We all can look forward to the coming New Year and its promise of renewal. However, before we officially welcome in 2011, let’s look back at the year that was with an eye toward some of the highlights of 2010 that pertained to New York State, its government and all of our lives. Since 2010 saw so many twists and turns, this week’s column will provide “Part I” of my annual year in review, with “Part II” to come next week.
JANUARY: A NEW YEAR BEGAN WITH A NEW SESSION – AND THE HOPE OF A FRESH START
January of 2010 marked the kick-off to the 233rd session of the New York State Legislature, as Governor David Paterson delivered his second State of the State Address. Governor Paterson’s speech sounded an optimistic tone, but fell short on substance and, most importantly, a much-needed action plan for follow through. I publicly called for 2010 to be the “Year of Reform” – fiscal, governmental and ethical – so New York could finally get back on track.
January also saw bi-partisan agreement on an important ethics reform package that many good government groups and I believed could move our state a step closer toward having the strongest ethics laws in the nation. In addition, our Assembly Minority Conference and I were proud to sponsor Albany’s first-ever “Sportsmen and Outdoor Recreation Legislative Awareness Day,” an event which was attended by over 3,000 sportsmen and Second Amendment supporters, and featured a keynote speech by the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre. Our Conference is again holding this Second Amendment event in Albany on Tuesday, January 25, 2011.
FEBRUARY: GOVERNOR PATERSON’S 2010-11 EXECUTIVE BUDGET WAS MORE OF THE SAME: MORE TAXES, FEES & SURCHARGES
In February, our Conference’s Ways and Means Committee released an analysis of all the taxes, fees and surcharges contained within Governor Paterson’s 2010-11 Executive Budget. Our analysis showed the cumulative fiscal impact of his spending plan to an average New York family of four was $1,812 annually. That was in addition to the billions in higher taxes, fees and government spending the previous year’s budget had contained. As I would throughout the year, I urged Governor Paterson to reverse course and support our Conference’s policy agenda aimed at reducing the size, cost and reach of state government.
MARCH: PUSHING FOR ACTION ON THE STATE BUDGET, DEMANDING THAT NEW YORK FINALLY “ENFORCE THE LAW & COLLECT THE TAXES”
The month of March provided some early – and ominous – warning signs that the 2010-11 State Budget would be the latest in a long line of spending plans adopted after New York’s April 1 fiscal deadline. The fact that the Majorities in both houses refused to follow the Budget Reform Act of 2007 – a law they enacted – and convene public meetings of Conference Committees to get a spending plan in place demonstrated the depths of Albany’s dysfunction. Also in March, I identified some $600 million in state revenue that could be realized if the necessary regulations were in place to collect cigarette sales taxes for purchases made on Native American lands by non-Native American Indians. I continued calling on state government to finally enforce the law and collect these taxes because it was the right thing to do.
APRIL: CALLING FOR AN “EXTREME MAKEOVER” OF STATE GOVERNMENT
As I predicted, the State Budget was not enacted in April because the Majorities refused to follow the law and hold budget deliberations in public. In order to shed light on their secretive “three-men-in-a-room” approach for deciding New York’s spending plan, I said it was time for an “extreme makeover” of state government. Specifically, a public budget forum that would allow New Yorkers to learn exactly where Governor Paterson and each Legislative Conference stood on the critical issues of taxing, spending and borrowing. It also could have encouraged everyone to outline their specific plans for closing New York’s then $9.05 billion budget deficit. I suggested that New York’s print and broadcast media outlets serve as hosts of the hour-long budget forum, in addition to it being streamed live via the Internet.
As state government continued having difficulty paying bills and meeting its fiscal obligations, I urged Governor Paterson to call on the State Legislature to declare a state of “financial emergency” so the tough budgetary choices that needed to be made could finally happen. Just like 2009, our Conference also offered to the Governor and other Legislative Conferences a series of common sense cost savings proposals that would have reduced New York’s budget deficit by over $5 billion, without raising a dime in new taxes or fees.
MAY: GOING “ON THE RECORD” TO MAKE THE CASE FOR REAL REFORM
As the budget continued to be delayed and state government demonstrated it still was not ready for prime time, a coalition of good government reform groups held a public forum titled “Albany on the Record,” where Legislative Leaders could commit to the non-partisan reforms Albany desperately needed. I was proud to be the first Leader to agree to attend the forum and I made the case how the Assembly Minority Conference had not just “talked the talk” – we had “walked the walk” by championing real reforms such as convening a “People’s Constitutional Convention” and establishing an independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, to name just a few.
Next week’s column will be Part II of my year in review. Until then, have a safe and happy New Year! 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. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and informational updates regarding state government and our Assembly Minority Conference.