Governor Kathy Hochul gave her first State of the State address since taking the helm of one of the nation’s most populous states just 134 days ago. It was an empty Senate chamber, a sign that Covid is still lurking just around the corner. Notwithstanding the current virus crisis, Hochul made it clear that 11 years of Andrew Cuomo’s iron-first-in-a-glove approach to governing has come to an end. Saying she knows people were ready for a more friendlier face in Albany, she assured the public, “The days of ‘three men in a room’ are over.” She’s advocating term limits for all those who seek state elected office—but whether that will be applied across the board is up for conjecture.
Hochul acknowledged the exhausted millions of New Yorkers who have endured loss of loved ones, lost jobs, lost homes and who continue to endure the constantly changing rules of engagement when it comes to masking, social distancing, remote working/school—all compounded by feelings of isolation and depression that are a major part of Covid’s consequences. She had nothing but praise for hospital workers, announcing a $3 million retention bonus to be distributed to them. “Those who do God’s work are on earth are living on minimum wage.” Hochul added that “Those on the front lines will get free tuition and stipends if they remain here when the Pandemic is over.” Another $10 billion will be invested in the health care industry, with plans to grow the workforce in that industry by 20 percent over the next five years.” That decision may irk hospital workers who declined to be vaccinated and were forced to leave their jobs because of it.
Hochul expressed gratitude to County leadership across the state and to school administrators for making every effort to “get kids back to school this week. The role of a teacher is irreplaceable in a child’s life. As a mother, I know this first-hand.” She promised to ramp up efforts to hire more teachers and make earlier certification possible, as well as adding more mental health professionals to school staffs around the state.
FDR’s New Deal Inspires Hochul’s Wish to Make the Empire State Great Again
Saying she’s been moved by the visions of two former governors of New York who went on to the Presidency–Teddy Roosevelt and his nephew, Franklin Delano Roosevelt—Hochul praised FDR’s New Deal, saying “he kept one eye on the horizon waiting for the clouds to part…that’s what we’re doing.” Albany alredy had its eyes on the funding that came from the $2.2 trillion Federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) signed by Pres. Donald Trump in March, 2020. Another major infusion of money is now coming via the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in November, 2022. Since the most recent bill’s passage, Hochul has recently unveiled new projects in the pipeline, including the makeover for JFK International and LaGuardia Airports, the completion of Penn Station, and funding for the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey to hopefully complete the long overdue tunnel connecting northern New Jersey to Manhattan to create a one-seat ride for those on this side of the Hudson—among many others.
Hochul vowed to aid MBWE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Certification) and relax requirements to make it easier to qualify, saying that initiative would be backed by an unprecedented level of funding; further, she expects to invest smartly in workforce development programs. “I know the demand is strong,” said Hochul. “The universal complaint is not having enough trained workers…so we’re going to reboot Empire State Development and move funding through our Regional Economic Councils.”
Funding will also be made available to reduce carbon emissions statewide. Hochul is an avid supporter of “green” technology, saying she has never forgotten the foul smells from the factories in Buffalo, where both her grandfather and father worked at Bethlehem Steel. She is also a staunch advocate for housing for the homeless, a problem that has been overwhelming New York, particularly its cities since the Covid-19 pandemic first hit two years ago. “We will create teams of mental health and social workers to move the homeless into shelters and housing. Beyond those sleeping in the streets, tens of thousands move in and out of shelters regularly. We need to address the root cause of homelessness—every New Yorker deserves access to affordable housing.”
Hochul also addressed the rising gun violence and while she’s already banned the sale of ghost guns, she’s promised to “double down on proven law enforcement strategies,” telling New Yorkers that this is “not a return to the dark days of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.” She has emphasized that people of color should be given first priority when it comes to economic assistance, education and jobs, echoing promises that echo Affirmative Action and other social welfare programs put into play after the racial turbulence that boiled over after the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.
Hochul announced her intention to overhaul JCOPE-the Joint Commission on Public Ethics—in another housekeeping initiative aimed at cleaning up the unfinished business Cuomo left his former Lt. Governor to take care of. She acknowledged some may not be happy with her decisions, either. “Those of us in elected office aren’t perfect, but we’re trying. There are 220 proposals that will fill a book and that we are releasing today. I have the most diverse, talented team New York has ever had. New York has always meant the promise of a better life to all who came here,” recalling her grandparents’ trek from impoverished Ireland to the U.S. “We are the Keepers of the Flame.”