NEW YORK (AP) — New York state must stand as an alternative to Donald Trump, showing the nation that tolerance, progressive policies like a higher minimum wage and investments in education can create an economy that works for all, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Without mentioning the Republican president-elect by name, Cuomo, a Democrat, said it is up to New York to find a different way to address the middle-class angst that propelled Trump to the White House. His remarks came during a state of the state address at Manhattan's World Trade Center, the first of six addresses planned for locations around the state this week.
"We all heard the roar on election day, and we must respond," Cuomo said. "The nation once again looks to New York to find the way up.... We will hold the torch high to light the way."
Cuomo's answer: big investments in education, including free state tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000; infrastructure projects such as an overhauled Kennedy Airport and a new Tappan Zee Bridge; subsidies for high-tech industries like the life sciences; and a government that works to reduce taxes and regulations to stay competitive.
Cuomo has been mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2020. He has said he is focused on running for a third term in 2018, but Monday's speech was crafted with a national audience in mind. Cuomo spoke of the anger of a middle class that feels squeezed economically and forgotten by political elites.
"Misdirected, that anger can be destructive. It can scapegoat and it can demonize. It can spread fear of those that are different," he said. "New York knows that our progressive principals of acceptance and diversity are not the enemy of the middle class, and that middle-class success is not the enemy of our progressive beliefs."
Cuomo gave a modified version of the speech Monday afternoon in Buffalo, where he was briefly interrupted by a heckler who shouted "traitor!" before Cuomo continued. Other state of the state addresses are planned for Long Island, Westchester County, Albany and Syracuse later this week.
The governor's roadshow — and the lack of budget details backing up the proposals — failed to impress some of his critics, who said the governor is putting his political ambitions over the welfare of the state.
"Rather than Bernie Sanders-inspired policies aimed at getting national headlines, we need the governor to stop spending money that taxpayers simply don't have," said Brandon Muir, executive director of the organization Reclaim New York. "New Yorkers aren't political props, and there's no such thing as 'free.'"
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, a possible rival to Mayor Bill de Blasio in this year's Democratic primary, said he is hopeful that at least some of Cuomo's major initiatives will pass the Republican-controlled state Senate.
"I think he struck a good chord in terms of being a uniter and speaking about middle class families," Diaz said. "... When you speak of free higher education up to $125,000 a year, many of the Republicans' constituents will benefit. ... So I'm hopeful, seeing and studying the governor in years past, that a lot of this will get through."
Other proposals from Cuomo this year include an expansion of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft into upstate cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester; an expanded child care tax credit; and significant changes to the state's cumbersome and outdated voting rules.
He also called for the end of a state practice of prosecuting and imprisoning 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults, the creation of a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation, funding for a new hate crimes task force and the passage of the Dream Act, which would extend financial aid to students in the country illegally. Cuomo also wants to close Indian Point nuclear power plant in suburban New York City.
Top lawmakers are skipping Cuomo's speeches in a sign of the tense relationship between lawmakers and Cuomo. Many lawmakers blame the governor for killing their first pay raise in 18 years last month.
Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, called on Cuomo to move past the speeches and get to work.
"The last thing hardworking, middle-class New Yorkers need right now is flashy press releases, lofty pronouncements or more broken promises," he said.