Upcoming Legislative Leaders’ Meeting Is An Opportunity To Get New York State Back On Track

Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
September 18, 2009

This coming Wednesday, September 23, will mark the first public, five-way meeting between Governor David Paterson, myself and the other Legislative Leaders in nearly three months. Regular readers of this weekly column will know that I have repeatedly called for just such a meeting to tackle, among other issues, New York’s growing budget deficit and the other unfinished business from the Legislative Session that, regrettably, was thrown off track due to partisan political bickering. In fact, I had sent a letter to the Governor and my fellow Legislative Leaders back on July 10 urging that we publicly convene and have a frank discussion about the challenges our state faces.

This forthcoming meeting comes at a critical time for New York’s future. Several opinion polls have clearly shown that public frustration and even anger with state government is at an all-time high. Three consecutive polls – conducted by Quinnipiac University, the Siena College Research Institute and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, respectively – have all reported on widespread voter dissatisfaction with the direction of New York in general and the performance of the state Legislature in particular. This sentiment cuts across political and regional lines, and is reflective of the fact that more New Yorkers are losing faith in their government and believe that our state has gotten off – way off – track.

Our Leaders’ meeting presents an opportunity for us to discuss real solutions and begin the long-term process of getting New York State back on track. Here are some of the non-partisan issues that should be part of our approaching discussion.

NEW YORK’S $2.1 BILLION STATE BUDGET DEFICIT: The projected state budget shortfall for 2009-2010 has grown to $2.1 billion, and if nothing is done, or if state revenues continue to shrink, the out-year gap will continue to grow. Our meeting must address this challenge and offer substantive, non-partisan solutions to shore up New York’s fiscal future. I believe the budget deficit should be closed through spending reductions and increased operating efficiencies, not revenue enhancers (tax and fee hikes) or fiscal one-shots and gimmicks which are little more than quick fixes that ultimately backfire.

ADDRESSING OUR STATE’S RECORD-HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT: New York continues suffering from the national economic recession, as our state’s number of unemployed has climbed to a new, record-high of 874,300 in August – the highest level since 1976 – as noted by the State Department of Labor. Seasonally adjusted, New York’s unemployment rate rose to 9 percent from 8.6 percent this July.

The unemployment rate in New York City actually rose to double-digits, coming in at 10.3 percent for August. It is worth noting that unemployment rates do not always account for individuals who have stopped or given up looking for work in this tough economy, meaning the true number of New Yorkers who are out of work could be even higher than the aforementioned 874,300 figure. The Leaders’ meeting needs to include practical ideas for jump-starting our sluggish economy and getting more New Yorkers back to work. We need to focus on reducing all the taxes, fees and bureaucratic regulations that are dragging down our economy and forcing employers to look elsewhere in deciding where to create or retain jobs.

CREATING PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS & DELIVERING REAL TAX RELIEF: As noted in the preceding paragraph, more New Yorkers are unemployed now than at any other time in the last 33 years. Without question, there is a clear and present need for state government to focus on the creation of more jobs where they are needed most: in our private sector. It begins with enacting a statewide job creation plan that spurs investment and economic development assistance being administered by State Agencies in a flexible, individualized manner that recognizes the regional needs of businesses all across New York. Delivering real tax relief goes hand-in-glove with private sector job creation, which is why, in addition to discussing job creation, our Leaders’ meeting should emphasize how we can finally enact a real property tax cap along with the other recommendations of the Suozzi Commission, including a circuit breaker and unfunded mandate relief.

HELPING NEW YORK’S FAMILY DAIRY FARMERS: A steep downturn in the price they receive for their milk has devastated New York’s family dairy farmers and may force many to shut down their operations altogether. This would have a devastating ripple effect on our already struggling economy and threaten family farming as a way of life for countless communities throughout our state. To help our family dairy farmers weather this economic storm, I asked the Governor to utilize a portion of New York’s share of the federal stimulus funding to make up for the shortfall in milk prices. Our Leaders’ meeting should make prominent mention of the plight of New York’s family dairy farmers and outline the specific steps state government can take to provide immediate assistance and help them through this especially difficult time.

These are some of the topics that should command center stage during our Legislative Leaders’ meeting this Wednesday. What should not be part of our discussion is the typical political finger pointing or “blame game” that only serves to sidetrack cooperation and progress. With any luck, this meeting will begin the process of charting a new direction for our state that has gotten off track. Possibly more than ever before, New Yorkers are looking for their leaders to start working together toward finding real solutions that are not focused on benefiting a political party or special interest, but actually helping the people. I am hopeful our upcoming Leaders’ meeting will deliver exactly that. I will report back to you on any progress.

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.