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NY Governor eyes $25 billion in private funds

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday proposed building what would be the largest U.S. convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack near New York City and overhauling the Jacob Javits convention center in Manhattan as part of a plan to attract $25 billion in private capital.
/ Source: Reuters

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday proposed building what would be the largest U.S. convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack near New York City and overhauling the Jacob Javits convention center in Manhattan as part of a plan to attract $25 billion in private capital.

Cuomo, in his second State of the State address, said New York's budget deficit would be closed without any new fees or taxes, while the entire tax system -- income, corporate and sales -- will be reviewed and improved.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs," Cuomo said, summing up the main thrust of his program.

Cuomo, a Democrat, also called for legalizing gambling and drawing private investment to fix crumbling roads and bridges -- including building a new Tappan Zee bridge across the Hudson River north of New York City.

He also proposed a multi-year package of $1 billion in incentives for downtrodden Buffalo.

Cuomo is seeking to build on the political capital and 70-percent approval ratings he garnered last year when he closed a $10 billion budget gap and pushed successfully to legalize same-sex marriage, cap property tax increases, and enact new ethics laws for elected officials.

"We are the nation's progressive voice -- because we are New York," said Cuomo, whom analysts consider a possible presidential contender in the 2016 elections cycle.

The governor said little about the heated debate over whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of drilling for natural gas. Supporters say the drilling, known as fracking, would create thousands of jobs in depressed rural areas, while opponents say it could contaminate drinking water and air.

Cuomo in his speech veered from his prepared text by not saying that his office would make a decision in 2012, after environmental officials review public comments and release a set of proposed guidelines.

In laying out his vision for a convention center at the Aqueduct Racetrack, Cuomo said the proposed 3.8 million square-foot space would be funded by a $4 billion investment from casino operator Genting and would create tens of thousands of jobs. Although New York already has 29,000 video lottery terminals, legalizing table games such as poker, blackjack and baccarat would require a constitutional amendment.

The Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan -- which sprawls across 18 acres but is considered too small for modern trade shows -- would be transformed with offices, housing and hotels, to revitalize the midtown's West Side.

Cuomo, who cut state aid for schools by more than $1 billion last year, on Wednesday called for a bipartisan panel to reform the current teacher evaluation system, saying it is failing students. The panel would also look at initiatives to increase efficiency and save money.

"The only group without a lobbyist is the students," Cuomo said.

He also called for lowering campaign contribution limits -- some of the highest in the nation -- a new enforcement panel at the state Board of Elections and a system of public matching funds for political candidates similar to that of New York City.

Under Cuomo's plan, newly hired state workers would get a sixth tier of less generous pension benefits, subject to approval by the legislature. In his first year in office, Cuomo negotiated austere labor contracts, including higher health care costs and furloughs, with the state's two largest public sector unions.

The governor last year broke with his predecessors by fostering close relationships with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat.

Before Cuomo spoke, Silver outlined a three-point agenda for his Democrat-dominated chamber that includes raising the minimum wage, which is currently set at the federally mandated minimum of $7.25 per hour, lower than 18 other states; tax cuts for the working poor, and greater state funding for community colleges.

Skelos focused on economic issues, calling for a "fiscally-responsible budget" to close the deficit and programs to "attract dynamic, large-scale job creation projects."