Winston Churchill was right when he said. "Never give in, never, never, never, never."
I, some of my colleagues, and taxpayers never did give up on reforming New York and never gave in to those who said it’s impossible to reduce the nation’s highest property taxes and stop the brain drain of young people and jobs that have fled our state in droves.
This year, we took the first steps to turn around New York’s economy and reform state government so it starts working again for the people and not the special interests.
How did this happen?
First, our new Governor Andrew Cuomo, with rank-and-file legislative support, was able to marshal all his resources to persuade a recalcitrant legislature to go along with him.
Second, after years of over-taxing, over-spending and over-borrowing, the legislature realized what I and many of my Assembly Minority colleagues have long argued -- the state is broke and the right choice is to pursue fiscal reform.
Back in January, I advised that to be successful the Governor needed to "speak softly, but carry a big stick."
That big stick is the support of his agenda by the voters and taxpayers of New York State – and that’s exactly what the Governor did.
The Governor was wise enough to understand that one should never pick a fight but be ready to stand up to the legislature when necessary and use reason and thoughtful persuasion to convince them to go along with his agenda.
Cuomo held many informal meetings with legislators in his office and at the Executive Mansion. At one breakfast meeting with me and my Assembly Minority colleagues, our conference questioned the Governor about restoring VLT monies to Saratoga. Sure enough, we were successful in seeing a restoration of $1.5 million in VLT aid to Saratoga Springs that’s going to be a real win for the city and will help keep property taxes down.
From the start, the Governor inferred that budgeting in New York wouldn’t be business as usual if the legislature didn’t pass a budget that reduced spending by the April 1st deadline. He would use his executive powers to push through his budget as an emergency extender or give the legislature a choice of shutting down government.
That promise, I believe, was a major motivator to bring legislative leaders to the table to pass a fiscally-responsible, on-time state budget that for the first time in recent memory contained no new taxes or borrowing and actually reduced spending by $3.1 billion from the previous year.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I, and the members of the Assembly Minority Conference, am honored to see that others came around to see the need to fight back against the highest property taxes in the nation. Now that we’re capping property taxes, the next step is to freeze them and then move to cut taxes once and for all.
To help reduce consumer energy costs and grow green jobs, we passed the Article X law to build new power plants and made permanent the Recharge New York-Power for Jobs program. We passed sweeping ethics law reforms to ensure greater disclosure, transparency and accountability in state government.
This year, I’ve been outspoken about saving millions of tax dollars and the environment by stopping the wasteful printing of bills that often go unread and end up getting tossed into landfills. I’m pleased to report the legislature passed a bill I co-sponsored to enable the state legislature to go paperless by amending the constitution to stop the placement of paper copies of bills on the 212 legislative desks and permit a digital copy to suffice.
Readers will recall I’ve been a longtime advocate for stronger laws to prevent animal cruelty -- which is a bridge crime leading to violence against people. This year, we made history by holding the first-ever New York State Animal Advocacy Day to call for the toughest laws in the nation to protect companion animals. This effort helped lead to the passage of legislation I sponsored to increase criminal penalties for animal fighting.
These accomplishments are a great start but there’s more work to be completed. Our top priority moving forward must be: jobs, jobs, jobs.
The Governor has created 10 regional economic development councils to promote job growth, and we need to make sure taxpayer dollars are wisely spent on this effort.
We need to further eliminate unfunded state mandates to take financial pressure off municipalities and help lower property taxes. With a property tax cap in place, it’s time for a spending cap to put a limit on state government spending.
Let’s pass non-partisan, independent redistricting reform to take the power to draw legislative lines out of the pockets of politicians and into the hands of voters.
We’ve come a long way to reform state government and make New York open for business. But there are still miles to go.