Lifton: Productive Legislative Session Yields Real Reform, Real Results

July 6, 2005

This year’s legislative session was one of the most productive in decades. In addition to passing the first on-time budget in 21 years, several bipartisan reforms were signed into law, and the Assembly passed historic rules changes opening up state government and making it more accountable to the public.

The Legislature came together with the governor to hold open budget negotiations and pass an on-time spending plan that protects working families. The budget protects health care, improves our schools, makes it easier for our students to afford college, and will create more and better jobs by making it easier for businesses to thrive.

Improving New York’s budget process

The Assembly and Senate finally passed New York’s first on-time budget in two decades and adopted reforms to ensure we continue enacting budgets on time. The Legislature’s budget reform plan will be on the ballot this November so the voters of New York can decide the best budget process for our state. This plan has been endorsed by good government groups like NYPIRG, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters.

The Legislature’s bipartisan plan (A.1, A.2) would move the start of New York’s fiscal year from April 1 to May 1 to allow for better revenue and spending projections and bring greater accountability to the process. If no budget is passed by May 1, a contingency budget equivalent to that of the proceeding year would take effect. The plan would also require a two-year appropriation for education aid, helping schools stay a step ahead by finally giving them the information they need, when they need it.

Making the Assembly more open and responsive

To improve the openness and responsiveness of the People’s House, the Assembly majority worked across the aisle to implement several rules changes. The reforms include:

  • ending empty-seat voting;
  • prohibiting lobbyist access to the back of the Assembly Chamber;
  • instituting member sanctions for missed standing committee meetings;and
  • overhauling the Assembly’s Rules Committee.

The Assembly made government reform a top priority during this legislative session. We will continue our efforts to improve the Assembly’s operations as part of our overall efforts to reform the way the state operates.

Reforming the state’s voting process

I attended public conference committees between the Assembly and Senate which led to legislation to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The agreement allows New York to receive $200 million in federal funding to modernize its voting process.

A law I sponsored would create a statewide voter registration list by combining existing lists maintained by local election boards (Chapter 24 of 2005). Another would establish an administrative complaint procedure that a voter could use to ensure compliance with the HAVA reforms (Chapter 23 of 2005). I also continue to work with Assemblywoman Sandy Galef on a "Scan and Be Sure" voting machine campaign advocating that paper ballots and optical scanning machines along with an AutoMARK system for the disabled be selected by the counties.

Cracking down on procurement lobbying

Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent every year on state and local government contracts. Often, there is little or no oversight of behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts to obtain these contracts. This year, the Assembly, Senate and governor reached an agreement to limit the influence of lobbying on the awarding of state and local government contracts.

The agreed-upon reforms will change the procurement process by:

  • creating a restricted contact period in which all communication for negotiating contracts will be made by designated contact officers;
  • raising the threshold of allowable expenditures and compensation to require lobbyist registration from $2,000 to $5,000 annually; and
  • prohibiting payments to lobbyists contingent on the acceptance of a bid or contract by any governmental entity, or other procurement-related decisions.

Better oversight of public authorities

The Assembly passed legislation to improve oversight of the state’s public authorities and public benefit corporations. The measure also has the support of the state Senate and governor. Scandals and fiscal mismanagement continue to plague public authorities. Authorities need to be reined in and made accountable, and this legislation (A.9007) will do so by:

  • creating an inspector general with jurisdiction over authorities to make sure they are given the kind of oversight they’ve been lacking;
  • creating the Authority Budget Office to review authority budgets;
  • mandating training for authority board members, strengthening ethics and prohibiting authority executives from sitting on authority boards;
  • improving standards for independent audits of authority spending; and
  • establishing new rules to regulate the sale of authority property.

The Assembly was successful on many fronts during this year’s legislative session. Reforms were implemented and laws were passed to make New York a better place to live, work and do business. I look forward to a beautiful New York summer and continued work in making our state government better.