At the time this weekly column is being written, the 2011 Legislative Session is officially set to conclude on Monday, June 20. Until then, there are exactly eight official "legislative" days remaining for the Assembly and Senate. That means Legislative Leaders like me, legislators, and Governor Cuomo have exactly eight days to reach final agreement on several items of unfinished business that New Yorkers are demanding - and deserve - to have resolved.
ALBANY CAN'T ALLOW IMPORTANT ISSUES TO FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS
Much like every year, there will probably be a mad dash to the finish line during the waning days of session, punctuated by some very late nights and last-minute deal making. This is nothing new: trying to forge agreement between 212 legislators and the Governor on complex public policies affecting the future of every New Yorker requires some give-and-take. Nevertheless, what we cannot allow to have happen is for important issues to fall through the cracks - or fall victim to a bad deal. That is unacceptable. New Yorkers have heard all the promises and now they want results: this year, this session.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: PROPERTY TAX CAP, ETHICS REFORM, REDISTRICTING REFORM, UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF AND JOB CREATION
Front and center on Albany's extensive to-do list are several pressing public policy issues including the property tax cap, ethics reform, redistricting reform, unfunded mandate relief and private sector job creation. While these are not the only matters needing resolution - many legislators have local issues that are legitimate and worthwhile - in my view, the priorities I listed are the most pressing and should command our time and attention. The following is a checklist of each issue and why it needs to be resolved over the next eight days - keep this list handy and follow the progress of the 2011 session as it draws to a close.
TO-DO: PROPERTY TAX CAP
New York has a property tax crisis - property tax rates in our state are nearly double the national average and nine of the ten highest property taxed counties (as a percentage of home value) are located across upstate. While there was an announcement of an agreement on the property tax cap two weeks ago, the legislation still has not been brought to the floor by the Assembly Majority for an up or down vote, as I have called for all along.
New York needs a property tax cap and will have a property tax cap if the Assembly Majority brings Governor Cuomo's property tax cap bill to the floor for an up or down vote. In addition to the Governor's bill, I have sponsored property tax cap legislation - the "New York State Property Taxpayers Protection Act," Assembly Bill A.3897-B - that would cap property taxes at two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The bill also includes unfunded mandate relief for County governments and local school districts.
TO-DO: ETHICS REFORM
As these words are being put to paper, there is talk in Albany of a deal on ethics reform. Unfortunately, that is all we have heard: talk. As deliberations on an ethics bill continue, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Albany has been awash in a culture of corruption and plagued by a series of embarrassing scandals. My goal is for New York State government to have the toughest ethics laws in the nation. This means no public pension for public officials convicted of a felony, no more "pay-to-play," and a genuine commitment to the principles of disclosure, transparency and accountability.
TO-DO: REDISTRICTING REFORM
In 2012, the boundaries for all 150 Assembly Districts and all 62 Senate Districts will be redrawn in accordance with results of the 2010 U.S. Census and our State Constitution. I have been out front - and vocal - in calling for creation of an independent Legislative Redistricting Commission to take partisan politics out of redistricting. An independent Legislative Redistricting Commission is the only way to ensure we have elections that are 100 percent fair and competitive so voters have a real choice. To make this happen, I am sponsoring a non-partisan redistricting initiative - Assembly Bill A.6482 - and have submitted my recommendations to Governor Cuomo to improve his "Redistricting Reform Act of 2011."
TO-DO: UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF
I have said it before and will keep saying it: there is a direct link between Albany's unfunded mandates - the costly, cumbersome, time-consuming rules, regulations and red tape state government imposes on local governments and school districts - and your property tax bill. Albany unfunded mandates drive up local costs and local property taxes. While passing a property tax cap is a down payment on the promise of tax relief, a tax cap alone does not go far enough. Truly delivering property tax relief means capping property taxes, putting the brakes on unfunded state mandates, and capping state spending. I will soon be introducing legislation that accomplishes all three of these goals - stay tuned!
TO-DO: PRIVATE SECTOR JOB CREATION
This column was prepared on Friday, June 3, just a few hours after news broke that the national jobless rate actually increased, climbing from 9 percent to 9.1 percent. That seemingly small change has big implications, as it translates into thousands more on the unemployment lines. Here in New York we also are struggling, as our economy lags behind that of other states, largely due to our high cost of doing business and having the worst State Business Tax Climate in America. We need a plan - an actual plan - that will help create more private sector jobs and put more New Yorkers back to work. Passing such a plan this session is just as important - if not more so - than any of the other aforementioned priorities remaining on Albany's to-do list.
2011 SESSION WILL END ON A HIGH NOTE - IF ALBANY BUCKLES DOWN AND FINISHES THE PEOPLE'S BUSINESS
While the 2011-12 State Budget - which was on time, closed a $10 billion deficit, reduced government spending and contained no significant tax hikes - was a good start, if Albany fails to achieve agreement on the unfinished business I outlined, this session will likely be remembered as the latest in a long line of missed opportunities. I am working hard to make sure this is not the case and that New Yorkers see real results on the property tax cap, ethics and redistricting reform, unfunded mandate relief and private sector job creation. One thing is for certain: with just eight legislative days remaining, there is not a moment to lose!
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.