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Cuomo's State of the State speech to address ethics, homelessness


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to give his State of the State speech on Wednesday. The governor has already spent the past week rolling out a lengthy agenda for the New Year.

Cuomo has already announced more than a dozen separate proposals as part of a 10-day roll out of his agenda leading up to Wednesday’s formal speech. 

They range from legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers not already covered under the governor’s series of executive actions, to massive infrastructure projects, including the renovation of Penn Station, $22 billion worth of road and bridge upgrades upstate, and expansion of the Long Island Railroad. 

The governor has also been rolling out a criminal justice reform package that he says can reverse the policies that have led to mass incarceration, primarily of young African American men. He spoke at a church in Harlem.

“We have to stop the cycle,” said Cuomo. “This country puts more people in prison than any other industrialized nation on the globe.”

The plan includes more money for so-called failing schools, providing college courses in state prison, and helping inmates get a job when they are released.

The governor has offered hints about what he is saving for the actual day of his speech, which has been delayed a week beyond the date required in the state’s constitution. Cuomo, answering questions after his remarks at the church, says the state will have a plan to potentially take over the management of the growing number of homeless people. Cuomo has already issued an executive order superseding local laws, saying all homeless New Yorkers on the street during a cold snap must be directed to a shelter.

“It is literally a matter of public safety,” the governor said.

Cuomo has also not yet revealed whether he will press for changes related to the troubled Common Core learning standards.  The governor appointed a commission. In December it recommended reversing Cuomo’s push to link controversial standardized test scores to teacher performance reviews, and begin a new four-year transitional period to adopt the new standards.

The governor has also promised to propose major ethics reforms in his budget, following the convictions of the two leaders of the legislature on corruption charges late last year.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says outside employment, which factored heavily in the two cases, should be banned or strictly limited. He calls it Albany’s “Watergate moment.”

“We think it’s time to end the practice of lawmakers using their public office for private gain,” Horner said.

Horner’s group and other reformers also want to close a loophole that allows companies to skirt contribution limits by forming Limited Liability Corporations and giving , in some cases, millions of dollars to candidates.

The Governor received a bit of good news regarding the status of a federal investigation against his office. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was investigating the governor’s closure of a Moreland Act ethics commission, and whether he or any of his staff improperly interfered with any of it’s investigations. Bharara, in a brief statement, says that his office “has concluded that, absent any additional proof that may develop, there is insufficient evidence to prove a federal crime.”

The speech comes at a time when the governor is stalled in the public opinion polls. His favorability ratings have hovered at around 50 percent for months, and around 60 percent don’t think he’s doing a good job in office. Siena College spokesman Steve Greenberg says 2016 gives Cuomo a new opportunity to turn that around.

“Voters are locked in at the moment, until the governor does something really dramatic that they either love or hate,” Greenberg said.

The State of the State will also be combined with Cuomo’s budget address, and so the speech will also detail how the governor’s ambitious agenda will be financed.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.