his message of advancing the middle class and protecting progressive values.
The Buffalo native praised the governor for delivering the budget on time throughout his tenure in Albany, which she said was previously “mired in gridlock, complacency and delays.”
“This government wants to continue the trend of having on-time budgets to give municipalities the certainty they need,” she said. “We do not want to go back to the days of gridlock, which strangled the state and held us back for a long time.”
Among the many accomplishments Hochul touted was a $100 billion investment in infrastructure, some of which Cuomo has already unveiled in the last few months.
She listed projects like rebuilding the Kosciuszko Bridge, opening the Second Avenue subway line, and remaking LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport as major initiatives for the state.
Hochul said in the past, protecting infrastructure was a bipartisan issue in the federal government, but it’s not anymore.
“We have not received the funding we used to get out of Washington,” she said. “We have a governor who says we are going to fill the gap and take on the responsibility. This is too important for the state not to take the lead on.”
The lieutenant governor also highlighted the growth of the economy, including increased tourism spending in Queens and a significant decrease in the unemployment rate statewide. According to Hochul, the unemployment rate in Queens is 3.9 percent.
“This is really impressive,” she said. “That’s a very good snapshot of the economic health of our state.”
The Cuomo administration has also tried to shed New York’s reputation of being anti-business. Hochul said tax rates for businesses and middle-class families are the lowest in decades.
When Hochul tours businesses across the state, she often hears that the biggest challenge for companies is not taxes or regulations, but the lack of workers who have the skills necessary for the job.
Though that’s an entirely different challenge, Hochul said it’s a good indicator that there are jobs available in the first place.
Hochul highlighted other plans the governor has proposed, such as the Buy American plan to protect the state’s manufacturing sector, a $2 billion plan to build affordable housing, and a $650 million proposal to create a life sciences cluster.
She also gave a shout out to Jamaica, which was awarded $10 million last year as part of the state’s downtown revitalization initiative. The governor is also allocating $750 million for the state to continue the work of the Regional Economic Development Councils.
“This is a game changer for a place like Jamaica,” Hochul said. “They can implement all the dreams they’ve ever had, but also be a model for other communities.”
But the proposal that drew the biggest applause was the $163 million plan for tuition-free college in public universities for families earning up to $125,000. Hochul introduced the plan as a necessary investment for the next generation’s workforce.
Back when she was young, Hochul said all workers needed was a high school degree to get a job. Many people worked at manufacturing plants and lived a “good, middle-class life.”
“That era is over,” she said, stating that now workers need at least a two-year degree. “Employers need this. They need to have people educated to step into the jobs of tomorrow.”
At the same time, student debt has exploded, thanks in part to rising cost of education.
While the state will continue its Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the federal government gives out Pell Grants, the proposed tuition-free program will make up the difference. According to Hochul, 84 percent of families in the state will be eligible for the program.
“That’s how we’re going to make this dream attainable for so many people,” she said.
Overall, the proposed state budget totals $152 billion, with state operating costs making up the bulk of it.
At the end of her speech, Hochul asked for support to help enact the governor’s agenda. She tasked attendees to speak to their local legislators who will vote on many of these proposals.
“This is New York State, it’s not in our DNA to say the status quo is acceptable,” she said. “This state is great, but it can be even better if we can enact initiatives like this with the support of all of you.”