Legislative Leaders’ Meetings Are Critical To Getting Our Economy And The People’s Business Back On Track

Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
July 24, 2009

As of this column’s writing, 51 long days will have passed since the last public meeting between Governor David Paterson, myself and the other Legislative Leaders. If you followed the protracted leadership battle in the State Senate, then you know that much has transpired since our last Leaders’ meeting back on June 3, including conclusion of the Assembly Session and, more recently, resolution of the aforementioned Senate impasse.

However, something much more important – and directly relevant to the lives of over 19 million New Yorkers – than Albany’s silly political intrigues has been occurring. That “something” is news our economy has slipped from bad to worse and even more New Yorkers are now jobless. The State Department of Labor recently announced that, for the month of June, 854,200 New Yorkers were unemployed, the highest number on record since 1976. Since August of 2008, when New York’s private sector job count peaked, our state has lost a staggering 235,900 private sector jobs.

Think about that: if trends continue, our state could soon approach nearly one million residents without a job. This is an unacceptable and deeply troubling statistic. If a 33-year high in unemployed New Yorkers does not constitute a crisis, I am not sure what does. That the pace of New York’s job loss was slightly slower than the nation’s is cold comfort to those families who are fed up, frustrated and fearful about making their mortgages, purchasing health care, paying for college or affording basic necessities.

In light of all this bad news from the Labor Department, it would be logical to assume that state government would have received a much-needed – and very loud – wake-up call as to the severity of this unemployment epidemic and urgent need for an economic jumpstart. Amazingly, this has not been the case. In fact, New York State has neither a statewide economic development plan to spur private sector job creation, nor a comprehensive statewide energy strategy to lower costs for businesses and consumers. Additionally, as I wrote in last week’s column, New York lacks a coordinated approach to rein in rising health insurance premiums for the private and public sectors.

These are just a few of the reasons why I have repeatedly urged the Governor to convene a public meeting of the Legislative Leaders so we could address – in an open setting – New York’s mounting economic woes and the people’s unfinished business. I outlined these concerns in a letter to the Governor and my fellow Leaders, urging that such a meeting be convened as soon as possible.

That letter was delivered more than two weeks ago. Since then, I have not received any response from the Governor to my suggestion, which is genuinely disappointing considering how many unresolved legislative issues still require our attention, primarily among them over 850,000 unemployed New Yorkers who are hurting and need help.

A Leaders’ meeting must address New York’s underperforming economy and growing unemployment, with an eye toward removing barriers that impair our business climate, including unresponsive state agencies that act as roadblocks to economic development and force employers to look elsewhere to invest and create jobs. Strengthening New York’s Empire Zone program by honoring existing contracts for Empire Zone program participants and enhancing the effectiveness of Industrial Development Agencies should be high on the agenda, as should implementing a sensible energy plan to lower electricity costs for businesses and families.

In addition to tackling New York’s worsening economy and mounting unemployment, the meeting should focus on getting a property tax cap and circuit breaker in place, as well as rolling back the job-killing tax and fee hikes in the 2009-10 State Budget. This includes the $4 billion personal income tax hike, the multi-million dollar increase in the covered lives, utility, home care, and hospital assessments, the 27.3 and 58.5 percent rise in beer and wine taxes, the license plate fee increasing from $15 to $25, and the 25 percent hike in driver’s license and registration fees for cars, ATVs, motorcycles, trailers and motorboats.

During session, I continually supplied a written, bi-partisan agenda to the Governor and my fellow Leaders to focus our collective attention on unresolved agenda items. Our initial Leaders’ meetings were short on partisanship and long on producing some tangible results, including laying the groundwork for an extension of the Power for Jobs program. Just as we achieved success on that issue, I am confident we can forge agreement on other challenges.

As the state’s economy continues its downward spiral and the number of unemployed New Yorkers inches toward the one million mark, we cannot afford to wait another 51 days for real solutions. A Legislative Leaders’ meeting will help get the people’s unfinished business, and our economy, back on track, which is why Governor Paterson should convene one immediately.

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 kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us.