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Guv presents budget in boro

Security moves into place alongside the unidentified heckler. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

After his Albany address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo presented his budget plan for a second time in Flushing last Thursday morning, which had many Queens officials in the audience nodding their heads in agreement.

Aside from a Queens College professor 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.”

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 $4.4 billion plan.

But U.S. 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.”

Westerns Queens politicians, like City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), were happy to hear Cuomo’s plans for an energy highway connecting the sites in upstate and western New York, where power is generated to areas downstate like New York City, where demand is heavy.

Astoria currently bears a large burden in supplying the city with power. It is home to six power plants, in addition to Vallone’s office.

“It should have been done a long time ago, but we finally have a governor who has the guts to do it,” said Vallone. “My district provides more than 80 percent of the power for the entire city.”

Cuomo also delved into crime during his speech, which drew the attention of District Attorney Richard Brown.

The governor called for DNA information to be taken from anyone who is convicted of a crime, no matter what the crime. Currently DNA information is only taken from about 50 percent of convicted criminals. The governor’s statements echoed those of Brown, who has long called for the blanket DNA sampling.

“DNA is one of the most powerful tools ever developed to solve and prevent crimes, to exonerate the innocent and to bring justice to victims of crime,” Brown said in response to the speech. “It is the fingerprint of the 21st century, yet we are not making full use of this technology.”

At a news conference immediately following the presentation, Cuomo discussed the Cross Bay Bridge toll, saying he would like to reduce the costs for residents of the Rockaways, who use the bridge to travel to work. He has also previously said he would provide refunds to residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel, effectively ending the tolls.

This was another win for Meeks.

“I think that bridge has more than paid for itself,” he said, hoping that it would be abolished altogether. “I’ll be working with the governor.”

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.

If that happens, it will nearly negate the $800 million increase in education funding = the governor has planned.

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

He 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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