State of the State: Gov. Cuomo to discuss legalization of marijuana, election reform, and expansion of telehealth

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEXSTAR)- From the War Room at the state’s Capitol, Governor Andrew Cuomo talked about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, he spent the majority of the time talking about the gaping hole left in the states’ budget from COVID-19, and racial inequality while touching on the expansion of telehealth, legalization of recreational marijuana, and election reform in his 2021 State of the State address.

In late April, the New York State Department of the Budget (DOB) said the General Fund for the 2021 fiscal year, could see a $13.3 billion revenue loss. DOB said the state’s General Fund could see upwards to a $60.5 billion loss through 2024.

Around that same time, the New York State Comptroller’s Office issued recommendations to the state they said would help deal with the loss of revenue and subsequent cuts to services, local governments, and school districts including transparency, accountability, as well as preparing for a future economic crisis.

The state is facing a $15 billion budget deficit and even with heavy cuts to education, social services, and a freeze on state contracts, Governor Cuomo said it still leaves the state short billions of dollars. He placed blame on the Federal Government and said it was up to Washington to compensate New York for economic losses.

He called the COVID-19 pandemic a war and said Washington needs to foot the bill. He called on the Federal Government to tax the wealthiest American’s to help the nation’s economic rebound. As in his 2020 State of the State, Governor Cuomo said New York continues to pay more in taxes to Washington than it gets in return.

He said he was hopeful Washington would make good and provide financial assistance to the state. If the Federal Government does not come through with economic help, Governor Cuomo said the state was prepared but that it would be a “tough battle”.

Governor Cuomo’s seven-step plan for 2021

  • Defeat COVID-19
  • Vaccinate all New Yorkers
  • Manage short-term deficits
  • Invest in the future
  • Transition to green energy
  • Understand the long-term effects of COVID-19
  • Address systemic injustice

Governor Cuomo said at the current federal vaccine distribution rate of 300,000 a week, it would take another 14 weeks to vaccinate all residents currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. He said the Federal Government needs to work on making more vaccine available.

To help the state make up for the $15 billion in lost revenue, the Governor said the state is doing what it can through the legalization of marijuana and online sports betting. Earlier this month he announced the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management as part of his 2021 State of the State.

Governor Cuomo also discussed the state’s plan to combat climate change that would also stimulate the economy through job creation. He talked about continuing to expand the state’s access to broadband saying increased access means “nothing unless it’s affordable”.

The governor said the rest of his State of the State will be revealed over the coming days. He has yet to talk in depth about expanding telehealth services and election reforms.

As COVID-19 made its way into New York putting the state on ‘Pause’ in March, many healthcare providers started using telehealth to see and treat patients. Governor Cuomo said now the state needs to work on expanding telehealth services and addressing issues like insurance reimbursement and updating regulations for further integration of telehealth.

“COVID-19 has changed not only the way we live, but the way healthcare providers support their patients, especially in regard to mental health. New Yorkers have adapted throughout 2020, but it is time to push telehealth to the next level in New York State and fully integrate it into our existing healthcare system. These proposals will better allocate our healthcare and technological resources for the 21st century,” Governor Cuomo said.

The Governor said he wants to make voting easier for New Yorkers by passing legislation that would allow voters to vote by absentee ballot with no excuses, give voters more time to request an absentee ballot, and expand early voting.

Speeding up the counting of absentee ballots is also on the Governor’s agenda for election reform. “Our election system, on which our democracy is built, has, and continues to be, under attack by those seeking to undermine the founding principles of our nation and we must not only protect it, but ensure it can be accessed by all,” he said. 

Governor Cuomo has also yet to talk about commercial and private evictions, utility disconnections during emergencies, greater access to SUNY and CUNY resources for nurses, modernizing the office of professional medical conduct, domestic violence and gender-based violence, and pedestrian access to Moynihan Train Hall.

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