Albany, NY – Governor George Pataki says New York will rebuild -- and it will succeed -- in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Pataki delivered his annual State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature Wednesday. He recognized emergency personnel for their bravery in responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center. The governor then outlined a series of initiatives for the coming year.
Governor Pataki said he will not delay $300 million in tax cuts scheduled to take effect in 2002. And he's not backing off from a major spending initiative. Pataki proposed $250 million for the state's Centers of Excellence, including one at the University at Buffalo that will specialize in Bioinformatics.
The governor also provided another boost to Buffalo's economy when he announced that a second Empire Zone has been approved for the city. State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who serves on the state's Empire Zone Designation Board, said Buffalo's application for a second zone was formally approved prior to Pataki's address. Schimminger said it's great news for the city.
"What this does is double the size of Buffalo's existing zone. Now, some four of Buffalo's 40 square miles, or ten percent of the city's acreage, will now have Empire Zone status," Schimminger said.
Companies located within the Empire Zones are eligible for tax savings and relief from high energy costs.
Pataki said he would support giving the mayors of Buffalo and the state's other large cities the authority to run their school systems. He also renewed a call for reforming the state's education aid formulas. But State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo said Pataki did not address the issue of helping school districts in need.
"There were no specifics as to how he will help Buffalo's struggling school district," Hoyt said. "If he is not able to come up with considerably more money, we're going to be looking at a whole new round of teacher layoffs."
The terrorist attacks of September Eleventh and their aftermath were a major theme of Pataki's address. He asked New Yorkers for their "patience and perseverance" as the state recovers from what he described as the "fury of violence."
"On this day that reaffirms our allegiance to the democratic process, we cannot help but think about the dark day when democracy itself was attacked. Most of us lost someone we knew on that awful day - a friend, a co-worker, a relative or a loved one," Pataki said.
"Among the thousands of innocent victims were more than 100 dedicated state workers -- committed public servants who performed their duties with honor. Three court officers. Three employees of the Department of Transportation. Forty employees from the Department of Tax and Finance. Seventy-four from the Port Authority," he continued.
Pataki called on the Legislature to pass new anti-terrorism measures. They include life-without-parole for those engaging in bio-terrorism as well as an end to the statute of limitations for terrorism. State Assemblyman Jim Hayes, a Republican from Williamsville, says he's optimistic the Legislature, which accomplished so little last year, is poised to do more in 2002.
"I do believe it's a different time. I did notice less partisanship in the chamber. I think that's an indication people are willing to work together on getting the budget in place on time," Hayes said. "If anything good comes from what happened, it's the bipartisan effort in the Legislature to get things done for people."
But Assemblyman Hoyt is not as optimistic that the Legislature will approve an on-time budget. He does acknowledge a "new spirit of cooperation" in Albany, but he doesn't know if that will translate into quick action.
This is an election year for the Legislature and Governor Pataki. State Comptroller H. Carl McCall is one of two Democrats hoping to challenge the Republican incumbent. He had to watch Wednesday as even Democrats rose out of their seats to applaud Pataki as he talked about the challenges of September 11th. Indeed, the governor is riding a tide of unprecedented popularity. But McCall told WBFO News that Pataki is long on rhetoric and short on action.
"Speeches are a lot of words. But what determines how people vote is what actions they see behind those words. What we got from the governor was a recitation of old promises -- a promise to revitalize the upstate economy, a promise to reform the education aid formula, a promise to reform the Rockefeller drug laws. These promises have all been made in the past, but the governor has not provided the leadership to fulfil the promises," McCall said.
Some of the new proposals Pataki made in his address include one that establishes a goal of preserving more than one million acres of open space over the next decade. He's also calling for passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow New Yorkers to bypass the Legislature by placing a proposed law directly before voters in a referendum.