- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for big investments in transportation, a higher minimum wage and a new teacher evaluation system Wednesday in a sprawling address that laid out his priorities for 2015.

In the first State of the State address of his second term, Cuomo also pitched small business tax cuts and relief for homeowners struggling with high property taxes.

To address concerns about police misconduct and officer safety, he proposed a series of reforms designed to restore public faith in the justice system while protecting law enforcement.

The speech was accompanied by Cuomo’s $141.6 billion proposed state budget. Sprinkled throughout the spending plan are several other big and often contentious ideas: financial aid to students in the country illegally, more charter schools and a plan to make upstate regions compete against one another to win $1.5 billion in economic development funds.

“New York is the state that leads, and it always has,” Cuomo told a 2,200-person audience at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. “While Washington fights and gridlocks, we find compromise and move forward.”

Compromise on the education proposals may be elusive. Cuomo vowed to support $1.1 billion in new education funding - but only if lawmakers overhaul the way teachers are evaluated to make it easier to remove failing teachers.

“This is the area where we need to do the most reform and where, frankly, reform is going to be difficult,” Cuomo said.

Teachers’ unions are already pushing back. Karen Magee, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said Cuomo ignored the need to reduce class sizes and target resources to poorer districts.

“This would work if we were putting cars together and these were widgets,” she said of Cuomo’s ideas. “But these are children. … The governor truly doesn’t understand education.”

Law enforcement is another fractious issue, with some lawmakers urging changes in how police misconduct cases are handled following the chokehold death of a black man, Eric Garner, by a white police officer. Others, however, want greater protections for police following the shooting deaths of two officers.

On Wednesday, 22 protesters who sat and linked arms at the entrance to Cuomo’s address were arrested. Some yelled, “Black lives matter!”

Cuomo proposed increasing diversity in police ranks and appointing an independent monitor to review certain cases in which unarmed civilians are killed by police. Cuomo says local prosecutors should also be allowed to issue more information about cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians.

He also called for more body armor and bulletproof glass in police cars.

“The community has to respect and trust the police, and police have to trust and respect the community,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s budget contained several initiatives designed to boost the economy and invest in transportation.

He wants to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. The wage, now $8.75, is set to increase to $9 at year’s end.

Some have pushed for a bigger wage increase, and New York Mayor City Bill de Blasio has asked for state authority to raise it to $13.30.

“It’s a big step forward, but $11.50 doesn’t do it in New York City,” said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat.

De Blasio praised Cuomo for taking up the issue and said he wants to see New York City determine its own wage level.

“What you see around the country is cities acting to address income inequality in a very forceful way,” he said. “You see it in Seattle, in Los Angeles, in Chicago.”

Cuomo also proposed a tax cut for small businesses and a tax credit program that would provide an estimated $1,000 to homeowners with incomes below $250,000 and whose property tax burden exceeds 6 percent of their income.

For upstate, Cuomo proposed spending $1.3 billion on the state Thruway to avoid new tolls this year and reduce a future toll increase on the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

For downstate, Cuomo proposed money for a rail link to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, four new rail stations to connect the Bronx to Manhattan and $750 million for new buses, subway cars and upgrades for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Lawmakers will now review Cuomo’s proposals and attempt to negotiate changes before voting on the budget.

“I’m sure there are going to be adjustments,” said Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, of Long Island.

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