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Hochul offers moderate message in State of the State speech

Gov. Kathy Hochul gives her State of the State speech in the New York Assembly chamber on Jan. 9, 2024.
Susan Watts
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul gives her State of the State speech in the New York Assembly chamber on Jan. 9, 2024.

Gov. Kathy Hochul addressed the sense of unease that New Yorkers feel about the economy and crime in her 2024 State of the State message on Tuesday. 

Among her proposals were a crackdown on retail theft and a scaled-down plan to build more affordable housing to ease the state’s ongoing crisis.

Quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Taylor Swift, Hochul addressed lawmakers gathered in the Assembly chamber, where guests included former Govs. David Paterson and Geroge Pataki.

While Hochul said the state of the state is “strong,” she acknowledged that many New Yorkers don’t feel that way as they worry about rising costs and shrinking paychecks.

“In those moments, I can actually understand why some people feel the sun is setting on the Empire State,” she said. “But I don't despair. Because I see light on the horizon. We are a state where resiliency runs in our veins. No mountain is too high for us to summit.”

Hochul proposed efforts to fight crime, including a focus on retail theft with a “smash-and-grab” enforcement unit within the State Police and teams at district attorneys’ offices. Her plan also would make it harder to sell stolen goods online.

“These attacks are nothing more than a breakdown of the social order,” Hochul said. “The chaos must end.”

She also proposed expanding the list of crimes that could be eligible as hate crimes in the wake of rising antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias linked to the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza.

Hochul also offered a series of more modest proposals aimed at improving the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers.

Some were previously announced, like changing the methods of teaching reading to children, raising the weekly payments for workers who need temporary medical disability, improving maternal and infant care, and cracking down on predatory loans and other unscrupulous business practices.

The governor relaunched a housing program that was scaled back from a 2023 wide-ranging proposal that Democrats, who lead both houses of the Legislature, rejected.

In her written comments accompanying the speech, Hochul took swipes at her Democratic colleagues in the Senate and Assembly, saying “the Legislature failed to act even to preserve New York’s anemic” existing rate of housing growth. She continued her criticism in the speech.

“Unfortunately, many made it clear they would not support it,” Hochul said.

This year, the governor in her plan dropped quotas for local governments to build housing but proposed tying some grants to agreements to build more units.

She’d also like to resurrect a program, known as 421-a, that gave developers of large projects a tax break if they set aside some units for affordable housing. Democrats in the Legislature let it expire in 2021, and never reached an agreement with Hochul to renew it.

Democratic Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris shot back, saying the governor’s new plan has some “big holes” in it.

“All she proposes are a developer's dream but left out protections for tenants in their existing homes,” Gianaris said. “If we're not making sure that people get to stay in the homes they have, what exactly is the point of building more homes that people can then get evicted from very easily.”

Hochul left out of her speech one of the major issues facing New York — the influx of tens of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants who have been bused here from Texas and Florida.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt believes politics influenced that omission. He said the migrant issue is controversial, even among Democrats.

“She's always said she's kind of a (President Joe) Biden Democrat. And she took the Biden approach, which is to kind of ignore it,” Ortt said. “And hope that it's not happening.”

He said the situation won’t go away on its own.

The Senate GOP leader also criticized Hochul’s plans to combat retail theft, saying it would be better to change existing laws like bail reform to make it easier to incarcerate criminals.

Ortt said the governor’s speech lacked large themes normally found in a State of the State message.

“It was small ball, it was a little bit flat, it wasn't kind of those big ideas that we're used to seeing,” he said. “Maybe that was by design, because it is 2024.”

And 2024 is a key election year, where congressional races in key districts in the state could determine which party controls the house. Ortt said with so much at stake, the governor seems to be trying to play it safe.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.