ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a series of tax cuts and reforms in his State of the State address Wednesday, along with tougher anti-corruption and bribery laws and a plan to borrow money to improve school technology.
In his fourth annual address, Cuomo also officially unveiled his plan to legalize a limited amount of medical marijuana, called for tougher texting-while-driving laws for young people and proposed a law that would permanently revoke a driver license after a third drunk-driving conviction.
Cuomo delivered his address in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center near the Capitol, where he spoke to a crowd of hundreds of lawmakers and government officials while navigating electronic slides. He began by touting the successes of his time in office, making the case that New York is better off now than it was three years ago.
"We have given New Yorkers a government that costs less, taxes less and actually does more for the people who are in need," Cuomo said. "The progress is not just in the numbers. You can feel it in every region of the state."
Cuomo, a Democrat, unveiled several major planks of his speech in advance, including a proposal to freeze property taxes for two years if a local government stays within the state's tax cap and moves toward consolidating services. The governor also provided a public briefing Tuesday to Vice President Joe Biden on the state's plan to spend $16.7 billion in federal disaster funds on making its infrastructure and housing more weather resistant.
But he delivered several new initiatives Wednesday, including a call to ask voters to approve a $2 billion bond referendum, with the money going toward purchasing tablets, computers, wireless services and other technology for schools. The plan would need approval by the state Legislature before it is put to a statewide vote.
"We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow," Cuomo said.
Cuomo's education plan also called for expanding full-day pre-kindergarten to all school districts, though he included no new details on how the state would pay for it or what it would cost. Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pressured Cuomo to allow the city to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund the program in the city, a call Cuomo has resisted.
Another proposal would give full-tuition scholarship to New York students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and attend a state college. But there are caveats: The student would have to enter a science, technology, engineering or math field and would have to work in New York for five years.
When it comes to traffic laws, Cuomo wants drivers under the age of 21 to have to turn over their license for a year if convicted of texting while driving. That would double the current penalty.
Cuomo also proposed a law that would revoke a driver license for five years if someone garners two drunk driving convictions within a three-year period. If a driver is convicted of drunk driving three times over a lifetime, their license would be permanently revoked.
His address included the unveiling of two new appointments, including Mark Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who will head a committee tasked with selecting winning bids to construct private casinos in New York. Cuomo also announced Raymond Kelly, the former chief of the New York Police Department, would advise the state in creating a state college emergency preparedness.
The address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center was protested by anti-fracking groups and environmental groups, who brought busloads of people across the state to call on Cuomo to ban shale-gas drilling in New York. A few dozen gun-rights activists also picketed the event, protesting the state's gun-control laws that were passed shortly after Cuomo's 2013 State of the State.