Ithaca, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address in Albany on Wednesday.

Ithaca Is Bluegrass Jan. 23-25

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Here are 5 big issues expected to surface in the speech that could have big repercussions for Ithaca:

1 — Minimum wage hike, ‘anti-poverty agenda’

Cuomo is proposing raising the minimum wage to $10.50. That could have a major impact on the Tompkins County economy, which is heavily reliant on the service and hotel industries.

Reaction to the idea has broken down political lines, with Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos telling the NY Daily News, “we’re not doing minimum wage.”

The minimum wage hike was announced as part of a Cuomo-led anti-poverty effort called the “NY Opportunity Agenda.”

Some of the other parts, according to the governor’s office, include:

— $486 Million in Housing for NY’s “most vulnerable residents”

— $4.5 Million to Advance an Anti-Hunger Task Force

— A $50 Million Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Investment Program

— A loan forgiveness program

You can read more here about the governor’s anti-poverty push.

2 — The “circuit-breaker”

This is Cuomo’s new proposal to give homeowners a state income tax credit if they earn less than $250,000 but have property taxes that exceed 6 percent of their income.

According to WAMC: Northeast Public Radio, Cuomo has said high property taxes driving people out of the state is “probably the single most important challenge that we’re facing economically as a state.”

That’s also a challenge for Ithaca, which has seen rapidly increasing property values.

Syracuse.com’s Teri Weaver published an excellent explainer on the circuit-breaker, how it works and who it is most likely to affect.

We’re likely to hear more about it in Wednesday’s State of the State address.

3 — Criminal justice reform

This was an idea that got lots of discussion on the campaign trail in the Democratic primary for Ithaca City Court Judge: Treating 16- and 17-year-olds as children as juveniles rather than adults.

Currently, only two states — New York and North Carolina — treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. The governor and criminal justice experts say that this approach is cruel and counter-productive, in part because it increases the long-term costs to the prison system by increasing recidivism.

Additionally, “Sixteen and 17-year-olds who are prosecuted as adults and end up on adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide,” Melanie Hartzog of the Children’s Defense Fund told NY1.

4 — Education funding

The state has taken almost $18 million from the Ithaca City School District’s budget over the last few years under a law called the Gap Elimination Act.

That’s led to dramatic increases in local taxes. In May, voters approved the superintendent’s preferred budget option, which consisted of an 8.87 percent tax levy increase and a 5.67 percent tax rate increase.

Now that the state is on better fiscal footing, will some of that money be returning to local school districts?

It doesn’t seem likely. Cuomo and the state’s teachers’ unions are in the middle of a battle, with Cuomo wanting to repeal restrictions on charter schools.

Last week, The New York Times reported on a large rally to decry Cuomo’s teacher evaluation policies and “demanded instead that Mr. Cuomo increase funding for schools.”

“He has declared war on the public schools,” Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers, told The Times.

5 — $20 million for green jobs in S. Tier?

Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State will also include a $20 million competitive fund “to lure green jobs to the Southern Tier,” the Press & Sun Bulletin reported.

The announcement follows the rejection of a proposed casino in the area and the decision to ban fracking in NY. Some saw these moves as quashing ways to boost a Southern Tier region that needs to diversify and expand its economy.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.