The 2005 legislative session was one of the most successful terms for the state Legislature in memory due, in large part, to a "call to arms" from you – the residents of New York. We all realize New York years ago headed down a road – 20 years of late state budgets, a tax system that alienated business owners, social programs that helped no one – that none of us wanted to travel, especially property owners.
In an unprecedented display of bipartisanship, the state Legislature worked together in 2005 to enact real, meaningful reform for New Yorkers. The reforms were long overdue.
First and foremost, state legislators passed an on-time budget for the first time in 21 years. By implementing budget process reforms, such as open negotiations that provided public transparency and creation of budget conference committees, the legislative and executive branches were able to accomplish this task. Most importantly, though, was a spirit of compromise and bipartisanship between the two houses and across party lines.
The Medicaid cap program passed during 2005 will save taxpayers and counties in New York $6.5 billion over the next five years. The program establishes a 3 percent cap on each county’s share to take effect by 2008. Though it is not the full solution to solving the Medicaid crisis, it is a big step in the right direction.
The Legislature passed several important bills including legislation I co-sponsored to combat the growing production and use of the illegal drug methamphetamine. Other bills that were passed and signed into law by the governor provide incentives to business owners and create jobs for our residents. My colleagues and I in the Assembly minority fought for, supported and eventually succeeded in passing legislation that provides every county in the state with an Empire Zone and another that institutes a single sales factor for manufacturers, thus reducing the amount of taxes businesses must pay.
Legislation I co-sponsored in 2005 that directly affects us in the Finger Lakes and Central New York region is the Direct Wine Shipment Law, which authorizes direct shipment of wine from New York’s vineyards and wineries to customers of legal drinking age within and outside the state. Each customer of the direct shipment option can buy up to 36 cases of wine annually. This bill assures our wine industry will become a greater catalyst for economic development and tourism, and will take our community into a new era.
Working with Sen. Mike Nozzolio, we continued collaborating to improve our communities and bring more jobs to the 129th Assembly District. As an example, the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva is an innovative approach to research and development of technologies related to agriculture, bio-based industries and food. I expect to see many jobs for residents of our communities through this project – five organizations are preparing to occupy space there already!
I joined Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Mike Nozzolio and Sen. Dale Volker in August to break ground on construction of the New York State Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. When completed, the center will be a destination for wine lovers from throughout New York and the country with its focus on wine education, samplings of New York wines and exhibitions by professional chefs using state wines in their culinary specialties.
This year also brought the successful acquisition of Sonnenberg Gardens through the joint efforts of Gov. Pataki, the New York state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and our state legislative delegation. Sonnenberg Gardens was acquired by the state to preserve and protect our community’s history and beautiful landscape, and add revenue to our region by making it a premier tourist attraction.
These are just a few of the many accomplishments that were delivered this year for our community and state in what has amounted to a very productive year. The Legislature has made some real progress toward reform and bringing business to the state. I worked hard for the Finger Lakes and Central New York regions, and I will continue doing so in the upcoming new year. I appreciate the support and encouragement I receive from our communities and residents, and I am hopeful 2006 will be New York’s best year ever.