ALBANY — State Assemblyman Brian Manktelow found it difficult to respond to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State message Monday because it was short on details.
“He was pretty much vague on everything,” said Manktelow, R-130 of Lyons, of the governor’s address, designed to be a broad overview of goals for the 2021 session, with more addresses to follow. “I didn’t like what I didn’t hear.”
Manktelow said the governor and legislators have huge challenges ahead, including eradicating COVID-19 in order to fully open New York’s economy. The state now has more new COVID-19 cases per-capita than 35 other states.
“We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious,” said Cuomo, who delivered his televised address to a small in-person audience Monday morning. “We are shocked that an invisible enemy could reach such death and destruction especially in this, the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth.”
The state now faces a $15 billion deficit, with $9 billion of that caused largely by the economic slowdown and additional expenses associated with dealing with the pandemic. The state already was facing a $6 billion deficit prior to COVID-19.
Expanded rapid testing is among the proposals Cuomo outlined as a way to reopen the economy.
With a new network of rapid testing locations, Cuomo said a person can stop into a new rapid testing facility, get tested, and 15 minutes later be cleared for dinner or a movie. This would provide an added layer of protection and confidence as New Yorkers resume economic activity, his office said.
“We simply cannot stay closed until the vaccine hits critical mass,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo placed the massive budget deficit at the hands of the federal government, which he said “has failed to realize that this is a national crisis, not a state crisis. They delegated responsibility to the governors and then failed to provide the resources. Washington as they say, passed the buck without passing the bucks, and again in December, Congress failed to pass state and local financing during their legislative session.
“This is a national challenge. It is a war. And like every war before, it must be financed by Washington. If the federal government needs revenue, it should raise income taxes on the wealthy to finance the state’s resurgence from this national devastation. That is basic economic justice and economic prudence.”
Manktelow and new 131st District Assemblyman Jeff Gallahan, R-Manchester, said the state bears some responsibility for the fiscal mess, not just a lack of funding from Washington related to COVID-19 relief, as well as traditional government aid where Cuomo said New York has been shortchanged for years.
“Let’s be clear,” Gallahan said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “The fiscal problems our state is facing existed before the pandemic when we had a $6 billion budget deficit. While the pandemic has increased our state’s fiscal issues, the overspending has long been a problem. Instead of making cuts, the governor introduced more programs that would cost New York taxpayers.”
Added Manktelow: “I want to know, how are we going to save money?”
Said state Sen. Pam Helming, R-54 of Canandaigua: “Unfortunately, there was no mention of the state’s need to tighten its own belt and control spending. For too long, the state has relied on others to solve the government’s fundamental spending problem. We must not burden businesses or taxpayers with more cost and regulation.”
New York lawmakers and Cuomo have planned to reduce state spending by as much as $8 billion to make up for the state’s expected large drop in sales and income tax revenue.
And Cuomo has held back at least $2.4 billion in state payments to localities as of September.
Raising taxes should not be the answer to shoring up the budget gap, said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-132 of Corning.
“Now is not the time to burden residents of New York state with more job-killing taxes that will cause a further exodus of businesses and families from New York,” said Palmesano, whose district includes Yates County.
Cuomo said no economic comeback can be attained until COVID-19 is tamed, and to do that, at least 70 percent of New Yorkers need to get vaccinated.
Manktelow would like to see that happen, but he wants to know more on how the process to vaccinate New Yorkers can be ramped up.
“We need to get this vaccine to our constituents as soon as possible in order to move forward with other programs, plans and funds to be distributed,” he said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. “We must take down the COVID-19 pandemic before anything else.”
Helming agreed with Cuomo’s plan to ramp up COVID testing and expand broadband in underserved areas, an issue in many rural parts of her district.
“I appreciate that the governor mentioned two issues in particular that are important to my constituents and our rural communities, and that I have long advocated for: expanding COVID-19 testing and expanding broadband access,” she said. “I hope the governor’s commitment today means that our area will get the rapid testing sites we need.”
On the effort to expand the vaccination effort, Cuomo said he was creating a new Public Health Corps, which would help New York vaccinate New York’s 20 million people.
Cornell University said it will be a partner in training 1,000 people to assist with vaccination operations through what the Ithaca-based university called an intensive public health training curriculum.
The Associated Press contributed information to this story.