As promised, for this week’s legislative column I will update you on the public, five-way Legislative Leaders’ meeting that was held this past Wednesday at the State Capitol. Suffice it to say, our meeting put an exclamation point on the urgent need to tackle the growing state budget deficit.
Back in July, I sent a letter to Governor Paterson and my fellow Legislative Leaders urging that we publicly convene to discuss New York’s $2.1 billion budget deficit and all the other unfinished business left over from session, including the need for a plan to create private sector jobs and reduce energy costs for consumers and businesses. Despite never hearing back, I continued advocating for a Leaders’ meeting because it would provide a public format for us to discuss the specific challenges facing New York State in a non-partisan and open manner.
I was pleased the Governor finally called the meeting, especially in light of the State Department of Labor’s announcement that in August there were more unemployed New Yorkers – 874,300 to be exact – than any other time since 1976, which is as far back as current data extends. In addition, worrisome news of the state budget deficit growing beyond what had originally been projected underscored the urgency for just such a meeting.
Judging by the findings of a Siena College Research Institute Poll released last week, I am not alone in having serious concerns about these issues. Specifically, the Siena Poll found that a large cross section of New York voters – regardless of political affiliation – believed that a top priority for the Governor and Legislature was to close the state’s budget deficit and to do so by cutting spending, not increasing taxes. Likewise, the poll reported that the top issues voters wanted addressed in next year’s gubernatorial election were jobs, reforming state government and taxes, all issues which our Conference and I have continually raised.
Joining me and Governor Paterson for the meeting were Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Conference Leader John Sampson, Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos and Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch, whose appointment by the Governor the New York State Court of Appeals ruled constitutional. As is customary, the Governor opened our meeting and offered a stark analysis of New York’s fiscal situation, culminating in his announcing that, based on new figures, the state’s budget deficit could be upwards of $3 billion. The Governor warned that if the budget deficit were not resolved it could result in delayed payments, the state not meeting its financial obligations and even a reduction in New York’s credit rating.
While some may have been taken aback by this news, frankly, I expected it. In fact, this type of worst-case scenario – declining state revenues, growing unemployment and a skyrocketing budget deficit – was exactly what our Conference and I had cited in voting against the 2009-10 State Budget, to say nothing of the $8.2 billion in new taxes and fees it contained.
In reflection of this sobering financial news, I suggested, and the Governor agreed, that our legislative staffs should immediately meet with Lieutenant Governor Ravitch and begin the process of outlining specific solutions to close New York’s budget deficit. Our Conference and its staff have been hard at work all summer long on this very issue and are ready, willing and able to meet the challenge head-on. As I have during our previous Leaders’ meetings, I pressed for specific timetables on this and other unfinished business, including the need for a property tax and spending cap, along with enactment of the other Suozzi Commission recommendations.
Based on the tone and tenor of our meeting, and media reaction to news that our state’s budget deficit could be $1 billion higher than expected, it is clear there isn’t a moment to waste in getting to work on finding real solutions, which is what my Conference and I have been calling for all along. If this meeting sounded the alarm, New York cannot afford for its leaders to hit the snooze button. We have to work together in a non-partisan fashion for the more than 18 million people we collectively represent.
ODDS AND ENDS
The following are a few “wrap-up” items related to previous weekly legislative column topics, ranging from my call for a “People’s Convention to Reform New York,” to an update on the milk price crisis affecting family dairy farmers all across our state.
First, my non-partisan legislation, the “People’s Convention to Reform New York Act,” has received an official Assembly Bill number: A.9157. You can plug in this number and track the progress of my measure on the Assembly’s official website, www.assembly.state.ny.us. You also can follow this issue by going to the Reform New York website – be sure to sign my on-line petition in support of a People’s Convention if you have not yet had the opportunity to do so.
Second, Assemblyman Cliff Crouch – our Conference’s Ranking Member on the Assembly’s Agriculture Committee – along with our Members Steve Hawley and Jane Corwin, held the first “Dairy Assistance Program Rally” at Stein Farms in LeRoy, New York. The rally was well-attended and generated tremendous media coverage on the economic catastrophe being faced by New York’s family dairy farmers. Assemblyman Crouch, Assemblyman Tony Jordan and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward will hold the second rally this Thursday, October 1, at 11:00 a.m., at Borden’s Farm in Easton, New York. Additionally, Assemblyman Crouch and Assemblyman Jim Bacalles will hold the third rally on Tuesday, October 13, at 11:00 a.m., at Maple Dream Farm in Greene, New York. A fourth rally also is in the works for the North Country. If you would like more details on any of these upcoming rallies, you may call Assemblyman Crouch’s office at (607) 648-6080.
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.