[as prepared for delivery]
Thank you for the opportunity to join you today. And, I want to thank Bill Rudin, who is a giant to me, both literally and figuratively. Thank you, Bill, for your stewardship of this impactful organization.
I am happy to see that we are joined by some of my Assembly Majority colleagues.
Let me start by saying what a tremendous honor it is to lead the people's house of the New York State Legislature. Today, I would like to talk to you about the vision that the Assembly Majority has for New York. Now, I'm not one for long speeches so I would like to thank my friends at ABNY for inviting me to give what I am pretty sure is going to be the longest speech of my life
I think to understand who I am as a legislator you first have to know a little bit about where I come from. I was born and raised right here in the City of New York, in the Bronx. Anyone who knows me will tell you there isn't any place in the world I would rather call home. I am a New Yorker to the bone, with just one small exception. I am a Cowboys fan. So, my condolences to all you Giants fans in the room.
I graduated from SUNY Stony Brook where I earned a Bachelors degree in applied math and statistics. Even as a student, I believed I had a role to play in improving the quality of life of those around me. I ran for student government and believe me, I took my fair share of losses but it was important to me that I tried to make the student experience a better one.
I come from a tight knit family and my parents both worked very hard to provide a good life for me and my sisters. I saw how much they struggled to provide for us and I know that this is the same struggle taking place in homes all over this city. I was fortunate to have parents who taught me the importance of family. Later in their lives when they both became ill, despite being the youngest I assumed responsibility for the household.
These were some of the most difficult times in my life but I cared for them, made sure the bills were paid and that there was food on the table, just as millions of other New Yorkers do every day.
Fifteen years ago when I first joined the State Assembly I wanted more than anything to make a difference in my community. Now, as speaker, I believe that this is a new chapter in my personal commitment and a new opportunity for all of us to build on the progress we have fought so hard to deliver for the families across the state.
My transition came right at the beginning of budget negotiations and I was proud to join my Assembly Majority colleagues in taking a firm stand to put the needs of our families first. We believe that until we address the challenges facing our families at home, we cannot achieve a safer, healthier, more prosperous New York.
For many years, we have advocated for public policies and provided support for programs that would tackle one of our state's biggest obstacles to social and economic progress - poverty. From Buffalo to the Bronx, families are stuck in the revolving door of inadequate wages, barriers to educational and professional advancement, a lack of safe, affordable housing, and a host of other challenges.
How much proof do we need that when children are hungry, they don't learn? When parents don't have child care, they cannot work. When wages don't keep up with the cost of living, families lose their homes.
The Assembly Majority fights for things like a stronger minimum wage, affordable housing and for increased investment in public education because we have all the evidence anyone could need that struggle walks hand in hand with inaction.
These are values we will never compromise and which I can assure you, are the bedrock of our agenda in the coming year.
We will fight for a higher minimum wage.
We will put forward a comprehensive anti-poverty agenda that lifts up our citizens and allows them to prosper.
We will fight for families by supporting education and policies like equal pay for equal work and paid family leave.
We will work to create a mass transit system that is second to none.
In short, we in the Assembly will do what it takes to move this city and this state into better, brighter direction for all New Yorkers and that mission starts with making sure people earn a decent wage.
Before becoming speaker I chaired the Assembly's Labor Committee. In 2013, my first year as chair we made tremendous progress in advancing legislation to benefit workers in New York. We enacted increases to unemployment benefits and workers' compensation benefits, the first in many years.
We also enacted a graduated increase to the minimum wage, the last phase of which is scheduled to occur this year on December 31st, bringing the wage floor to $9 an hour.
When it comes to putting families first if there is one thing the Assembly Majority has gone to the mat for, it's increasing minimum wage. I won't ask you to raise your hand if you believe anyone can live on $8.75 an hour in this city. What I will say is the Assembly Majority has spent decades leading the fight for real wages that workers can live on without needing government assistance.
New York has a reputation for being a national leader. Unfortunately, this is one area where we are lagging. Four of our neighboring states here in the Northeast have done better for their workers. As I said before, I have always been a numbers guy.
Raising the minimum wage will not plunge our city or the state into a downward spiral of job losses and shuttered businesses. If you don't believe me, take a look around and see what insufficient wages are costing us: millions of dollars each year to prevent homelessness, increased reliance on food pantries as well as nutritional and other government subsidies.
The proof is clear.
The Assembly Majority has always led the way on this issue, and we passed a bill in the 2015 session that would have increased the minimum wage statewide, for all workers. We are now thankful to be joined by the governor in fighting for $15 an hour in the upcoming session.
We also need to make sure our citizens have the tools they need to be successful and that begins with education.
In the enacted budget, we fought to secure one of the highest increases in school aid that our state has ever seen: $1.4 billion. On top of that we invested $370 million in pre-kindergarten programs and another $262 million in non-public schools.
While we are very proud of these victories, we know that our schools, and schools across the state, are facing some truly difficult times. That is why we added a new, $75 million investment for struggling schools. Despite steady gains since the recession, we are still behind the mark on funding public education. Repaying our debt to our children remains one of the Assembly's highest priorities going into the 2016 session.
Yesterday, Mayor De Blasio announced a program to advance our schools and give all our children access to critical learning services. We in the Assembly stand ready to help the mayor achieve these goals in the coming session.
Another highlight of the 2015 budget was our commitment of $45 million to fund our higher education "Road to Success" initiative. This multi-layered investment will support our community colleges, and broaden and ensure access to opportunity programs at the City and State University systems for thousands of students who otherwise had no bridge to higher education.
I was a counselor at SUNY and I witnessed firsthand what opportunity programs mean to students who struggled to make their way through school. As a proud graduate of both SUNY and CUNY, like many of my Assembly colleagues, ensuring support for these exemplary institutions will always be a priority for us. Helping students of all ages on the path to achieving a college education is one of the best investments that we can make.
My goal is to significantly increase our investment in these programs to give even more students access to the support they need to succeed. I look forward to working on the implementation of this initiative with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken, James is here with us this morning.
My district is located in one of the poorest counties in the entire state and I know that there are families who simply cannot afford the cost of rent, meals and transportation. Their children are walking into classrooms each day carrying the weight of their household's burdens with them and that is one of the biggest obstacles to their success.
In order to help our students, our workers and our families we need to start by ensuring that there is a safe and affordable place to call home.
The New York City Housing Authority has an overwhelming responsibility - its 328 housing developments across the city provide housing for over 400,000 residents. In my district alone, there are five developments with more than 4,000 units.
With record breaking housing prices taking their toll on the already scarce affordable housing stock, we have a duty to ensure the preservation and safety of these communities. The Assembly Majority secured $100 million in this year's budget for quality of life improvements at housing projects across the city, and we will continue to make investment in NYCHA capital funding a priority in the upcoming budget negotiations.
NYCHA Chairwoman Shola Olatoye is here with us this morning and I look forward to working with her to make sure NYCHA residents have safe and comfortable homes.
We all know that the city is growing at an exponential rate and it is a priority for the conference that new developments provide housing options for New Yorkers of all income levels. In this past session we fought for the extension of rent control laws so that residents could remain in their homes and communities.
We also extended and strengthened the state's affordable housing development program to encourage new construction in the City and across the state while ensuring fair wages for the laborers employed on these projects. I have said many times that I believe governing is about the art of compromise and believe me, I put that philosophy to the test this year when it came to extending the tax break for affordable housing.
I am hopeful that organized labor and the developers can reach an agreement on the future of project labor standards before the end of the year.
Having lived my entire life in the Bronx, I've learned more than a few lessons. One of them is that for the 13 million people who call these five boroughs and the surrounding counties home - public transportation is life. Period.
When you walk to your nearest subway station and see one of those dreaded "service advisory" signs telling you there's track work being done on your route it's just enough to ruin your day… but we understand why these improvements are necessary.
This system is over 100 years old and was not built to move as many as 2.4 billion people every year. The Assembly Majority conference has always advocated for adequate and sustained funding for the MTA because it is the lifeline of this City. Its safe and reliable operation affects more than just commuters. It moves business, students, and it is an invaluable asset in our environmental conservation agenda.
It also supports a booming tourism industry that generates $61 billion in economic activity at our local businesses and more than 359,000 tourism-related jobs. Funding our city's transportation network is not a cost. It is an investment.
As a matter of statewide investment, the MTA Capital Plans generate hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity beyond the Metro area: buses and para-transit vehicles manufactured in Central NY, gaskets and valves supplied by the State's Capital Region and subway car components from Western NY.
In fact, during my tour across upstate New York, I learned firsthand that there are suppliers for the MTA spread across the entire state. The MTA's capital spending is crucial not just to commuters, but to these businesses and their workers as well.
Right now, the MTA is facing a significant deficit in funding for its proposed 5-year, $27 billion Capital Plan. This plan would continue the commendable progress the MTA has made in improving and expanding access to transportation services across the City. It would also guarantee funding for important infrastructure maintenance. I want to recognize MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast who is with us.
While financing details are not yet clear, come January, The Assembly Majority intends to work with the governor and our partners in City government to ensure that the MTA has an adequate and sustainable foundation to keep this city moving safely and efficiently.
In pushing for policies and programs that put the needs of families first, naturally we are always advocating for reforms that empower New York's women. We have been passing legislation to bring true pay equity reform for decades and this year, we also took action on paid family leave and a number of other priority items affecting women's rights.
A major obstacle for workers on the path to better education and better salaries is inadequate child care. The issue affects households, businesses and just about every other part of our state and local economies.
Working parents have to be supported - period. In the enacted budget we secured funding for child care programs at CUNY and SUNY schools and we continue to advocate for increases to state-funded child care subsidies in the annual budget negotiations. To the Assembly, this is simply about supporting families so they can in turn, support our state.
We will continue our fight for pay equity, paid family leave and other policies that will empower women and strengthen our families.
One of the things I was most looking forward to as speaker is getting to know New York State. Some pundits believe we city people think anything north of Westchester County might as well be Canada.
Having recently finished my first upstate and suburban tour, I was very thankful for the opportunity to get to know my Majority colleagues and the districts they serve.
I can honestly say that in visiting Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, the Capital Region, Binghamton, the Hudson Valley, Long Island and rural communities throughout the state, I am more convinced than ever that no matter what part of the state we come from, we all want the same basic things: affordable housing, good jobs, access to quality education and healthcare for our families and the ability to achieve a better life.
None of the things I have talked about today would be possible without a thriving business community. Throughout my career in the Assembly, I have worked hard to grow businesses in my home district and I know they are part of the backbone of our neighborhoods.
New York is the greatest city on earth in large part because we have great companies that share in our vision for a better future.
We in the Assembly are keenly aware of this, and we'll continue to look for ways to make New York a good place to do business. Whether it is providing tax credits for businesses in lower Manhattan that continue to face challenges from the devastation of 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, or working with our partners in government to provide targeted investments, the Assembly's doors are always open.
As Speaker, I want to work with our partners in the business community, hear their ideas on ways to improve our business climate and work collaboratively to grow our economy so that we all grow and thrive TOGETHER.
The Assembly Majority believes that every New Yorker, regardless of where they come from, should have a fair chance at a safe, quality life for themselves and their loved ones. We believe in a sound, basic education for EVERY child. We believe in supporting the businesses that support our communities and our families.
We believe that NO ONE who works full-time, regardless of their job title, should have to rely on government assistance to put food on their table or keep the roof over their heads. We believe in access to higher education for EVERY student. We believe in preserving access to high quality health care for EVERY individual without discrimination.
We are leaders in social justice, in economic justice, and no matter how fierce the opposition, that will always be our goal.
As Speaker, I assure you that we will continue to uphold these values in all that we do, on behalf of every New Yorker and every community across the state.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to share our vision and our hope for a better New York.