New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's fiery State of the State speech pushed the state onto the national stage over gun control and other progressive issues that some observers said better positioned the governor for a possible 2016 run for president.
"The tragic events of just the last few weeks in Newtown, Conn., and West Webster, N.Y., have indelibly taught us guns can cut down small children, firefighters and policemen in a moment," Cuomo said in his third State of the State address on Wednesday.
"No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer," he said. "End the madness now!"
Cuomo called for tougher state bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines of ammunition in a bolstering of the state's gun control laws, already some of the most restrictive in the nation.
A deal is expected soon that could make New York one of the first states to pass gun control laws following the Dec. 14 shooting, in which 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down with a powerful weapon at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The shooter also killed his mother and himself.
Soon after the school shooting, two firefighters in western New York were killed by a man who set his neighborhood on fire, lay in wait with a high-powered rifle for responders, shot them and killed himself. Webster residents related to the firefighters were honored guests at the State of State address.
"New York leads the nation, it's time New York lead the nation in this," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who wants bans assault weapons and high-capacity magazines of ammunition banned.
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said the goal is to "get something done by the end of this week."
Cuomo started the last half of his first term striking a far more progressive tone than the fiscally conservative positions he used to fashion himself as a "new Democrat." But he also achieved many of his fiscal goals, including a cap on property tax growth and curbed spending.
Cuomo's agenda Wednesday included decriminalizing open possession of 15 grams of marijuana to a violation, fighting for women's workplace and abortion rights and raising the minimum wage. It made him sound more like his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, that the late President Ronald Reagan as he did two years ago, said Lawrence Levy, political commentator and executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
"It was a long list of initiatives that have been part of a progressive, liberal agenda and which could be very expensive in the long run," Levy said.
"I think it's a pivot because of the politics of 2016," said political commentator Michael Benjamin, a former Bronx Democratic assemblyman, referring to the next presidential elections. "There's no way to see how he'd pay for it."
Cuomo will have to present his budget Jan. 22.
One of his bolder ideas would increase "learning time" by at least 25 percent, while proposing higher pay for better teachers and recruiting top performers to teaching. The state would pay the cost of longer days or longer academic years, with local school districts deciding whether to opt in. That measure could finally overcome the hurdle of expanding school years beyond 180 days and typically six-hour days, which would require more pay for teachers and other school employees.
Brian D. Backstrom, president of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, was critical of the governor's proposal, saying it "does little more than nibble around the edge of real reform."
In other priorities, Cuomo proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour. He called the current wage "unliveable."
His response to Superstorm Sandy would include eliminating the Long Island Power Authority, which he said failed in crisis. It's part of measures to better protect New York City and Long Island and would "harden" the energy network that failed for millions of New Yorkers for as many as 21 days with the Oct. 29 superstorm.
Cuomo also sought to drum up support for a November referendum that could legalize casinos beyond a half-dozen Indian casinos and more than two dozen electronic gambling games at race tracks.
"The state of New York is rising with a passion and commitment to make this state better than it's ever been, a brighter future than it's ever had ... !" Cuomo shouted to a standing ovation.
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