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Queens prodigal son Cuomo returns for budget address

Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses the crowd at Queens College. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo returned to the borough of his birth Thursday morning to deliver his budget address again and many of his proposals drew applause from the audience.

Aside from one heckler claiming to represent the “99 percent,” the audience largely hung on the governor’s words as he touted statewide reforms and pushed his idea for a convention center at the Aqueduct Racino in South Ozone Park.

“Let’s build the largest convention center in the nation,” the governor said, his voice rising. “And let’s build it in Queens.”

The convention center would be a roughly $4.4 billion undertaking. The government would form a public, private partnership with Genting, the Malaysian company that built Resort World New York Racino in under a year and opened it in late October.

A recent statewide Siena College poll found the public’s response lukewarm, however, with only 38 percent in favor and 57 percent opposed to the plan.

But Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) loved the idea.

“I’m excited about it,” he said in an interview after the address. “It sends a huge message that Queens is a part of New York City.”

Cuomo also received plaudits for taking the education and governmental bureaucracy to task for not coming up with a method to effectively evaluate teachers.

The federal government gave New York state $700 million in “Race to the Top” funds on the condition that it come up with an evaluation system, but the impasse means the Obama administration wants its money back.

Cuomo said he would increase education funding on a state level by 4 percent, but only for school districts that come up with an evaluation method.

The governor also pledged to help more New Yorkers put food on the table.

In a move that puts him at odds with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Cuomo called for abolishing the current system, which requires fingerprinting of residents who want to receive food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Cuomo also mentioned building an energy pipeline from western and upstate New York to serve the growing needs downstate and called for collecting the DNA of every criminal who is convicted to assist in future investigations.

Cuomo did not cover his plans for pension reform, which have drawn criticism from high-profile union leaders.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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