What Cuomo is avoiding

Governor Cuomo
Governor Cuomo
Office of the Governor
Governor Cuomo unveils his "2019 Justice Agenda," urging the legislature to act in the first 100 days of the next legislative session.

What Cuomo is avoiding

The governor’s 2019 agenda left out some progressive priorities.
December 18, 2018

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants lawmakers to take action on a number of issues in early 2019, but a few progressive projects were absent from the legislative priorities he outlined in a speech to the New York City Bar Association on Dec. 17.

Cuomo excited liberals with his call to legalize marijuana, which was especially noteworthy because he used to oppose legalization. He also demanded action in the first 100 days of the upcoming legislative session on other bills that have widespread support among Democrats, including codifying Roe v. Wade in state law, passing the DREAM Act and ending cash bail.

But his priorities did not include everything that progressives are pushing for as Democrats assume control of both houses of the state Legislature for the first time since 2010. Notably absent were calls for major expansions of rent regulation and public health insurance.

Although some on the left might have been underwhelmed by the policies he advocated, Cuomo framed the speech as a declaration of “rebellion” against the Trump administration, summoning the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt – who also once served as governor of New York. “FDR was not an incrementalist,” Cuomo said. “He ignored the naysayers and endured the choir of critics who would challenge any change to the status quo.” But Cuomo hedged his soaring rhetoric with a focus on winning tangible, achievable victories. “Yes, we are dreamers,” he said. “But we are also doers and, yes, we can make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Here are some of the biggest left-wing demands that Cuomo refrained from embracing:

✓ Single-payer health care

Progressive Democrats are pushing for the passage of the New York Health Act in the upcoming year, which would make the state the first to enact single-payer health care. Cuomo did not explicitly mention the bill in his Dec. 17 speech, but what he did say on health care suggested that he has not abandoned his opposition to single-payer health care at the state level. Instead, his proposals include passing legislation that would codify in state law features of Obamacare such as the state health insurance exchange, protections for people with pre-existing conditions and improving access to prescription drugs. His call for lawmakers to take a pragmatic approach in the months ahead could also be construed as opposition to single-payer at the state level because the state would need to get a waiver from the Trump administration in order to fund such a program. Cuomo’s broad declaration that Trump administration policies are “un-American” is likewise not going to win any favors from the notoriously vindictive president.

✓ Universal rent control

The left wing of the state Democratic Party not only wants rent regulations renewed in 2019, but also for tenant protections to be vastly expanded. While Cuomo called for the rent regulation to be reformed, the only specific provision that he proposed was the elimination of vacancy decontrol – a 24-year-old provision of state law that allows landlords to take units out of rent regulation when the rent reaches $2,733 per month and they are vacant. While that proposal is among the reforms sought by tenant advocates, they also want other measures to be on the table such as the elimination of preferential rent and the expansion of rent regulation to cities beyond the New York metropolitan area. At the same time, Cuomo could assuage some critics if he makes good on his vow on Dec. 17 to make “more investment in affordable housing than ever” – but he still has to specify what that actually means.

✓ Criminal justice reform

Cuomo cast his proposal to legalize marijuana as a way to address widespread inequities in the criminal justice system. However, he did not specify how legalization might fit into efforts to mitigate the war on drugs’ past effects on communities of color. Some proponents of legalization want it to specifically benefit such communities by, for example, directing tax revenues to a Community Grant Reinvestment Fund.

Bail reform is the “first step” to making the justice system more equitable, Cuomo said on Monday. But criminal justice reform advocates also want changes to level the playing field in court, including changing the state’s discovery laws to give defendants more time to respond to disclosures of witness names and statements, and grand jury testimony – an effort that Cuomo supported a year ago. Other topics on criminal justice reformers’ wishlist were also left unaddressed, including a proposal to ensure speedy trials, parole reform, legalizing safe drug injection sites and the repeal of a state civil rights law that helps the NYPD hide internal discipline actions from public disclosure.

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State and its sister publication, New York Nonprofit Media.
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