ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- Regional Representative for Western New York Lori Cornell spoke of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policy plans for the 2018-19 fiscal year during a recent Thursday Forum.

The Jamestown resident addressed the current successes of the Cuomo administration before moving on to long-term future goals.

She began her presentation, “Excelsior: Ever Upward,” with Cuomo’s success in keeping increases in state spending below 2 percent for the seventh consecutive year. The rate of increase was the lowest in New York history and led to lower taxes across various economic levels during those past seven years.

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 “Now every New Yorker pays a lower tax rate than when he (Cuomo) first took office,” Cornell said.

Cornell outlined Cuomo’s achievements, which she said are motivated by his bottom-up strategy, the idea that strengthening communities at a local level will help solve problems at a statewide level. Since 2011, the New York Regional Economic Development Council has created 6,000 projects that supply people with jobs. And she showed a slide of what she termed a major example of the REDC’s regional success –  the new National Comedy Center in Jamestown, which is scheduled to open for the 2018 summer season.

“It’s over a 14-million-dollar investment in our state tax dollars, and [that?] it will create quite a regional economic development boon is the hope,” Cornell said.

In 2016, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative was launched to “help restore the vibrancy of our downtowns,” Cornell said. Last year Olean was chosen to receive $10 million as part of the second round of the revitalization initiative. 

Outside of economics, Cornell showcased several of the Cuomo administration’s social achievements. The push for gender equality, furthering  racial equality, commitment to raising the minimum wage, enacting paid family leave, and investing $2.5 billion into the Clean Water Initiative.

Cornell discussed the new Raise the Age Policy, which changes the age that youthful offenders can be prosecuted as adults from 16 to 18. She illustrated the necessity of the change with a narrative.

 “There was a 16-year-old boy that was arrested in New York City for allegedly stealing a backpack. Before we had the Raise the Age policy in effect he was put into Rikers Island,” Cornell said, adding that the young man spent three years in prison unable to post bail. He committed suicide because of the abuse he faced daily from other inmates.

Those seated in the University Club at St. Bonaventure sat in silence as she told that story.

Moving onto future goals, Cornell described the administration’s new women’s initiative and its four-point plan to address concerns of sexual harassment. The points to be implemented are:

  • Preventing public dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims.
  • Prohibiting confidentiality agreements relating to sexual assault or harassment for all public entities, state and local.
  • Voiding forced arbitration policies in employee contracts.
  • Mandating companies doing business with state disclose the number of sexual harassment adjudications and non disclosure agreements they have executed.

The administration will also work with the Council on Women and Girls to discuss ways to create more job opportunities for girls, Cornell said.

Discussing reform in preschool education, Cornell described the fight to make meals more readily available for preschool students. Part of Cuomo’s plan involves having schools provide children with a breakfast meal after the opening bell, Cornell said.

An additional $15 million is being invested to expand the state’s universal pre-k program, creating 3,000 potential openings for schools that apply for the UPK grant program. The goal, she noted, is to  eventually provide every 3-to-4-year-old in the state with a free preschool education.

Cornell turned to concerns about college-age students, describing the current state of the student loan crisis in America.

“Student loan debt is the second highest debt category in the United States after mortgage debt, accounting for 10 percent of debt balance and amounting to $1.48 trillion nationwide,” Cornell said.

She added that the administration plans to appoint a student loan ombudsman at the Department of Financial Services to act as the borrower’s advocate and aid in resolving loan issues. Colleges and universities would have to be more open with students about how large the loan amounts incurred by students are. An increase in consumer protection standards will keep student loan services from misleading borrowers or engaging in predatory activity.

Speaking about the governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Platform, Cornell showed a slide illustrating Cuomo’s interest in expanding cashless tolling to cover the entire New York State Thruway.

“I believe the timeframe for that is 2020,” Cornell said. “It’s faster for the commuter and better for the environment.” 

And she spoke of the Wellness Agenda that addresses the opioid epidemic and keeping children safe from lead poisoning in New York State. The agenda addresses the supply and demand sides of the opioid problem, with harsh punishments to opioid distributors for lack of oversight and a limit on opioid prescription renewals through enforcement actions from the New York Attorney General.

Cuomo ordered state agencies to develop a system to ensue all housing authorities and private landlords make sure children are safe from potential lead poisoning from paint found in homes.

 “We know more, so we must do more,” Cornell said.

On the issue of voting in New York elections, Cuomo hopes to enact three principle initiatives to improve voting conditions for New Yorkers: same-day registration, automatic voting registration, and early voting. “The governor believes we should make it easy, not hard, to vote,” Cornell said.

The administration hopes to enact full disclosure laws for social media websites in the wake of Russian bots potentially misleading over 120 million Americans with misleading posts during an election year. The laws would force social media companies to disclose who pays for political ads on their sites.

This year marks round three of the $1 billion New New York Broadband Program. The goal is to give all New Yorkers access to high speed broadband internet by the end of 2018. The plan is projected to give as much as 99.8 percent of state citizens access to the broadband.

Ending with a reaffirming of the governor’s bottom-up strategy, Cornell took time to answer audience questions about the Excelsior Scholarship. The new scholarship began in the fall of 2017 and gives middle-class families with household incomes of up to $125,000 per year the opportunity to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges and universities. Expanding on a question regarding a person’s eligibility for the scholarship if they take time off of school, Cornell explained that taxpayer money is highly regulated, so the program doesn't’cover students taking time off from getting their college degrees.

“Under the governor’s leadership we have achieved more, passed more meaningful legislation, and built more for the people,” Cornell said.

Additional information on the different agendas discussed during the talk can be found here.

A full video of Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State address can be found here.

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