Last week's column, "2011: The Year In Review, Part I," outlined some of the major successes from the recent Session from the months of January through June. These included the swearing-in of a new Governor, an on-time state budget and my ongoing efforts to save taxpayer dollars. Part II highlights July through December. Traditionally, these are months of the year when legislators spend time in their districts, but legislative issues still arise and need to be debated. It is never quiet in Albany!
JULY: JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!
Our focus needs to be on fixing the economy and creating jobs. After Session concluded, I said the immediate priority was constructing a true economic development plan to create jobs and put over 700,000 unemployed New Yorkers back to work. I sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to rescind the New York State Department of Labor's recent Unemployment Insurance (UI) Interest Assessment Surcharge imposed on all businesses and refund any businesses that have paid this assessment to date. I suggested using a portion of the nearly $800 million in surplus first quarter tax receipts from the current fiscal year to cover the $95 million interest payment of the federal loans, instead of nickel-and-diming businesses with another costly assessment.
In addition, to help create jobs, I am continuing my push for a "People's Convention to Reform New York," which will help enact long overdue reforms that our state government still needs. In July, an essay I wrote back in the wintertime was published in the Albany Government Law Review titled "New York's Last, Best Hope for Real Reform: The Case for Convening a State Constitutional Convention." For more information on my support for a non-partisan, grassroots "People's Convention" or to sign our online petition, go to www.reformny.org.
AUGUST: KEEPING FIREARM COMPANIES - AND THOUSANDS OF PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS - IN NEW YORK STATE
In August - as in the entire year - my focus was still on jobs, jobs, jobs. I joined Tom King, President of the New York Rifle and Pistol Association in calling for Governor Cuomo's Regional Economic Development Councils to make the retention of firearm companies such as Remington Arms; Just Right Carbines; Kahr Arms; Kimber Manufacturing; Turnbull Restoration and Dan Wesson Firearms a top economic development priority for the Empire State. I also said that the state Legislature needed to do its part and stop considering costly government mandates, such as micro-stamping, that do little to keep New Yorkers safe, yet drive up the cost of owning a firearm and create a climate where companies that produce them no longer feel welcome.
SEPTEMBER: HURRICANE IRENE AND TROPICAL STROM LEE DEVASTATE MANY UPSTATE COMMUNITIES
Sadly, September began with heartbreak in the form of cleanup and recovery from the destructive record flooding of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The storms impaired local governments, devastated businesses and damaged regional roadways, bridges and other critical infrastructure that are the lifeline for citizens, commerce and communities across New York. About a week later, the Binghamton area of the Southern Tier was pounded by record rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
To help affected communities repair, rebuild and recover, I asked Governor Cuomo to redirect $50 million of the $200 million in state economic development funding currently targeted for the administration's Regional Council Initiative. While many repairs have been made, there are people still struggling to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their lives due to the storms.
OCTOBER: DMV INSTITUTES A BAD POLICY - AND THEN BACKTRACKS AFTER MY CRITICISM
Heading into October, the DMV instituted a new policy allowing motorists to "self certify" that they meet the vision requirement necessary to drive. I wrote to the Governor to request his immediate involvement in reversing this ill-advised policy change that would have put motorists' lives at risk and undone decades of progress made toward New York's roadways ranking among the safest in our nation. Due to the overwhelming outcry of disapproval, the DMV reversed its decision to eliminate the eye test. Thank goodness!
NOVEMBER: GOVERNOR RELEASES MID-YEAR UPDATE TO FINANCIAL PLAN
On November 14, Governor Cuomo released his mid-year update to the financial plan, about two weeks late. It estimated a current fiscal year deficit of $350 million and projected the next fiscal year's deficit to be $3 to $3.5 billion. Our Assembly Minority Conference projected a current fiscal year deficit of $424 million and an out-year budget deficit of $3.46 billion.
What we need to close that looming deficit, prevent future deficits and protect taxpayers is a state spending cap. I introduced legislation - Assembly Bill A.5370 - that would enact a state spending cap based on changes in the Consumer Price Index, or CPI (an index measuring changes in the price level of consumer goods and services purchased by households) and make sure that the cap was actually followed. My bill would cap the growth of state operating funds spending to no more than the average rate of inflation of the three previous calendar years. A spending cap would put the brakes on Albany's spending binges, force the State Legislature to set priorities and require state government to start living within its means.
DECEMBER: SPECIAL SESSION DID NOT ADDRESS ALBANY'S SPENDING PROBLEM, HIKED TAXES IN NEW YORK STATE
Unfortunately, Albany was "business as usual" during an extraordinary session called for the first week of December. The Albany tax code deal was negotiated in secret behind closed doors and did not include a state spending cap or a Medicaid spending cap, vehicles to reduce Albany's out of control spending.
Our Assembly Minority Conference offered up two amendments - Assembly Bill A.5370 and Assembly Bill A.8453. Our state spending cap amendment (A.5370) would have capped year-to-year increases in state spending to the average rate of inflation of the three previous calendar years. The Medicaid spending cap amendment (A.8453) would have frozen the municipal share of local Medicaid costs at the current level, an important step toward reducing Medicaid costs and delivering unfunded mandate relief for localities. Both amendments were defeated by the Assembly Majority by votes of 88 to 51 (state spending cap) and 74 to 63 (Medicaid cap).
I said publicly that we should be doing more to protect taxpayers by capping local Medicaid costs, enacting a state spending cap and doing this through an open, public process where these issues are debated and discussed in the light of day. I believe that tax hikes have NEVER been the answer for creating more private sector jobs and long-term prosperity for New Yorkers, and I still believe that today. I will continue to bring these issues to the Assembly floor during the 235th Legislative Session beginning in January and will proudly keep fighting and standing up for taxpayers across the state.
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.