After a successful 2005 legislative session, my colleagues and I are looking forward to the upcoming session and continuing the meaningful work accomplished this year. There are a number of issues I will focus on in 2006 to bring about the changes necessary for a better New York.
Reforming the defunct and burdensome property tax system will be a top legislative priority. Because of problems with our current method of taxation, I have been looking to find more equitable methods to finance our public school system. The traditional way of levying a property tax is considered unfair by many residents, and the Assembly Minority Commission on Alternatives to School Property Taxes is researching options to how the state funds its schools. The one thing we are sure of is that ever-rising property taxes are destroying New Yorkís economy and burdening our property tax payers.
We must also better protect employees across the state, so we are working on a plan to reform the workersí compensation system. This no-fault wage replacement and health care benefit system serves workers injured on the job. An injured workerís employer is responsible to cover the costs of workersí compensation benefits. There are people who abuse the system and scam insurance money from their employers. Frivolous claims cost business owners their hard-earned money and reduce productivity. To keep New York competitive in the global marketplace, we must ensure all business owners receive the maximum benefits from their resources.
While New York continues to enjoy the finest health care system in the nation, we are faced with an indisputable fact that the costs continue to rise sharply each year, thus placing greater financial pressures on the state and local governments, private employers and consumers. We must find answers to some pressing questions: Can New York state make its health care system more efficient, responsive and affordable by investing in information technology while also safeguarding patientsí privacy? Can we encourage greater utilization of primary care in community-based settings and improve the delivery of such care through technology? Iím sure we can find solutions by looking to strategies and initiatives used elsewhere in the nation.
To save taxpayer dollars, we must evaluate the current Medicaid system which, because of its very nature, allows fraud to occur. Fraud and abuse affect everyone Ė recipients, taxpayers who fund Medicaid and many of the providers who dispense quality care. Each dollar lost to fraud is one less dollar available for someone who really needs the care. We made some progress last year by instituting a soft cap on Medicaid expenses to counties, but there is still much more work to be done.
Since first taking office in 2000, I have for years pushed for an on-time state budget. Through a lot of hard work, we achieved that goal in 2005. However, we need to continue reforming the budget process by making it more transparent and allowing everyone to have access to all of the necessary information. Now, we must ensure that we not only pass a second on-time budget, but that the budget is on-time each and every year.
New York has seen a decrease over the last decade in violent crime. Although, we are safer now than we were 10 years ago, we still have work to do. Civil confinement, a process that would help protect our women and children from heinous sexual predators must be passed this year. Additionally, legislation that would stiffen penalties for illegal gun trafficking is also a top priority of mine in 2006.
On a local note, I have already begun to work with state Sen. Michael Nozzolio on establishment of a veteransí cemetery at Sampson Naval Base, which served as a naval training station during World War II and, later, as an Air Force facility. If we are successful, it would be the first state veteransí cemetery in New York. The cemetery proposal has the support of organizations and groups such as the New York State Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Korean veterans, state Council of Veterans Organizations and the Sampson WW-2 Navy Veterans. Creation of a veteransí cemetery would be a great way to honor military personnel who served our country. Veterans have given our country so much, and we should honor all of their sacrifices.
The Finger Lakes region is a vital part of New Yorkís economy, and I will continue to help secure all of the funding necessary to keep our businesses and communities thriving. There are many farms in our area, so Iíll do everything possible to ensure the state supports our farmers and helps boost their production. Weíve seen tremendous growth in the wine industry and Iíll continue to work on behalf of our vineyards and wineries.
Iím excited about what we can accomplish next year by working together in the Assembly during the upcoming legislative session. It is a time to start anew while continuing to work on issues affecting all New Yorkers. I promise to do my best to make your lives rewarding, happy and safe. Iím hopeful that 2006 will be even more productive than 2005.