In 11th State of the State Address, Governor Advances Bold Agenda to Reopen New York Safely and Smartly Following COVID-19 Pandemic
Governor Cuomo: "We faced a lot this year. We were ambushed by COVID and waged a war of life and death. But we are New Yorkers, so we faced it head-on and we faced it together. The war isn't over, the virus still rages, but we will overcome. That's what New Yorkers do. As history teaches us, positive growth occurs not from fighting or even winning the war. Warfare only stops the evil. What must follow post-war is the reconstruction: that is where growth occurs... it's time to start looking ahead with the same toughness, the same smarts, the same unity, the same discipline, and the same love that brought us through last year."
Governor Cuomo: "Will New York be what it was? The answer is no. But it will be better. I do not believe in setting aspirations or expectations that I don't truly believe we will meet. Life is in the doing. And I ask you to do this with me. This is not a government initiative. This is a New Yorker initiative. We began this COVID battle together and we will succeed in the post-war reconstruction the same way, by the grace, and the strength, and the unity of the people of New York."
Governor Cuomo: "2020 was no doubt a year of darkness. We saw death, isolation, financial ruin and social tension. That's the truth. But that is not the entire truth. 2020 was also a year of light. There was light every time a nurse rose from her bed to face another frightening day in a hospital emergency room. There was light every time a bus driver cautiously got behind the wheel. There was light every time a grocery store worker donned his or her mask to stock the shelves... let us learn from the darkness of 2020, but let us celebrate the light and carry it forward so that it may shine on the face of a new future - a future that is brighter, more inclusive, more just, more fair than any New York ever before."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered his 2021 State of the State address. The Governor's 2021 agenda - Reimagine | Rebuild | Renew - features a suite of initiatives to not only begin reopening New York as the state continues its work to defeat the COVID-19 virus, but also tackle critical issues facing New York and the country including jumpstarting New York's economic recovery; creating a fairer, more just state; reopening the state; becoming a leader in the growing green energy economy; and rebuilding and strengthening New York's infrastructure. In order to reopen New York, the Governor has put forth a number of proposals focused on finding creative ways to reopen New York and support businesses in a post-COVID world.
Earlier this week, the Governor announced proposals to win the war against COVID-19, by addressing New York's short-term economic issues, and ensure social and racial justice. Proposals focused on making New York a leader in the growing green energy economy and rebuilding and strengthening New York's infrastructure will be announced in the coming days
AUDIO of today's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Good morning to all. This morning please allow me to continue outlining our strategy in our war against COVID. The great novelist from Harlem James Baldwin said, and I quote, "Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
We faced a lot this year. We were ambushed by COVID and waged a war of life and death. But we are New Yorkers, so we faced it head-on and we faced it together. The war isn't over, the virus still rages, but we will overcome. That's what New Yorkers do.
As history teaches us, positive growth occurs not from fighting or even winning the war. Warfare only stops the evil. What must follow post-war is the reconstruction: that is where growth occurs.
General Grant within weeks after winning the grueling Civil War started the hard task of reconstruction of the south. Post World War II came the GI Bill and the Marshall Plan in Europe. Now it's time to start looking ahead with the same toughness, the same smarts, the same unity, the same discipline, and the same love that brought us through last year.
2021 will be a year of continued challenges, transformation and change. We will need to adjust to the new social and economic realities of the post-COVID world.
This week we are laying out a comprehensive, multifaceted plan for New York's future. We will begin by controlling the spread of COVID while we are at the same time ramping up our vaccination plan. We must stabilize the state's finances and we must invest in a New York infrastructure that will stimulate our economy and put people back to work. And we will create jobs of the future with the largest green energy plan in the country.
All this, but we must do even more.
In this moment of international disruption, there is a real opportunity for the place and the people who best and most quickly adapt to the post-COVID economy.
We will seize that opportunity, because that's what New York does. So then the question is how do we get there?
The vaccine is the weapon that will end the war - but it won't hit critical mass until June, September, or even December. If we float along relying solely on the vaccine, the way many states are, we are looking at months of shutdowns and the economic, mental, and spiritual hardship they bring.
We need to begin to act now. If we don't, dining will remain at levels too low for restaurants to survive. Offices will remain empty, hurting the service businesses that depend on those office workers. Theaters and sports venues will sit empty. People will remain out of work, with all the psychological as well as financial trauma that entails. The inequalities and injustices that COVID exacerbated will continue to get worse.
We can't do that. We just can't let that happen. We can't float along, watching the pain, the hardship and the inequality grow around us. That's not what we do in New York. We must take control of our destiny.
Today we will discuss reopening our great state smartly and safely. As New York told the world from day one, the choice was never between public health or economic activity. It was never either/or - it was always both. And safe and smart is not determined by action of government alone but by the action of the people - New Yorkers themselves will determine our future.
We have always understood the COVID reality: that the options for the economy are not to fully open or fully close, but rather to strike a new model of balance where we use science and technology to re-open the economy intelligently.
Testing is the key to reopening our economy before the vaccine hits critical mass. Rapid testing poses great possibilities. It can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. Because of New York's spirit of innovation, we have performed more COVID tests per capita than any state in the country. Now we will lead on rapid testing.
We will also be entering a time when more and more people are vaccinated.
This will then afford us the means and guidance to reopen more businesses safely.
We piloted our testing strategy at last Saturday's Buffalo Bills game, where 7,000 fans were tested by the New York State Department of Health before the game. Testing was done in a drive thru at approximately five minutes per car. The Department of Health is monitoring the contact tracing results. But all early indications suggest this model was successful, and it poses great possibility to reopen events to the public.
Why can't we use rapid testing to open restaurants in orange zones, theaters, offices? There are so many options.
Next, we will work with the local real estate community to open additional rapid testing sites where people can receive a rapid test hours prior to patronizing a business or engaging in a social activity. We will open hundreds of these new "pop-up" rapid testing sites statewide to bring this effort to scale.
Next, we will work with property owners and management companies to reopen COVID-safe office buildings with Department of Health-approved protocols. Major commercial operators with over 100 million square feet of space have already agreed to offer testing services to all tenants in their buildings on a regular scheduled basis. We are working with more operators as we speak. Office buildings are the engines of our economy. Bringing workers back safely will boost ridership on our mass transit, bring customers back to restaurants and stores and return life to our streets.
Next, we must accelerate the return of the arts. Cities are by definition centers of energy, entertainment, theatre, and cuisine. Without that activity and attraction cities lose much of their appeal. What is a city without social, cultural, and creative synergies? New York City is not New York without Broadway. And with Zoom, many people have learned they can do business from anywhere. Compound this situation with growing crime and homelessness and we have a national urban crisis.
We must bring culture and arts back to life. President John F. Kennedy said, and I quote, "I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist." And almost no one has been hurt more by COVID than our artists.
According to a study by the National Endowment of the Arts, 52 percent of actors, 55 percent of dancers, and 27 percent of musicians were out of work in September 2020. In New York, the arts and culture industry accounts for almost half a million jobs, and generates $120 billion in economic output. But these are not just statistics; they are our friends and our neighbors.
These artists are part of what makes New York, New York. The Reimagine Commission spoke with hundreds of artists and creative workers affected by the pandemic. One thing is clear - we must act. We cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on the arts and provide a living wage for artists. We will not let thecurtain fall on their careers, or on the future of our cities.
Today, I'm announcing that New York State is launching New York Arts Revival — a public-private partnership to bring back the arts.
We will organize a series of pop-up performances and arts events across the State beginning February 4th. More than 150 world-class artists, including Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Renée Fleming, Wynton Marsalis, and Hugh Jackman will participate, along with arts organizations such as the Ballet Hispanico, Ars Nova, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, the National Black Theatre, Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, and many others.
Scott Rudin and Jane Rosenthal will spearhead this effort, along with the New York State Council on the Arts, which works with more than 1,000 organizations across the state. This groundbreaking initiative will help revive the arts while celebrating New York's resiliency and recovery from the COVID pandemic.
Performances and exhibitions will be held at outdoor sites in New York City and all across the state, including at State parks and other State properties. We will also use flexible venues adapted for social distancing, like the Park Avenue Armory, St. Ann's Warehouse, and the Queens Theatre.
The initiative will culminate with two landmark events. First, the opening of Little Island at Pier 55 - the remarkable park and performance space built as a gift to New Yorkers by the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.
And second, the twentieth anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival in June. Tribeca was founded in the aftermath of 9/11 to revitalize New York City through the arts and it will once again energize our recovery with the Tribeca 2021 Edition.
This initiative will be a joint effort between the State and the philanthropic partners. New York State will provide staffing support, marketing, and access to world-class, open air, and spacious venues. All events will follow state guidelines, serving as a model for safely reopening the arts across the state and the country. We will also begin piloting large indoor spaces with testing and ventilation to explore what possible safe and smart options exist.
Furthermore, we will launch the Creative Rebuild Initiative, in partnership with Elizabeth Alexander, President of the Mellon Foundation, to put over 1,000 artists back to work and fund dozens of community arts groups, each playing a vital role in New York's vibrant art scene.
The show will go on. The fans will be back. And New York will be New York again. We will go to performances and we will applaud like never before.
But I will always be straightforward with you. None of what I have outlined today will be easy. We've all dreamed about turning back the calendar to pre-COVID days. But frankly we shouldn't want to simply go back to January 2020. We must adapt and be strategic and visionary, and move quickly when we see the opportunity. The reality is, not all businesses will reopen, and not all jobs are coming back as they were. Some of the changes we have seen this year will be permanent, and other changes preview new realities we have not even considered.
We can come out stronger on the other side if we are ready to envision and anticipate the changing economy.
While we work to get as many businesses open as possible, we must also realize there will be a shift to remote business. The remote economy is now real. Zoom will not go away. For some, work from home will be part of their new normal.
Online businesses will continue to increase. We must embrace it, not deny it. Wemust prepare and help guide it. A remote economy requires high-speed internet for all. We need to ensure a level playing field. No one can be left behind.
New York must be the first state to develop the infrastructure of the future. President Eisenhower's highway system is the broadband system of today. In recent years, New York has made unparalleled progress in building out its platform on broadband access. Thanks to the state's efforts to expand broadband to every corner of the state, approximately 98 percent of New York homes now have access to broadband.
But we now have a different challenge - affordability of broadband. Access is one thing, but access, if it's not affordable, is meaningless. A basic high-speed internet plan costs, on average, more than $50 per month. For too many families, this just isn't affordable. While there are some subsidies in place, they are small and they're hard to access.
Nationwide, one in five families cannot afford these rates. Without affordable broadband, families are left behind. Social injustice is increased.
Without broadband, telemedicine is not an option. Without broadband, you can't apply for most jobs. Without broadband, the public education system that was supposed to be the great equalizer becomes the great divider. In this new world, remote learning doesn't exist if the child doesn't have access. And too often the child left behind in remote learning is poor, Black or Latino.
I propose we pass a first in the nation mandate that internet service providers recognize their public responsibility and offer 15 dollars per month high-speed internet service to all low income households.
Also, to bridge the gap during COVID and to subsidize broadband for our most vulnerable children, we will establish a fund for families that cannot afford the 15 dollars per month. We are taking that step in partnership with Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and chair of our Reimagine NY commission, and commission member Darren Walker, President of the Ford foundation, along with Richard Parsons, Chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation.
We have seen through COVID low tide in America. Low tide showed the systemic injustice that is pervasive in our society. We must act in this moment to address those disparities.
Understanding and anticipating shifts in the post-COVID economy, we also recognize the over-availability of hotel and office space as a side effect of COVID.
These underutilized spaces also present an opportunity, especially in cities where housing has become too unaffordable for too many, especially with the growing homeless problem which is a crisis in many of our cities. These commercial spaces can be adapted for other uses that benefit the community and make them commercially viable. Why not convert unneeded commercial space into affordable and supportive housing. Supportive housing for the homeless to help our cities seize this opportunity.
To help them seize the moment in time, the State will provide building owners flexibility to convert commercial space into affordable housing. Stimulating housing conversions in these areas can create thousands of good-paying jobs, increase affordable housing, and ensure an even more dynamic, vibrant, diverse and affordable city.
Lastly, to reopen New York, I am launching a Commission on the Future of the New York Economy. The post-COVID economy is still taking shape. We know it will be different, we just don't know precisely how different. This Commission will help draw a roadmap to find opportunities for New Yorkers to get back to work, in jobs that pay well, in industries that will grow rather than disappear in the coming decades.
They will study the economic issues that the crisis brought to the surface - and also the low tide America issues: the inequalities and structural racism that COVID exposed.
They will help us rebuild an economy that grows not just tall but also wide, benefiting more New Yorkers.
As Michael Bloomberg did as Mayor after the 2008 fiscal crisis, and as my father did as governor after the Black Monday recession in the late 1980s, my government will again bring together the best minds to help us adapt to our changing world.
We have recruited an extraordinary group of leaders representing the best of New York to develop this strategy and plan. The NYU Wagner School of Public Service will help lead this Commission.
Thank you, Dr. Sherry Glied, and thank you to all members of the Commission for offering your passion, experience and knowledge to help us through these formidable challenges. And we are confident there is new opportunity for theCommission to find.
My administration has already found and launched new initiatives to help New York benefit from the changing landscape. We are launching a jobs-of-the-future program. First is a Pathways Pledge, led by the Reimagine New York Commission Ginni Rometty, Former Chair of IBM, and Charles Phillips, former CEO of Infor. We have enrolled 15 of the State's largest employers who have committed to and will report on more training and education programs for low-income workers, and new partnerships with workforce development organizations in underserved communities.
We expect to triple the number of employers by the end of the year. Second, we will propose an expansion of SUNY's new Online Training Center so that New Yorkers can enroll in additional employment certificate programs for high-demand jobs - and they can do it for free.
Will New York be what it was? The answer is no. But it will be better. I do not believe in setting aspirations or expectations that I don't truly believe we will meet. Life is in the doing. And I ask you to do this with me.
This is not a government initiative. This is a New Yorker initiative. We began this COVID battle together and we will succeed in the post-war reconstruction the same way, by the grace, and the strength, and the unity of the people of New York.
2020 was no doubt a year of darkness. We saw death, isolation, financial ruin and social tension. That's the truth. But that is not the entire truth. 2020 was also a year of light. There was light every time a nurse rose from her bed to face another frightening day in a hospital emergency room. There was light every time a bus driver cautiously got behind the wheel. There was light every time a grocery store worker donned his or her mask to stock the shelves.
There was light when New Yorkers donated millions of dollars to help those in need and when millions of New Yorkers made the effort to vote. There was light when hundreds of thousands of people around the globe sent masks and notes and love to New Yorkers at our time of struggle.
There was light when we opened our new Moynihan Train Hall with its window to the sky, over an acre in glass, welcoming the sunshine after decades of darkness at Penn Station.
There was light when New Yorkers came together and defended the state from COVID and brought the state from the highest infection rate to one of the lowest.
And this light illuminates a new path of possibility for our state. A path that says yes we can care about each other, and we can help each other, and we can recognize our interconnection and relationship - that we are one community and one family. That our differences are second to our commonality. That we are strong, and we are competent, and we are capable. That we can build, we can achieve, we can take on great challenges and we can triumph. That we believe in ourselves and we believe in each other and we believe in this place called New York. This place of possibility, this place of welcome, this place of mutuality, this place of aspiration, this place of acceptance, and this place of cooperation.
New York is that place. It's not a dream, it is a reality. We proved it last year. It was our unity that controlled COVID. It was our confidence in each other that overcame our fear.
My friends, let us learn from the darkness of 2020, but let us celebrate the light and carry it forward so that it may shine on the face of a new future - a future that isbrighter, more inclusive, more just, more fair than any New York ever before. Together we will do just that. Thank you and God bless you.