Sunday January 6, 2013

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo has an abundance of topics for his third State of the State address next week as he frames 2013 around the need to reduce gun violence and the lingering pain of victims of Superstorm Sandy.

As heart-rending as the issues are, they are the kind of crises on which Cuomo thrives.

The session begins Wednesday with the Democrat’s State of the State address, a traditional event that’s mostly political theater. But this time Cuomo and legislative leaders are within striking distances of several major agreements.

Among the topics with significant support already are:

n A new ban on assault rifles and high-capacity clips for bullets in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

n Raising the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour from $7.25.

n Securing billions of federal dollars for local and state governments and victims of Superstorm Sandy and establishing preventive measures for the next big storm. Nation-leading climate change initiatives are expected, too.

n Changes to schools to improve student performance that could include longer days and academic years.

n The continuing need to create jobs and rev up the economy.

n Legalizing casinos off Indian land to boost jobs and tax revenues.

n Restrictions on the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk procedures that critics say impinge on civil rights.

He’s been careful not to muddy his past two State of the State addresses with perhaps the most controversial statewide issue of whether to authorize drilling for natural gas in the Southern Tier. The hydraulic fracturing technique is opposed by environmentalists and many Democrats, and Cuomo isn’t expected to announce a decision Wednesday.

To a large extent, the tragedies of Sandy and gun violence will shape the 2013 legislative session.

"It’s not that you come with a pre-ordained agenda -- you do in part, but also you have to respond to the need at the time," Cuomo said last week. "This state has tremendous needs that are being presented at this time."

Wednesday’s speech, however, is also expected to hold the traditional surprises, usually in the form of a creative new program or law to lead the nation or a huge construction project worthy of someday being named after a governor.

Not all make it beyond the standing ovation. The cornerstone of last year’s State of the State speech was a $4 billion convention center and hotel complex at the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens that fizzled shortly after it was announced.