Gov. Kathy Hochul will propose a limit of two four-year terms on New York State governors in her first State of the State address on Wednesday — a move that could allow Ms. Hochul to distance herself from her scandal-marred predecessor, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was a powerful figure who ruled New York State for more than ten years.
The proposal, a milestone that would require a constitutional amendment, would apply only to statewide elected officials — including the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and the comptroller, according to state officials.
It would need to be approved by the State Legislature and the voters. It could significantly reduce the power of New York’s highest offices, where previous governors served for up 14 years. New York is among the dozen states that do not have term limits for their statewide offices.
Ms. Hochul’s move comes as she runs for a full term and could help her position herself as an advocate for government reform.
“I want people to believe in their government again,” Ms. Hochul said in a statement.
Her proposal would also prohibit state elected officials from receiving any outside income, except for teaching income. A memoir on the pandemic was written by Mr. Cuomo, which earned him $5.1 million. However, the state ethics board ordered him to forfeit the money.
Past governors supported term limits, even if they were in name only. Former Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican who once pledged not to serve more than two terms, ended up running for and winning a second term. Although Mr. Cuomo stated he supported term limits but suggested they also be imposed upon legislators. This was because it was unlikely that incumbents would limit their term limits.
John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, applauded Ms. Hochul’s move, but said term limits should also apply to the Legislature.
“Term limits have resulted in a far more racially, culturally and sexually diverse New York City Council and contributed to a dynamism and urgency in city government that is sorely needed in Albany,” he said.
Ms. Hochul disagreed, saying in a statement, “The Legislature is most effective with institutional knowledge and should not be subject to term limits.”
Officials stated that her proposal would apply for elected terms. If she wins in November, and the amendment passes, she could run again for office in four years.
Carl E. Heastie, the Democratic Assembly speaker, expressed reservations about term limits, saying that he believed voters should decide an elected official’s fate, but adding that he would speak to fellow lawmakers about the proposal.
Ms. Hochul, who has spent four months focusing on the pandemic, will be using her Wednesday address, which is the most important speech of the politician’s career, to outline her agenda. At stake are the recovery of a state still contending with the pandemic’s economic fallout and Ms. Hochul’s own political fortunes ahead of a June primary.
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat from Buffalo who ascended from lieutenant governor after Mr. Cuomo’s sudden resignation in August, has yet to take firm positions on a number of ideological wedge issues in the state, including potential revisions to bail laws.
The annual speech will mark the first time that Ms. Hochul, who did not play a prominent role as Mr. Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, will define her policy priorities before a State Legislature still deciphering her ideologically on a range of issues.
Shortly after, Ms. Hochul will have to assemble a $200 billion state budget while navigating a contested primary that might push her to the left on some issues — a move that could make her vulnerable to attacks from Republicans during the general election.
It remains to be seen if Ms. Hochul will use her influence as governor in order to steer the political discourse toward the center at the State Capitol. Since regaining control three years ago, Democrats have enacted a variety of left-leaning policy since then.
“So much of her attention has properly been focused on Covid management that where she stands on some broad, more ideological questions is still unknown,” said Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and deputy majority leader in the upper chamber.
The most important issue likely to be before the Legislature is the 2019 bail reform law. This law abolished cash bail, except for certain felonies. After Republicans used the law as a cudgel in November to unseat some Democrats, Democrats are now under greater pressure to repeal parts of it. They argued that the law had resulted in the release of dangerous criminals.
Ms. Hochul evaded questions about her stance and said that she would discuss the issue privately to legislative leaders. If she pursues changes, she’ll have an ally who could provide political cover in Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York City, a moderate Democrat and former police captain who supports amending the law.
Some lawmakers claimed that there was not enough support among Democratic lawmakers to change the law, even though some moderate legislators, particularly those from Long Island’s competitive districts, have demanded revisions.
State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who lost his bid for district attorney of Nassau County last month after his Republican opponent attacked him relentlessly on the issue, said he supported giving judges more discretion in setting bail, though he acknowledged, “There’s no doubt it’s an uphill challenge to change the law.”
Time and again, Ms. Hochul has deftly declined to stake out positions on a number of politically charged issues that are considered priorities of the party’s left wing and could give Republicans ammunition against her.
She has avoided weighing in on housing legislation known as “good cause eviction” that has gained significant traction and would give tenants a right to renew their leases in most cases and significantly limit how much landlords can increase rents each year.
The bill is frequently used by the left to measure progressive credentials. It is opposed by the industry and backed Jumaane Wilkins, the New York City public advocate. Williams is running against Ms. Hochul during the gubernatorial primary.
Ms. Hochul said in November that she was “not going to be telegraphing my positions early on because otherwise it’s not a collaborative process.”
When asked about the New York Health Act last month, she gave a similar, non-committal response. This would create universal single payer health coverage in New York. It would also dramatically alter the health care sector. The bill faces significant hurdles, including opposition by public sector unions that Ms. Hochul tries to court, but it has enough Democratic sponsors to pass both houses.
Ms. Hochul, a former congresswoman who represented a conservative-leaning district, was expected to come under significant pressure to back left-wing initiatives to remain competitive in the Democratic primary, which tends to attract the party’s most liberal voters.
That pressure eased after Letitia James, her most serious challenger, pulled out of the race.
Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, said Ms. James’s decision “was an absolute gift to Kathy Hochul.”
“I don’t think Kathy will think she has to move so far to her left that it puts her at any specific risks in the general election, where she has to move toward the center,” said Ms. Krueger, who endorsed Ms. Hochul.
Yet Ms. Hochul has also sought common ground with the party’s left flank on some issues. On a statewide listening tour that Senator Jabari Brsport held last month, he joined Ms. Hochul, a Brooklyn-based democratic socialist, to gain support for legislation to establish universal child care in New York.
Ms. Hochul’s stance on Mr. Brisport’s proposal, which he said would provide free child care for children under 3 at a cost of about $5 billion a year, remains unclear, but she has said that child care would be “a major priority.”
“I think it says a lot that she’s willing to build really good bridges between the executive branch and the legislative branch and work in concert together,” Mr. Brisport said.
Ms. Hochul was unambiguous on some policy issues.
She has ruled out raising taxes on the wealthy, saying she did not want to drive away high-income individuals, whose personal income tax contributions fund a significant portion of the state’s budget.
New York City’s top earners now pay the highest combined local tax rate in the nation after the Legislature overcame longtime opposition from Mr. Cuomo in April to raise taxes on the rich.
Her opposition to higher taxes comes at a time when state coffers are flush after a windfall in federal funding and higher-than-expected tax revenues that helped close the once-daunting $15 Billion budget gap caused by the pandemic. Now, state officials anticipate balanced budgets through fiscal 2025, putting additional pressure on Ms. Hochul by special interest groups offering suggestions for how to spend the extra cash.
Ms. Hochul is able to quell questions about her stances on some issues partially by strengthening the relationship she has with lawmakers. They praise her collaborative style of governance, which is a marked improvement on Mr. Cuomo’s.
Despite her attempts to distance herself from Mr. Cuomo’s views, Ms. Hochul is open to accepting modified versions of the plans he championed. These include infrastructure projects like the renovation of Pennsylvania Station or a complete overhaul of Kennedy International Airport.
Officials from the state said that Ms. Hochul would concentrate her speech on economic recovery, strengthening the health care workforce, and affordable housing.
She has already hinted that she will pursue other priorities, including investments in green energy projects as well as a $4 billion environmental bond.
Her decision to give her speech in the Assembly chamber of the State Capitol will mark a return to a long-standing tradition in Albany. Mr. Cuomo had moved the annual addresses to a larger center for conventions, which was seen as a slight by some lawmakers.
Source: NY Times