BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

N.Y. Senate GOP backs plan for paid family leave

March 11th, 2015

ALBANY — In a surprise move, the state Senate GOP included the creation of a paid family leave program in its budget proposal to be unveiled this week, the Daily News has learned.

The plan was included at the urging of a breakaway group of five Senate Democrats who serve in a coalition with the GOP.

Federal law already requires that employers give their workers up to 12 weeks of family leave time, but it is unpaid, the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein said.

“The majority of working families in New York can’t afford to take one week of unpaid leave, let alone 12,” Klein, who represents the Bronx, told The News. “New Yorkers should never have to choose between what their heart is telling them to do and what their bank account is telling them do.”

Under the plan, new parents and those caring for seriously ill relatives would be allowed up to six weeks of paid leave. The program would cover all new mothers and fathers, including gay and straight couples who adopt.

An employee could receive up to half of his or her regular salary while on leave, under the plan.

The state would cover the total cost — estimated at $125 million — in the first year.

Sources say the Republicans agreed to include the measure to appease Klein and his members, who need to show some progressive victories to justify their alliance with the GOP.

It’s not expected the Republicans will aggressively push the issue in the budget talks with Gov. Cuomo, leaving that up to Klein.

Assembly Democratic spokesman Michael Whyland said his house has passed a paid family leave bill in the past and is open to discussing the Klein measure.

A spokesman for Cuomo had no immediate comment.

Heather Briccetti, president of the New York State Business Council, said her organization is open to the idea of paid family leave but needs to see the details “to ensure that it doesn’t impose yet another cost on business.”

If approved in the final budget deal due by the end of the month, New York would join California, New Jersey and Rhode Island in enacting a family paid leave law.

Washington State has approved one that won’t go into effect until 2017 at the earliest.

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De Blasio and Developer Are Close, but Not on Lower-Cost Housing

March 6th, 2015

New York Times Logo

Unlike many of his more wary real estate brethren, Rob Speyer moved quickly to build a strong relationship with New York’s liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, after his election in 2013.

The relationship flowered, and Mr. Speyer, whose company owns Rockefeller Center and operates on four continents, was a host at Mayor de Blasio’s birthday party at Gracie Mansion last May. At a real estate gathering five months later, Mr. de Blasio singled out Mr. Speyer, telling the 6,200 attendees that the developer was “tremendously civically oriented.”

While enjoying a close relationship, however, the two men do not seem to be on the same page when it comes to the pressing need for affordable housing in a city where rents are soaring beyond the grasp of the poor and middle class.

Mr. Speyer is racing to start work on an $875 million residential complex with three high-rises and nearly 1,800 apartments in Long Island City, Queens, a neighborhood a short subway ride from Manhattan. He must begin the foundations by June 15 to qualify for a 15-year tax abatement worth about $200 million under a tax program known as 421-a that is intended to stimulate construction and generate affordable housing.

After mid-June, the program expires or could be renewed with regulations requiring developers to include a higher concentration of affordable housing. But under current rules, Mr. Speyer is one of six developers eligible for the subsidy without having to build a single low-cost unit, because of where their projects are. None of the other projects, though, is as big as Mr. Speyer’s.

If Mr. Speyer’s project, on Jackson Avenue near Queens Plaza, were in Manhattan or along stretches of the East River waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens, he would have to set aside 20 percent of the units for poor and moderate-income tenants.

“It’s a huge missed opportunity to create affordable housing,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, an advocacy group. “They’re getting an extra tax break for free. It’s unfortunate that the city hasn’t explored whatever leverage it has to get a public benefit.”

Mr. de Blasio has made the creation of 80,000 units of affordable housing a hallmark of his administration and has repeatedly said that developers must build low-cost apartments if they expect any help from the city.

Mr. Speyer, the chief executive of Tishman Speyer Properties, declined to comment, but Stephen Rubenstein, a spokesman for the developer, said the company was turning a largely vacant site into a vibrant neighborhood. “We believe this project will greatly add to the Long Island City community,” he said.

No one is suggesting that Mr. Speyer is doing anything underhanded or illegal, and city officials say they have little leverage because he needs no public approvals or reviews. Mr. Speyer, one official suggested, is doing what developers do: making as much money as they can.

Mr. de Blasio declined to comment, but Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen expressed disappointment over the situation.
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“This isn’t our vision for the city,” she said. “This is, in fact, a great example of why we need to change the status quo. In many ways, it’s the most overt example of the need to think through the public benefits we get when the city and the state offer tax breaks.”

At least 30 developers, including major builders such as Bruce C. Ratner, Gary Barnett and Stephen M. Ross, are trying to meet the June 15 deadline to qualify for the tax abatement, though many of them would have to set aside 20 percent of their units and make them affordable to certain renters.

Housing advocates consider the 421-a program a boondoggle that gives generous tax breaks to developers and apartment owners for too little in return. The Real Estate Board of New York, the lobbying arm for the industry, says the program is necessary because New York has the country’s highest construction and land costs and taxes.

The program will end in June, unless it is renewed by the State Legislature, and the de Blasio administration has been meeting with developers, including Mr. Speyer, as chairman of the Real Estate Board, and housing advocates over plans to extend and overhaul the 44-year-old program.

The mayor has yet to reveal his intentions, but according to officials and real estate executives, the de Blasio administration would provide generous tax abatements only to developers who include a substantial block of affordable apartments in their projects.

“We are committed to supporting his mission of growing affordable housing,” Mr. Rubenstein said of the mayor, adding that Tishman Speyer was working on a number of potential projects that would include “significant affordable housing components.”

Mr. Speyer and his father, Jerry I. Speyer, the company chairman, are known in New York as civic leaders, art collectors and, mostly, commercial developers with a portfolio that includes the Chrysler and MetLife Buildings.

The Long Island City project would be the company’s first move into residential development in New York since 2010, when it lost control of Manhattan’s largest apartment complex, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village.

Rob Speyer’s job as chairman of the Real Estate Board necessarily involves cultivating relationships with the mayor, the governor and lawmakers, all of whom govern land use, property taxes and subsidy programs for developers.

Mr. de Blasio reappointed Mr. Speyer chairman of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the same position he held under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Mr. Speyer was also co-chairman of a benefit for the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and was among the 10 co-chairmen of the host committee for the administration’s unsuccessful bid to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn.

But the relationship between the two men strengthened last March, according to executives who know them, after Mr. Speyer and the Real Estate Board quickly offered 40 apartments for tenants displaced from their East Harlem homes after a gas explosion leveled two buildings. As a result, the mayor was able to announce an ambitious recovery plan two days after the explosion.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

The Speyers have owned land for over 10 years in Long Island City, a once-industrial neighborhood where the real-estate boom arrived only recently, despite the efforts of several mayors.

There are nearly 4,000 apartments under construction or in the planning stages, with an additional 11,527 units on the way in nearby Hunters Point, said Nancy Packes, a real estate consultant. Tishman Speyer plans to erect three towers on its Long Island City site, ranging from 33 to 53 stories, with a total of 1,789 apartments.

Tishman Speyer is also negotiating to buy air rights from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for $9 million, which would enable the company to build an additional 75 apartments.

“We’ve had a huge population influx,” said Pat O’Brien, chairman of Community Board 2, which covers the area. “The infrastructure has yet to catch up. If all these things get built, we could wind up with 25 pounds of people in a five pound bag.”

Though city officials say they cannot compel Tishman Speyer to build affordable housing, critics say they do have some sway because of an agreement that the city and the developer have at a nearby site across Jackson Avenue where Tishman Speyer built an office building, 2 Gotham Center, for the city’s health department.

Tishman Speyer was supposed to begin a second office tower there by January 2011, and has been paying an annual $1 million penalty for failure to do so.

The developer met recently with city officials to discuss incorporating far more profitable apartments, along with affordable units, into the office proposal. Housing advocates said the city could allow Tishman Speyer to do so, but only if the developer included affordable units in its plan for the three towers.

Ms. Glen, the deputy mayor, said, “No decisions have been made yet.”

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Walmart takes modest steps to improve lives of many workers

February 19th, 2015

America’s largest private employer just took a modest step to improve the lives of a lot of workers. Following years of concerted protest by frontline workers and their communities, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon announced that Walmart will raise wages to $9 an hour in April and $10 an hour by February next year, as well as creating more stable and predictable schedules.

This is a huge win—and it’s about time. Our research, which has pointed the way forward for retailers like Walmart, shows that Walmart’s low wages and unpredictable schedules disproportionately hurt women and people of color, and are holding our economy back. We’ve also shown how a raise and predictable hours would lift Walmart workers out of poverty, help Walmart’s bottom line, and boost economic activity overall.

This raise would never have happened without the courageous action of thousands of Walmart workers. It is an important blow to the outdated, low-wage business model that Walmart pioneered.

Despite the good news, Walmart can easily do better. Last year Walmart spent more than $6.6 billion repurchasing shares of its own stock, bumping up earnings per share and consolidating ownership among the Walton family heirs. If that money were spent on low-wage workers instead, Walmart could raise pay by over $5 an hour.

As Walmart employee Emily Wells put it after hearing today’s decision:

“Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need—and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

A full-time associate making $9 an hour still makes a little less than $19,000 a year. Next year’s wage of $10 an hour is worth less than the minimum wage was 50 years ago. It’s not just history that shows that a higher wage at Walmart is possible—employers like IKEA and Gap have already recently announced similar raises, and high-road employers like Costco and Trader Joe’s have demonstrated that Walmart can raise pay higher and still be a leader in the retail market.

Today, let’s celebrate this important blow to the low-wage business model while we keep the momentum going by pushing employers to treat their employees with the pay and respect they deserve. I hope you’ll join us.

Thanks,
Catherine Ruetschlin
Senior Policy Analyst

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An Important Message from DEMOS: Walmart workers win higher pay

February 19th, 2015

 

America’s largest private employer just took a modest step to improve the lives of a lot of workers. Following years of concerted protest by frontline workers and their communities, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon announced that Walmart will raise wages to $9 an hour in April and $10 an hour by February next year, as well as creating more stable and predictable schedules.

This is a huge win—and it’s about time. Our research, which has pointed the way forward for retailers like Walmart, shows that Walmart’s low wages and unpredictable schedules disproportionately hurt women and people of color, and are holding our economy back. We’ve also shown how a raise and predictable hours would lift Walmart workers out of poverty, help Walmart’s bottom line, and boost economic activity overall.

This raise would never have happened without the courageous action of thousands of Walmart workers. It is an important blow to the outdated, low-wage business model that Walmart pioneered.

Despite the good news, Walmart can easily do better. Last year Walmart spent more than $6.6 billion repurchasing shares of its own stock, bumping up earnings per share and consolidating ownership among the Walton family heirs. If that money were spent on low-wage workers instead, Walmart could raise pay by over $5 an hour.

As Walmart employee Emily Wells put it after hearing today’s decision:

“Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need—and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

A full-time associate making $9 an hour still makes a little less than $19,000 a year. Next year’s wage of $10 an hour is worth less than the minimum wage was 50 years ago. It’s not just history that shows that a higher wage at Walmart is possible—employers like IKEA and Gap have already recently announced similar raises, and high-road employers like Costco and Trader Joe’s have demonstrated that Walmart can raise pay higher and still be a leader in the retail market.

Today, let’s celebrate this important blow to the low-wage business model while we keep the momentum going by pushing employers to treat their employees with the pay and respect they deserve. I hope you’ll join us.

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A missed opportunity

February 16th, 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget needs to firmly invest in the Empire State

By Ron Deutsch, Commentary

Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s budget proposal takes some positive steps forward in clearly acknowledging, for the first time in his tenure, the incredible child poverty and income inequality that exist in our generally affluent state. He also wisely recognizes the need to give greater property tax relief to those…..

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New York Speaker Calls Stronger Rent Laws His Top Priority

February 9th, 2015

NY times small

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the newly elected speaker of the New York Assembly, Carl E. Heastie, as an “incredible” leader and an ally. Mr. Heastie promised that renewing and strengthening the rent-regulation laws that affect a million city apartments would be his “No. 1 priority.”

After a year in which City Hall battled rough waters in Albany, the two men’s first joint public appearance as mayor and speaker on Sunday afternoon was just about everything the mayor could have hoped for to start a relationship that would help determine the fate of his efforts to curb economic inequality. Strengthening rent-regulation laws, which are due to expire on June 15, are a critical component of the affordable-housing vision Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, outlined in his State of the City address last week. But his plan is emerging at a politically precarious time in the capital.

Mr. Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, replaced Mr. de Blasio’s close ally in Albany, Sheldon Silver, as speaker after Mr. Silver was charged last month with corruption. And Mr. de Blasio did himself no favors in the Republican-controlled State Senate, which is traditionally sympathetic to landlords’ concerns, by trying to elect a Democratic majority last fall.

But when mayor and speaker met at the Ebbets Field Apartments, a 1,500-unit rent-stabilized complex in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Mr. Heastie seemed ready to assume the role of tenant-rights champion.

After meeting with the mayor and several tenants, Mr. Heastie told reporters he had made the trip “just to let the tenants here know, and the mayor of the City of New York know, that this is going to be our No. 1 priority, to extend and strengthen rent regulation in the City of New York — to partner with the mayor in his vision for affordable housing.”

Pressed on what in the rent laws he would strengthen, he said only that he would consult with Assembly Democrats.

But Mr. de Blasio had words enough for both of them. “When it comes to the issue of affordable housing, he’s going to fight for the people of New York City,” he said of Mr. Heastie. “He’s going to see the faces of the families of this city while he’s fighting that fight on behalf of all of us.”

The president of the complex’s tenants association, Beverly Newsome, said she hoped lawmakers in Albany would “put some teeth in the rent stabilization laws.” Too often, she said, the existing laws left tenants vulnerable to sudden rent increases.

Ms. Newsome was asked whether she was optimistic that the two men would be successful in their rent-regulation push.

“Of course,” she said, sounding startled. “I wouldn’t be talking to them if I weren’t.”

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NYC’s Top Democrat In Albany: Rent Regulation Is “Our No. 1 Priority”

February 9th, 2015

This summer a raft of state rent control regulations and lucrative tax breaks for developers are set to expire. Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s record on tenants’ rights was not good, but he’s been disgraced (by a scandal involving real estate kickbacks) and replaced by Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who yesterday met with Mayor de Blasio and promised to make strengthening rent regulations “our number one priority.”

Heastie met with de Blasio at the rent-stabilized Ebbets Field Apartments in Crown Heights, and told reporters he was there “just to let the tenants here know, and the mayor of the City of New York know, that this is going to be our number one priority, to extend and strengthen rent regulation in the City of New York—to partner with the mayor in his vision for affordable housing.”

The Times reports that Heastie did not provide any specifics on what this meant, but that Mayor de Blasio, who made affordable housing the central plank of his State of the City speech last week, offered more platitudes:

“When it comes to the issue of affordable housing, he’s going to fight for the people of New York City. He’s going to see the faces of the families of this city while he’s fighting that fight on behalf of all of us.”

“Fight” in this case may be a relative term, considering how much power the real estate lobby wields in Albany. Seven of Governor Cuomo’s top ten campaign donors are connected to real estate (the corruption commission dissolved by the governor found that developers funneled money to our chief executive through an LLC loophole). The head of the real estate lobby, whose name came up in the corruption commission’s findings, recently copped to being “braggy” about donating to a tide of winning candidates.

The Metropolitan Council On Housing, whose motto is “housing for people, not profit,” wants the state legislature to repeal vacancy deregulation, which allows landlords to deregulate apartments if the rent can be raised to $2,500, an amount most landlords are all too eager to reach through renovations. Their vision would re-regulate all apartments that have turned market-rate if the rent is under $5,000.

For all the reasons above (money), this likely won’t happen. Legislators will probably raise the amount of rent necessary to deregulate an apartment by a token amount that landlords will still gladly pay. Given that 11,000 affordable housing units are lost to deregulation each year, the Met Council rightly states that this action “would be fraud.”

Repealing the Urstadt law to allow New York City to determine its own rent regulations is so far-fetched that the Met Council has given up fighting for it.

As for the 421-a tax abatements for developers that have been so flagrantly abused by developers, there is hope that their use will be extended but tied to strict requirements for building affordable housing, or abolished altogether, but that hope—all this hope—truly rests on whether we’ll be hearing anything more from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Cuomo pushes corporate ed plan that blames teachers

February 9th, 2015

uft logo

In his Jan. 21 State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo embraced the corporate reform agenda for education with a vengeance. He called for raising the cap on charter schools, extending teachers’ probationary period from three to five years, putting struggling schools into “receivership” and basing half a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores.

The governor used his address, which was combined this year with his executive budget, to blame high school teachers for failing to graduate students ready for college and to blame elementary and middle school teachers for failing to get students to pass new and harder ELA and math tests.
Success Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz and anti-tenure crusader Campbell Brown cheered the governor’s proposals, but many public school teachers were incensed.

“The governor’s speech served warmed-up Bloomberg leftovers,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “He ignores the real problems and instead blames the teachers for everything that’s wrong.”
Noting that Cuomo has rarely set foot in a public school classroom, Mulgrew said, “I’m inviting the governor to drop the rhetoric of his hedge-fund pals who hate public education and come visit a real New York City public school, where teachers, kids and parents are working to make education a success.”

Unleashing the power that the governor holds in the state budget process, Cuomo held $1.1 billion in new state school aid hostage to passage of his proposals, which mirror the agenda of the Wall Street corporate reformers who bankrolled his re-election campaign.

With a $5.4 billion windfall in the state budget from legal and financial settlements, the governor was widely expected to increase education spending. But in exchange for a 4.8 percent boost to the state’s schools — half of what the state Regents requested — Cuomo said the Legislature had to pass his education proposals.

The State of the State speech kicks off two months of budget negotiations between the governor and state lawmakers. Giving more clout to the governor this year, Republicans now control the state Senate. The final state budget is due on April 1.
In an email to members, Mulgrew said the State of the State speech was a missed opportunity to enact changes that would improve public schools.

“The governor ignores the real problems facing our public schools: lack of funding, increasing class sizes, rising child poverty and its ripple effects in the classroom, and the lack of support and respect for the educators who have dedicated their lives to helping children learn and grow.”

As a first step, Mulgrew asked UFT members to visit the union’s website and join its social media campaign to invite the governor to their classrooms and tell him what students really need.

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Cuomo announces $486M affordable housing investment – But tenant advocates slam his failure to talk up rent-stabilization laws

January 23rd, 2015

By: Hiten Samtani

Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State speech today that New York will invest $486 million to help build and preserve low-cost housing in the state.

About $257 million of those funds would come out of the state’s share of a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase over mortgage-bond sales, he said.

The New York State Association for Affordable Housing gave the governor’s agenda its seal of approval. “Today, the Governor demonstrated his understanding that the development and preservation of affordable housing are critical to building strong communities throughout New York State,” said a spokesperson for the influential trade group, which represents affordable housing developers.

Some tenant advocates, however, highlighted the fact that Cuomo made no reference to rent-stabilization laws. “Everyone knows Cuomo’s re-election was heavily financed by landlords and real-estate executives,” said Delsenia Glover, a leader of Alliance for Tenant Power, and now he is continuing to do their bidding by ignoring the need for stronger rent laws.”

Glover said that the governor’s “silence today on the affordable housing crisis was shameful and wrong,” and called on him to strengthen rent laws that are set to expire in June.

The majority of Cuomo’s top donors come from the real estate community, as The Real Deal and others have reported.

On Jan. 14, Cuomo announced a $1.7 billion break on New York state property taxes, which he said would benefit more than 1 million homeowners and another 1 million renters.

Cuomo proposes bold education deal in state budget

January 23rd, 2015

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a $141.6 billion budget Wednesday that includes controversial education reforms but aims to mollify opponents with a substantial increase in school funding.

The changes would include an increase in the cap on charter schools, a weakening of teacher tenure, new teacher evaluations and $20,000 bonuses for the highest-rated classroom instructors.

Most of what Mr. Cuomo laid out in his budget proposal had been revealed in recent days in speeches and press releases, such as his plan to lower state taxes on small businesses to 2.5% from 6.5%, increase the city’s minimum wage to $11.50 and overhaul the region’s major airports. But the governor’s proposals on education, which he described as both “dramatic” and “difficult,” remained a mystery until Wednesday.

He outlined a series of reforms: extending the probationary period for teacher tenure to five years from three; increasing the state’s cap on the number of charter schools by 100; and closing struggling schools after three years and reopening them with new staffs and administrators. He promised to increase the state’s education budget by 4.8%, or $1.1 billion, on the condition the legislature approves his long list of controversial changes. Otherwise, education funding would rise by $377 million under a formula agreed to in last year’s budget deal.

Education, Mr. Cuomo said, “is where reform is going to be the most difficult.”

Indeed, the state’s teachers’ union was quick to dismiss the governor’s characterization of the education system as “throwing good money after bad.”

“New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force. Gov. Cuomo should be celebrating that excellence,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee in a statement. “Instead, today we get intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning.”

Meanwhile the pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools praised Mr. Cuomo for introducing “a bold plan for an urgent education crisis.”

In accordance with his pledge to keep state spending increases under a 2% cap, Mr. Cuomo proposed increasing state spending by 1.7%. The state’s Medicaid budget would rise 3.6%, while education spending would increase 4.8% if the Legislature approves his reform agenda. That would mean that the budgets of all other state agencies would remain essentially flat.

Mr. Cuomo also proposed a series of criminal-justice reforms that he said would help repair the fractured relationship between law enforcement and the minority community. He called for increased funding for new equipment for police officers and changes that would allow district attorneys to release proceedings from grand juries on police-abuse cases that don’t result in indictments against officers, like the case of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of cops on Staten Island.

He outlined a plan to spend $3.05 billion of the state’s $5 billion budget windfall from a series of lucrative settlements with banks and financial institutions.

The state’s Thruway Authority would get $1.285 billion to help pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge, $500 million would be spent on expanding high-speed broadband statewide, $400 million would go to upstate hospital improvements, $250 million would pay for the construction of four Metro-North stations in the Bronx and $150 million would be used to build suburban park-and-ride lots. Another $150 million would go to “local government efficiency grants,” $150 million to emergency response, $115 million to upstate ports and an overhaul of the state fair, and $50 million to protect farmland in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley.

Mr. Cuomo combined his annual State of the State address and budget presentation on account of the Jan. 1 death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo. The younger Cuomo nearly choked up as he ended his speech with a tribute to his father, borrowing from the elder Cuomo’s famed 1984 Democratic National Convention speech and vowing to emulate his father’s devotion to eradicating poverty and lifting up all New Yorkers.

“”Pop, wherever you are … please don’t let me forget what makes New York New York,” he said.