By DANIEL FLATLEY
TIMES STAFF WRITER
During the final State of the State address of his first term, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took a look back and a look ahead Wednesday as he outlined a progressive agenda tempered with proposals to lower taxes and consolidate government.
North country representatives were encouraged both by the premium Gov. Cuomo placed on tax relief and by his willingness to invest in infrastructure projects in this region.
I certainly welcome the governors comments on cutting taxes, said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who said it seemed at least two-thirds of the governors address was devoted to the subject.
Beginning with what he considered his accomplishments so far, Gov. Cuomo, who is expected to run for re-election this year, outlined a broad slate of programs that included economic development, tax-relief and education investment, as well as ethics reform and initiatives aimed at fairness and equality.
In his closing statements, Gov. Cuomo emphasized unity.
Were all in this together, he said. When one of us is raised, were all raised, and when one of us is lowered, were all lowered. Were upstate and were downstate, but were one. Were Latino and were African American, but we are one. We are New York City and we are Buffalo, but we are one.
Much of the governors speech was a review of policy proposals unveiled last year, including a renewed commitment to rooting out government malfeasance via the recommendations of the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption and a strong endorsement of the findings of the Tax Relief Commission, appointed in October.
Even more recent initiatives, such as a $2 billion tax-relief program and a reversal on medical marijuana regulations, were mentioned but not for the first time.
But the governor, a Democrat known for his centrist views, placed notable emphasis on cutting taxes and consolidating government entities in the face of a much more left-leaning position staked out by the newly elected Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City.
The governors emphasis struck a chord with Republican legislators from the north country.
Sen. Ritchie said she is often approached by constituents who say they are having difficulty making their property tax payments or keeping their small businesses open.
There were a lot of interesting and exciting proposals, particularly when you look at upstate regulatory reform and tax relief, said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.
During his speech, and on Monday when he first revealed his tax relief proposal, Gov. Cuomo touted the conversion of the states $10 billion deficit to a projected $2 billion surplus.
Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said the transformation of that deficit is something of which the Legislature could be justifiably proud, though he expressed skepticism about some of the governors tax-relief proposals.
Mr. Blankenbush said a proposal by the governor to freeze property taxes for two years did not go far enough.
We need to focus on reducing it, not freezing it, Mr. Blankenbush said.
He faulted the governor for not talking more about mandate relief reducing the burden the state places on local municipalities, which are forced to raise their property tax levy to meet it.
Mr. Blankenbush also expressed disappointment that the governor did not talk more about upstate farms and agriculture, one of the most important industries in the north country.
There were some good things and some things I wanted to hear more about, Mr. Blankenbush said.
Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, was pleased with the governors emphasis on economic development and education, especially his proposals to push technology into the states classrooms.
I think overall its a very balanced set of initiatives hes outlined for 2014, Mrs. Russell said.
All four representatives were happy to hear the governor mention the proposed Interstate 98 rooftop highway from Plattsburgh to Watertown, a project that has been discussed for decades.
Gov. Cuomo said he wants the state Department of Transportation to undertake a feasibility study of the proposed road.
While details remain to be seen, representatives were encouraged by the attention the governor seems to be paying to upstate infrastructure.
The impression I have is I was very happy that we have money for upstate New York for bridges and roads, Mr. Blankenbush said, adding that 62 percent of the bridges in his district have been rated below average.