EDITORIAL: What’s really #1

AS SPEECHES GO it was a speech. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of rising to that level. If you’ve ever had to deliver a public address and weren’t slightly terrified you’re either a professional performer or a politician. Or both. That’s where the text of a speech matters.

What a speaker has to say, regardless of who wrote the words, can save a mediocre delivery. So maybe the fact that I heard only a few brief clips of Governor Kathy Hochul’s State of the State speech January 10 means I shouldn’t judge her performance by the contents of her address. But that’s never stopped me before.

The typescript of the speech covers more than 260 pages not including the pages of online reference sources. There are 13 issues the governor considers worth naming in her speech and the order in which the topics appear on the list suggests the top four or five tasks are the most urgent to address.

Number 1 is affordable housing units—800,000 of them. The need is felt all over this county and the nation.

Number 2 on the governor’s list is “Fixing the Continuum of Care for Mental Health” in terms of coverage for children as well as adults. The need is clear and the state could make a big difference.

Number 3 is “safety” and “gun safety.” It’s a good place to pause this tour of the governor’s wish list and consider the purposes of the State of the State speech.

Gov. Hochul, a Democrat, was elected last November in a very close race against Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican whose political campaign emphasized how dangerous a place New York had become. The data were less clear on the gun problem, but now she knows she has to focus on this issue early in her term or risk losing her legislative support in the next mid-term election and jeopardize her chance to run for reelection or a higher office.

The other reason the State of the State messages are so important is because members of the state Senate and Assembly will soon begin their work on the annual state budget. The speech tells lawmakers what the governor wants.

The speech is also a shout-out to lobbyists and interest groups that the governor has heard their issue and might address it if the money doesn’t run out first. Maybe that’s why the last item on Gov. Hochul’s list this year at Number 13 reads in part, “Improving State Government: The Customer Experience.”

We skipped over much of the list, and there might yet be some new items or some might be put aside for next year’s speech. But not Number 5. It’s called “… Safeguarding Our Climate and Environmental Future…”

This item comes with an incentive program called “Cap and Invest.” Local climate change activists are hopeful but wary that the program will fund the changes needed to prepare for an even warmer planet. Gov. Hochul’s Number 5 begins this item with a “Foreword” that lists the steps she has taken to reduce the effects of climate change. She gets it. But the public might rightfully be confused where her priorities lie and that could be disastrous.

It’s not that climate change deserves a higher ranking. Climate change affects everything each of us does. Every activity has a climate component. The sooner we recognize that, the better.

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