The Empire (State) Strikes Back


Melissa Stagnaro

Did I imagine that? Or did New York’s new governor actually work references to a popular board game and Star Wars into his first State of the State address?

I’m not going to lie. After watching the live internet feed of the address, I’ve got that same trippy feeling right now as I did after watching The Doors movie for the first time. Not that it was a bad speech by any means. Just a definite departure from the norm.

And I guess that was the whole point. Andrew Cuomo made it pretty clear his goal is to give a major overhaul Albany as it’s never been overhauled before.

As any good 12 step program will tell you, the first step is admitting you have a problem. And that’s just what Cuomo did at the beginning of his address, outlining the dismal state of affairs in this once great state. Which he illustrated in a series of colorful Powerpoint slides.

It’s grim all right. Cuomo said unemployment is at a 26-year high. Taxes are driving businesses and residents out. New York spends more on education than any other state, but ranks 34th in terms of achievement. $1.6 billion is spent on economic development, but we’re 50th in terms of results. What are we first in? The amount we spend on Medicaid. He even went so far as to admit Upstate is in an economic crisis – with growth substantially lower than the national average.

“We need radical reform,” he said, not “rhetorical solutions.” And it won’t be easily. In fact, Cuomo said returning the Empire State to its former glory will require a “fundamental re-alignment.” He’s talking sweeping reforms to everything from education and economic development to Medicaid, plus reducing spending and reduce the overall size of the state government itself by some 20 percent.

He also wants to do something about taxes, and spread the word that New York is “open for business.”

“New York has no future as the ‘tax capital of America,” he explained.

Cuomo also talked about the budget process, comparing it to ships passing in the night. And not in the poetic way Longfellow, who he cribbed the line from, probably intended. No, this point in the Powerpoint had a decidedly “Battleship” feel. Especially when a plane he identified as special interest groups started firing on the ships in question. Prompting him to utter a line I hadn’t heard since the last family game night, and never, ever thought I’d hear from the lips of our state’s top leader.

That’s right: “You sunk my battleship.” Or maybe it was “budget ship,” I can’t really be sure. Because I was in too much of a state of shock.

I came to just in time to hear him say that today was one which would go down in history as the day the Empire State started striking back.

In case anyone missed the Star Wars reference, the corresponding Powerpoint slide depicted a mock New York license plate reading, of course, Empire State Strikes Back.

Yeah. I’m just going to process that for awhile.

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