In the face of the federal government's assault on New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled his "2019 Justice Agenda," urging the legislature to act in the first 100 days of the next legislative session. The Governor's agenda represents a suite of ambitious proposals to ensure the promise of full, true justice for all, including economic justice, social justice, racial justice.
Governor Cuomo announced the agenda in a speech hosted by the Roosevelt Institute. This year, in the face of the nation's biggest social crisis, and with the federal government seeking to undo generations of progress, Governor Cuomo broke with tradition, laying out his legislative agenda in December 2018 instead of waiting until the State of the State address to enable the Legislature to commence action on these top priorities immediately upon convening.
AUDIO of Governor Cuomo's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very, very much. Thank you very, very much. Well it's an exciting day today. First let's begin by thanking the New York City Bar Association for all the good work they do and for their courtesy today. Let's thank Bret Parker. Our great Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul who does a magnificent job. I want to thank my administration that has been extraordinary. We did win a big election victory, but it was because we made the government work and we delivered for people, and that's a credit to them, and let's give them a round of applause.
And it's a pleasure to be with my mother, First Lady Matilda Cuomo. I'll tell you something but you can't tell anyone else. I'm my mother's favorite. I know because she told me. But she told me don't tell anyone else, so I won't. Some of my siblings get jealous. But we know it, we know it. Let's give another round of applause because I'm her favorite son.
And we have Harold Holzer. It's great to see a Queens boy who makes good. You know Harold Holzer is a renowned academic as a Lincoln scholar. But as he mentioned he worked for the State of New York when my father first became governor. He was an advisor. I was working in the governor's office. I was about 25 years old, 25 years old you know all the answers, you just don't know all the questions yet. And Harold was old, relatively, you know, he had to be in his mid-30s. And when you're 25, mid-30s you're an old guy. I think he was even married, one of those situations that happens later in life. So he had to deal with what I know call my constructive impatience, I didn't call it that then. But, he was fantastic and I want to thank him very much for the kind introduction and leaving out the not so kind parts. Harold Holzer, thank you very much.
And my father loved Harold. And he would love today, Harold, because the topic is: what would FDR do today? And it's appropriate, it's provocative and it's timely. And it's something we should talk about. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 44th Governor of New York State. He was one of my favorite, second only to the greatest Governor in the history of the State of New York, Mario Cuomo.
FDR was a strong, powerful personality. He was confident, he was action-oriented. He was the champion for the common men and women as he liked to say. He felt the pulse of the people. When they were hurting, he demanded that the government respond to ease their pain, and he wanted it done today.
His theory of "bold persistent experimentation" highlighted his approach: try to make a difference, if you fail at first, try again. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
FDR was not to be constrained by tradition. It ran counter to his natural confidence and his defiant personality which refused to succumb to the naysayers, the elites, or personal or political paralysis. And FDR, New York and the nation were the better for it.
There are many lessons from FDR that we can and should apply today. His fundamental faith in democracy. His belief that big problems require big solutions. And his ability to make those changes happen, to make the government work to actually make change.
I recently won my 3rd term as Governor. As Harold mentioned, in fact, with the highest number of votes in history for a Governor in a primary or general election. There is a theory that the victory was due to my rapier wit and ravishing good looks. But then there is the mirror. And reality is undeniable.
I believe the overwhelming vote was an indicator of the fear and the frustration existing among the body politic today. FDR's common men and women, as he would call them, are demanding change. They are outraged at the continuing economic injustice, the disproportionate growth and abuse of corporate power. They are afraid of Washington's arrogance, disrespect, and dysfunction. And they see their rights and their liberties being attacked as the federal government tries to impose its extreme conservative values on individual citizens. And they are uprising, and it is the same spirit of rebellion that forged this nation from the heavy hand of English tyranny under King George III. Most of all, Americans see the country's social fabric unraveling. And whatever your politics, that is frightening.
FDR was called upon to govern in the midst of a great economic crisis that threatened the wellbeing of the nation. Well today my friends, we are called to govern at a time of great social crisis that also threatens the wellbeing of the nation. And today we see our greatest nightmare. We see our greatest threat, which is Americans in conflict with other Americans. We see this nation's greatest strength, it's diversity, being perverted and distorted into its greatest weakness. The rise in white supremacist groups and the Ku Klux Klan and the rise in anti-Semitism and misogyny. This strikes at the core of who we are as a nation. Americans know, instinctively, that hate begets hate and that Martin Luther King was right when he said, we either live together as brothers and sisters or we perish as fools. Like FDR, we have to take the opportunity to take this crisis, harness the energy, and make it a positive force and not a negative one. And use this energy, use this moment, use this time to pass an agenda that can advance us all for years to come.
So, at this time of great need, FDR would know that there is no time to spare. And he would cast tradition aside to seize the day—carpe diem. Traditionally in January the Governor of New York does a State of the State address. In the State of the State address, a number of topics are covered, but most importantly, laying out the legislative agenda for the following year as the Governor sees it. This year, not only do we have disruptive times, not only do we have an anxious population, we also have a new political reality. We have a democratic assembly and a democratic senate, so we can actually get things done.
So I want to be able to commence action immediately on the convening of the new legislature in the first week of January, therefore, today, I will outline my top legislative priorities for next year.
We must begin by building on the positive. FDR was extraordinary at assessing the political and governmental landscape. And he would build on the strengths and he would reform weaknesses. Now, we've done a lot of good work over the past eight years and our state has made much progress, which we must continue and advance. We have pushed the state and nation forward with our progressive initiatives. We made New York State the progressive capital of the nation. We passed Marriage Equality, changing the national debate. We are the first state to truly attack economic injustice by raising the minimum wage to $15.
We are the first state to truly attack economic injustice by raising the minimum wage to $15, and by passing the best paid family leave and free college tuition programs in the United States of America.
No state, no state has done more to advance women's rights, labor's rights, LGBTQ rights and freedom from discrimination. And we should be damn proud of it.
We lead the nation on gun control and climate change.
We lead the nation in construction and development - airports, roads, bridges and transportation building an entirely new economic platform for the future.
We created more jobs and economic opportunity in every part of the State - Upstate, Downstate, Long Island - and today we have more private sector jobs than we have ever had in history - over 8 million. And part of our agenda is we must build on these successes.
Because these are lessons hard learned, but now tried and true.
New York State is on the right track and we have to stay on the right track. FDR said "Yes, we are on our way back - but not just by pure chance, my friends, not just by a turn of the wheel, of the cycle. We are coming back more soundly than ever before because we are planning it that way. And don't let anybody tell you differently." And the same is true with the State of New York. We're coming back, because we changed the direction, we changed our policies, we did the work and that's why this state is at a better level than it's been before.
But continuing our success is not enough this year. Because next year's agenda must also address our new challenges.
And while our ship of state is sailing well, the ocean upon which we sail is tempest tossed.
As FDR dealt with an historic economic crisis we have to deal with an historic social crisis.
We must protect New Yorkers from the reckless unjust assault of our Federal Government.
Perhaps for the first time in our history we have a federal government that is taking us backwards and violating our civil liberties and national values. We have a President who simply doesn't believe in FDR's famous Four Freedoms and is affirmatively creating fear and want and stifling freedom of speech and worship affirmatively.
FDR said, "let us now and here highly resolve to resume the country's uninterrupted march along the path of real progress, of real justice." That was FDR's continuing theme, doing justice. And it's what my life in public service has been all about and my father's: doing justice. And doing true justice, social justice, racial justice and economic justice. And that's what our agenda should be for next year, a true justice agenda.
We will start with economic justice.
The federal government is once espousing the debunked theory of trickledown economics - where the rich get richer and the poor get the crumbs from the table. They passed massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations paid for by the average Americans and Average New Yorkers.
Their tax reform reduced deductions for state and local taxes - what we call SALT. So now this state, for the first time in history since President Lincoln passed the income tax, we're going to be facing double taxation where the federal government taxes our state and local taxes. That's how they're financing their tax cut for the rich on the backs of New Yorkers. New York follows a different model. We follow FDR who said 'Here is my principle. Taxes shall be levied according to the ability to pay. That is the only American principle.'
Our state tax code is more progressive today than it has ever been. We must maintain our millionaire's tax, also make permanent our two percent cap on the regressive local property taxes, something that FDR fought against for decades. And we must do that because keeping property taxes down is more important now than ever because of SALT. Contrary to the current federal policy we believe the people who need help are the hardworking families of New York. And we will fight SALT to the death and I will once again propose cutting taxes for our hardworking middle class families. Decent affordable health care is also part of FDR's Four Freedoms, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The federal government has continued to roll back the Affordable Care Act. And we will make sure New Yorkers are protected. We must pass legislation protecting those with pre-existing conditions, codifying the health exchange, and ensuring continued access to prescription drug coverage because New York believes healthcare is not a luxury. Healthcare is a basic human right.
The president has appointed his handpicked conservative extremist to the Supreme Court. The president's nominees don't even pretend to be objective jurists. They will already announce their intention to impose their morality on the nation and roll back Roe v. Wade. Disrespecting a woman's fundamental right to make her own health choices and rolling back women's liberties which have been in place for over 32 years.
We have to stop this federal assault. We have to pass the Reproductive Health Act and the Contraception Fair Act and we must do it in the first 30 days of the new session. With the federal government disrespecting women, and attacking their rights, New York will ensure full equality under the law. No exceptions. The hard truth is that sexism is culturalized and it is institutionalized in our society. And it must end, and it must end now. And we've talked about it long enough, and done too little. This year we must pass, the Equal Rights Law needs to be passed in New York State, this year.
We must continue our national leadership on gun safety. History has proven us right. History has proven us right. As history proved us right in our leadership in opposing the death penalty, those many years, God bless my father for his leadership. The SAFE Act was New York progressive government at its best. Since then, gun violence has only gotten worse. 2018 was by far the worst year for school shootings in American history. We must act, we must now pass the Red Flag Law, ban bump stocks and extend the waiting period for purchasing a gun from three days to 10 days because New York must lead the way from this place of madness this nation is in.
The federal government has promised for decades to rebuild our nations crumbling infrastructure. President Trump came to office, he promised a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, but we haven't seen any of it materialize. The only thing that the Federal government wants to build is a wall on the southern border as a monument to Trump's philosophy of division which is the one thing we shouldn't be building with infrastructure funds.
FDR understood that the social needs and the philosophy needs were interconnected. That the increase in employment by government stimulation of the private section creates good middle-class jobs and advanced the physical capacity of the state. It was a twofold success. FDR built the Lincoln Tunnel, created 14,000 jobs. In light of the federal inaction, New York has led the way. We have the largest state investment program in infrastructure in the country, over $100 billion. It's working, it's working all across the state and going forward we have to increase that investment from $100 to 150 billion, creating 500,000 new good middle-class labor jobs and building a global economic platform for generations to come.
This year, we have to take on the tough challenges that have been left aside literally for decades. And we have to begin by reforming our failing New York City subway system. The MTA was designed purposefully to diffuse political accountability and it has. When everyone is in change, no one is in charge. But that doesn't work if you want actual results. This year we have to take the bull by the horns with the MTA. We have to pass a dedicated funding stream so the MTA has the funding it needs, congestion pricing the only alternative.
But my friends, we also have to reorganize the MTA. We have to change the culture. The numbers that they produce have to add up, we have to remove and reduce the levels and layer of inactivity and bureaucracy and end the benign neglect. No Governor, no Mayor, no County Executive, no State Legislator will fulfill their public obligation this year without addressing this critical need, period.
We must bring justice to our education system and not with hallow redirect but with real reform. We must have an honest, factual discussion about the problem. FDR was very good at separating the politics from the heart of the policy discussion and we have to do that with education. The fact is this state spends more money per child than any state in the nation. But the fact is the funding from the districts is not fairly distributed. Late year for the first time we demanded a full state accounting of how much each school in the state actually receives. About 6,000 schools, it had never been done before and we demanded that accounting we now have the results and the results are disturbing because when you cast aside the political propaganda and you read the actual facts, the truth is the poorest schools do not receive any more funding than the richer schools from their local districts. And that my friend is a critical injustice because the poorer schools have a great need that needs to be funded.
It's all a political game when we talk about education all too often. Too many distractions. The CFE lawsuit was resolved 12 years ago under George Pataki. The foundation aid program was stopped by Eliot Spitzer who started it in the first place 10 years ago. These are ghosts of the past and distractions from the present. The question is the local distribution of aid. That's what we have to focus on if we're actually going to move from political pondering to progressive policy. It's a question of math and theory, not philosophy and political posturing. The state and local district must provide more media aid to schools because every child, rich and poor, black and white, urban and rural, deserves the same quality education.
While our federal government has declared war on our new immigrants, New York has a totally different vision. We believe we are all immigrants and we believe new immigrants are an asset to our economy. We are challenging the federal actions on the border as illegal and unconstitutional. We believe it is un-American to rip babies from their mother's arms. Now New York must practice what we preach. We must finally heed the wisdom of enlightened officials like Senator Jose Peralta, God rest his soul, and pass the Dream Act to open the door of education to all our dreamers.
The federal government still denies climate change, remarkably turning a blind eye to their own government's scientific report. I've never seen anything like it, and we've seen a lot from this federal government. But they put out a report that says one thing and then they publically deny it. Denial is not a life strategy and we will never solve a problem that we refuse to admit. Extreme weather is a reality. It is obvious across the globe. It is obvious to anyone with a television set. The consequences of our delay are a matter of life and death, if not for us then for our children. This is not an issue of present inconvenience. It is an issue of future viability. We know what we must do. Now we have to have the vision, the courage, and the competence to do it.
New York must be the most progressive state in the nation moving to renewables. There is new economic growth potential and New York will launch the green new deal to make New York's electricity 100% carbon neutral by 2040 and ultimately eliminate the states entire carbon footprint. There's a growing water crisis in our state and our nation. A degradation of our bays, rivers, lakes, streams, and especially our drinking water systems. Our industrial past has left a stain of pollution across the state. Industrial toxins have infiltrated many of our natural bodies of water and drinking water systems. Like the Grumman Plume on Long Island. Like the algal blooms in New York's upstate lakes. They are degrading rapidly and with a frightening speed and consequence. The federal EPA has become impotent and that's saying it nicely. They are slow to test chemicals and they're slow to regulate chemicals. New York must stand up to take the lead to clean the water for our children and our children's children. Do the science, regulate the chemicals, and leave this planet better than we found it. And we're going to do it this year.
To continue our progressive path of justice for all we must protect our democracy to make sure our government truly represents the people. We have to address the cynicism and skepticism that people feel. That is part of their outrage.
In the meantime, the federal government is working to disenfranchise voters; we have to do the exact opposite and improve our democracy. How do you do it? Automatic voter registration. Make it easier to vote and participate by voting by mail and by early voting, synchronize the federal and state election days.
And let's make a real statement about the importance of voting and let's make Election Day a state holiday and say to people, "get out and vote."
We will also increase trust in the democratic system by closing the LLC loophole ban, banning outside income, reforming our campaign finance system and take a major step by banning any corporate contributions to any political candidate, period.
While our federal government is waging an all-out attack on the labor movement, which they are, and they're using the Supreme Court to do it in both the public and private sectors. We believe something different here in New York. We believe the labor movement is a force for social justice. We believe the labor movement is the force that built the middle class. We declare here and now that we will zealously defend and build the labor movement in New York and that we're going to pass legislation to protect public employees in all local governments in the State of New York, period.
This new economy, which is changing dramatically almost every day, its changes pose both opportunity and peril - most changes normally do. The so-called gig economy is a growing economic engine. Freelancers, independent contractors, consultants are replacing traditional employees. And while many welcome the freedom and the flexibility of these arrangements, there are also pitfalls that go along with the positive.
Gig jobs do not come with paid sick leave, they do not come with vacation days, or parental rights, or workers' compensation, or protection against work related discrimination, or protections against wage and hour violations. We want an economy that moves forward. We want an economy of tomorrow. But we want an economy that moves everyone forward, not just some forward.
The lack of affordable housing is a crisis across this state and across this nation. It threatens one of FDR's core freedoms: freedom from want. Our federal government has abandoned its constitutional and moral responsibility. In the 1949 Housing Act, it said that this nation promised safe, clean, decent housing to every American. That was a national promise. And they have totally abrogated their responsibility.
We will invest more in affordable housing than this state has ever invested in the history of the State of New York. And we will reform our rent regulations including ending vacancy de-control to protect affordable housing and finally and truly respect tenants' rights.
Now, the justice agenda means "justice for all." The concept of justice and the great symbol of justice is that justice applies to everyone. There is no differentiation with privilege, wealth or position. It doesn't put anyone above the law. For too long, this sexual abuse of children has been hidden and unpunished. And for too long, this state and this nation have had two forms of justice: one for average New Yorkers and one for people of position or people of privilege. That is going to stop. We must bring justice to those who have lived a life of scarring and abuse and suffering. And we must pass the Child Victims Act this year.
New York State was the first large state to pass Marriage Equality, but unfortunately we have a federal government that still seeks to discriminate. So, we must continue our leadership opposing the direction of the federal government. New York is the proud birthplace of the gay rights movement at Stonewall. We will pass a law that stops any discrimination against our LGBTQ community by passing GENDA this year.
We will advance our justice agenda and particularly address the forms of injustice that for too long have unfairly targeted the African American and minority communities. FDR said, "no democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of its minorities." And the fact is, we have had two criminal justice systems: one for the wealthy and the well-off, and one for everyone else. And that's going to end. We must also end the needless and unjust criminal convictions and the debilitating criminal stigma and let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.
And let's end the injustice in our criminal justice system. The first step is to replace the cash bail system. A judge should determine the individual's risk of release rather than the individual's access to wealth. And that's why we need to take the cash bail system and end it once and for all.
Now, the agenda I have outlined is ambitious, indeed. I understand that. I have worked in government a long time on many levels and I understand how hard it is to make dramatic change in government. The lines on my face are proof of how hard it is. But I also know that few great achievements are ever done without pain. That great change does not come easily my friends, otherwise it would have happened already. The ones that are left are the ones that are hard. And those are the ones that are our obligation to tackle. However, to answer the specific question of this forum, I believe this aggressive, progressive agenda, although hard, is what FDR would say these troubled times demand. Who he was, his ambition, would not allow him to do anything less than rise to the challenge of the times. FDR was not an incrementalist. He clashed with the timid, fearful politicians of his time. He ignored the naysayers, and he endured the choir of critics who would second-guess every change to the status quo.
We talk about change, and people say they want change. But the truth is, the system as a system does not want change. It wants control, and it wants to retain the status quo. And that's why change is so hard. Now this year we have a democratic senate, we have a democratic assembly, and that is going to help. But that does not mean there will not be adversity. State legislators have different constituents, and they have to represent and serve those constituents. New York City is different from Buffalo, and Long Island is different from the Southern Tier, and those legislators will have their own individual interests. And there will be vested interests that oppose change, and repel the disruption. And there are vested interests that are very powerful in Albany that are going to seek to stop this. But our success lies in our ability to focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. Differences always exist. It's the ability to find the common ground that is the responsibility of true political leaders. That's what going to make Albany different than Washington.
And, as a democrat, it is our position to make change. We have a democratic senate, a democratic assembly, now is the time to make these changes. There are no more excuses my friends. Now is the time to stand up and lead, and do what you've said you were going to do all those years, and make a democratic vision a reality.
And politics, and government, are not about talk. It's about action at the end of the day. And there is nothing progressive about a politician that fails to accomplish anything in the name of trying to accomplish everything. My father called himself a pragmatic progressive. A real world, real life progressive. A hard working middle class guy from Queens progressive. Aspiring to be the best we can be in the ideal, but accomplishing the most we can in the real. That was the brilliance of FDR, and his democratic party. Because FDR understood that you cannot spell progressive without progress. You can't be a politician who speaks and raises peoples' hopes, and then accomplishes nothing. His national success was not born from pontification, or zealotry, or hyperbole, or symbolism, or celebrity, or showmanship. FDR was focused on making a real tangible difference in the lives of hardworking Americans. And he did it. And he did it. He accomplished it. He made it happen. And the American people knew it. Not because they heard it on a radio, or because they saw it on TV, because they lived it in their lives. They saw it on their kitchen table. That's what government is supposed to do. Help me live my life, make a difference for me and my family. That's what the democratic party was all about.
So today, while democrats bemoan our current federal government, let us remember FDR's example: that it is not enough for democrats to criticize we must construct the negative argument is obvious. No one makes a better argument against Trump than Trump. There is nothing else you can say. Our burden is to prove the positive to dispel the skepticism about activist government and to show that the democratic party is more than words and end that skepticism that says all we do is promise, promise, promise, but we never deliver.
The democratic leadership has to prove that it has the knowledge to govern, the skill to accomplish and the understanding to unite. That yes, we are dreamers, but we are also doers. And yes we can make a real difference in people's lives. Ladies and gentlemen, this nation is in crisis. The social fabric is fraying and it is nearing its breaking point. We are under federal assault as individuals and as a State. We must stand up to this tyranny once again. Not with muskets the way our founders did. But with our voices and our votes and with the power and example of our action here in New York. As our forefathers rebelled against England resenting the king's values and abuse, let us announce New York's rebellion from the current federal policies.
My friends, let this agenda be New York's Declaration of Independence. We declare independence from this federal government's policies. We disconnect from the nationalism, and the racism, and the chaos, and the xenophobia, and the misogyny, and the discrimination, and the dissembling of this Washington administration. My friends, we proclaim, we proclaim our federal government's policy not only regressive, not only repugnant to New York values, we declare it un-American. We're going to pass this progressive agenda as New York's declaration of true democracy restoring fairness, progress, and pride. And we're going to show what it means when people and government are guided by their better angels. And we're going to show what a nation can be when we are at our best.
Let us show this nation what we can get done, the change we can make, the lives we can better. Let us remind people there's nothing that we can't accomplish when we work together. We are New Yorkers. We do it all, we do it better, we do it first and let us be inspired by FDR's 1933 New Deal and do it in the first 100 days. Together we can, together we must, together we will, and FDR will look down and smile on all of us. Thank you and God Bless you.