In 2004, the Brennan Center for Justice – a respected, non-partisan public policy and law institute – issued a widely circulated report characterizing the New York State Legislature as the most dysfunctional in the nation. The report was highly critical – and rightly so – of Albany’s secrecy and polarizing politics that resulted in an abundance of legislative gridlock and little by way of substantive accomplishment.
Fast forward nearly five years, and little seems to have changed. The legislative majorities and special interests still try to block cooperation between rank-and-file members of both parties and, even more troubling, seek to drown out the people’s voice. In the face of such daunting challenges, the easy thing to do would be for legislators to throw their hands up, accept Albany’s status quo and simply go along to get along.
Of course, the easy thing is seldom the right thing. In fact, it almost never is.
Judging by recent developments, instead of giving up, some officials have renewed their commitment to meaningful reform and are echoing our Assembly Minority Conference’s call for real solutions. Case in point: over the past two weeks, Governor David Paterson made some important announcements reflecting what I believe are shifting attitudes in Albany, where change occurs at a glacial pace.
First, the Governor issued an Executive Order requiring, among other things, a fiscal impact study for any State Agency initiative that adds to the already crushing property tax burden on New Yorkers. I thought the Governor’s order was the right thing to do and publicly said so. What the Governor called for closely mirrors legislation that our Conference sponsored, previously Assembly Bill A.6792.
Next, the Governor publicly supported a cap on state spending. This also reflected a measure our Conference has consistently advanced stretching back to 2002 – currently, Assembly Bill A.5743 – which would limit the year-to-year increase in All Funds spending to the percentage increase in the rate of inflation for that period. Much as I did with his Executive Order, I offered our Conference’s bi-partisan cooperation with the Governor to make this spending cap a reality.
During our Legislative Leaders’ meeting this past Wednesday, I urged the Governor and my colleagues to stop the finger pointing and blame game so we could focus on finding real solutions to the serious challenges facing New Yorkers who are losing their jobs, homes and health care. Some in Albany called it a new approach. Here in Upstate, where people actually work together to solve problems, we call it common sense.
It would be naïve to assume that a few weeks of mere baby steps represent sweeping change in how Albany operates. The harsh reality is that our state still doesn’t have a real property tax cap. Its business and income taxes are among the highest in the nation. New York’s economic climate – especially in Upstate – remains uncompetitive, even hostile, to employers. The costs of purchasing a health care policy, earning a college degree, filling up their gas tank, or feeding their families are squeezing too many New Yorkers.
Quite simply, our challenges are manifest – and many.
However, small changes like those seen recently can lead to the big ones New Yorkers have been calling for year after year. Change can happen only if we make it happen. Get involved and raise your voice for real solutions, not partisan food-fights that do nothing to improve you or your family’s quality of life.
Yes, Albany still has many miles to go before we can say real reform has arrived and taxpayers have the less costly, more responsive state government they deserve. Nevertheless, steps in the right direction, even the smallest of ones, are where all promising journeys begin.
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.