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Cuomo cites marijuana legalization in speech laying out 2019 priorities

Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined his agenda for 2019 on Tuesday, putting the legalization of recreational marijuana and fixing New York City's crumbling subway system among his top priorities for the start of his third term.

In a 45-minute speech with 32 references to Franklin D. Roosevelt, a fellow Democrat and former New York governor, Cuomo touted liberal accomplishments while vowing to continue to fight Trump administration policies he says are detrimental to New Yorkers.

"My friends, let this agenda be New York's Declaration of Independence," Cuomo said during a speech delivered at the New York Bar Association in Manhattan. "We declare independence from this federal government's policies."

The 20-point agenda Cuomo touched on included joining neighbors Canada, Massachusetts and Vermont in legalizing recreational pot use by adults, a move he was against a year ago but has since embraced. There are currently 10 states where recreational marijuana is legal. 

"Let's legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all," Cuomo said, while challenging state lawmakers to act on his agenda within the first 100 days of the 2019 legislative session, another reference to FDR, who pushed through several major initiatives during his first term as president in 1933.

Earlier this year, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 63 percent of New York voters supported "allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use."

With a Democrat-controlled Senate to be seated along with the already Democrat-led Assembly when the Legislature reconvenes next month, Cuomo is optimistic about moving forward with what he referred to as his "justice agenda." Other top priorities include strengthening the state's gun control laws, protecting affordable health care, codifying reproductive rights and boosting the state's spending on infrastructure to $150 billion.

"Now is the time to make these changes," Cuomo said. "There are no more excuses."

The governor also will seek to restructure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), operator of the New York metro area's subways, buses and commuter trains. In order to raise much-needed revenues for the cash-strapped agency, Cuomo said he'll again push for congestion pricing that would place tolls on vehicles entering the busiest parts of Manhattan.

His speech brought vows of support from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both Democrats.

Cuomo, a potential candidate for president in 2020, won election to a third term last month, easily defeating Republican challenger Marc Molinaro. During his speech, the son of former Mario Cuomo — also a three-term New York governor — reinforced his criticism of President Trump's Republican policies, including the federal government's cap on state and local tax deductions. The governor has called the cap an "economic missile" aimed at New York and other high-tax states.

With Cuomo's third inauguration is set for January 1 on Ellis Island in New York Harbor, the governor's annual State of the State address, typically delivered before a joint session of the Legislature in early January, will be combined with his state budget presentation to lawmakers later next month.