As the 2009 Legislative Session heads into the final homestretch, to say there are high hopes – and high drama – surrounding its remaining days would qualify as a serious understatement. Set against the backdrop of a ballooning State Budget deficit projected into the billions, along with a series of unresolved high profile issues, such as the need to deliver property tax relief and reduce energy costs for consumers and businesses, many are still holding out hope for a session that produces real results for a state facing real challenges.
Of course, the usual suspects – and many of the same old roadblocks – continue trying to squelch reform in favor of business as usual at the State Capitol. Whether it is entrenched special interests wedded to a dysfunctional status quo, or politicians more interested in partisan finger pointing than getting something of substance accomplished, achieving real progress in our state government is no easy climb, especially during the waning days of session.
Our Assembly Minority Conference and I are continuing to work hard to ensure session ends on a high note and yields tangible results for taxpayers and small businesses drowning in a sea of high property taxes and energy costs, along with an economy still mired in recession. With only nine session days left, there is much to do – and little margin for error.
This is what I, again, stressed in my meeting last Wednesday with Governor David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos. I urged my colleagues to support our Conference’s call to address issues like the need for an economic development strategy that emphasizes the creation of private sector jobs, establishing a statewide energy plan that lowers energy prices, honoring existing Empire Zone (EZ) contracts, and strengthening Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs). As you may recall from a previous column, I specified each of these items in a letter to my colleagues back on May 19.
As the only Legislative Leader in state government who proudly lives, works and represents Upstate, I have placed a special emphasis during each of these meetings on calling attention to such pocketbook issues like runaway property taxes, the continued erosion of our private sector manufacturing base and the need for unfunded mandate relief for local governments. Most important, my colleagues and I have not only talked about these problems, but offered substantive, bi-partisan solutions in the form of actual legislation.
For example, on the issue of energy, our Conference has repeatedly called for extension of the Power for Jobs program and other initiatives so private sector employers could count on their continued availability and have the confidence to make long-term investments in their facilities and, in the process, grow our economy.
On the topic of property tax relief, we called for enactment of a property tax cap, along with implementation of the other recommendations highlighted by the Suozzi Commission. We also are pushing for a ban on Albany’s unfunded mandates – obligations imposed by the state on localities without the state providing funding to pay for them – which lead to local property tax increases.
Concerning the EZ program, we called for maintenance of EZ contracts, along with strengthening, updating and reforming this initiative so it operates in a more efficient, business-friendly manner that facilitates much-needed job creation in the private sector and promotes economic investment across our state.
These issues, along with closing a loophole in the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms which allow the criminal records of convicted drug dealers to be sealed, should receive the bulk of our attention as the 2009 Legislative Session draws to a close. The remaining nine days will largely decide whether this session is ultimately judged a success or a missed opportunity.
On behalf of the millions of New Yorkers who are hungry for real change, our Conference will continue fighting the good fight by advancing sound public policies that achieve real solutions and a better quality of life. Now, more than ever, taxpayers are looking for leadership. The Governor and Members of the state Legislature have an opportunity – and responsibility – to meet that expectation. The families of our Empire State deserve nothing less.
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.