The 2006 legislative session, my first, ended on June 23 with important goals achieved and a lot of unfinished business remaining. As your Assemblyman, it is my mission to make sure our communities are affordable places to live, that good-paying jobs exist in our region, and that our neighborhoods remain safe and our children are protected. We passed legislation this year to strengthen each of these objectives, but I know more needs to be done.
Currently, New Yorkers pay the highest state and local taxes in the nation – 53% above the national average. We must lower taxes to prevent families from relocating, seniors from being forced to sell their homes, and our young people from seeking employment in states with lower costs of living. Since my arrival in Albany, I have supported comprehensive property tax relief programs to end the financial burden families and seniors carry.
This year I voted for the passage of the Local Property Tax Rebate program, where homeowners will receive a rebate check equaling 30% of their STAR exemption. This is an important victory for homeowners as I continue the fight for more property tax relief.
Aside from passing these kinds of tax relief programs, the best way to deliver relief to taxpayers is by making state government more accountable for the ways it spends your money. A classic example has been the Medicaid program, where New York state ranks first nationally in spending, and last in fraud recovery.
Annually, fraud, waste and abuse within the Medicaid program cost taxpayers more than $4.5 billion. In the last week of session, we passed a law to create the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General. This office will have the authority and necessary resources to go after the rampant abuse within the system and begin the process of eliminating this wasted money so that it may be returned to taxpayers’ pockets, where it belongs.
As a former Deputy Inspector General, taking on government fraud, I witnessed firsthand how a lack of accountability can result in wasted tax dollars. That is why I fought for the creation of the Medicaid Inspector General, a victory for taxpayers statewide.
During this year’s legislative session, we also passed important anti-crime laws to make our communities safer. I supported the elimination of the statute of limitations on all violent sex offenses such as rape in the first degree. I also voted for the expansion of the state’s DNA database to require DNA samples from all convicted felons as well as certain misdemeanor offenders. DNA samples will serve as the fingerprint of the 21st century and will give law enforcement agencies a necessary tool in convicting criminals while making sure the innocent are not left behind bars.
We also got tough on DWI offenders as well as those who flee police when directed to pull over. By strengthening these laws, we provide added safety for our loved ones who share the road with these reckless individuals. It is crucial that we take a stand against drunk driving. We must have more severe penalties in order to get the habitual offender off the road.
I was proud to support an increase in funding in this year’s state budget for the Senator Patricia K. McGee Nursing Faculty Scholarship and Forgiveness Program. This is an important program that benefits the healthcare community at-large as we look to better prepare our nurses for their challenging work while reducing the shortage of nurses statewide.
As we move forward, there is more that needs to be done in delivering real tax relief to New Yorkers. While an on-time budget was passed for the second consecutive year, we need to impart real reform within the budget process so as to use surpluses to pay down debt. This year, the state held a $3 billion surplus that evaporated by the end of budget negotiations. I favor legislation that uses a percentage of a surplus to pay down debt, thereby lowering your future state taxes.
I sincerely appreciate your phone calls, letters, emails, and visits to my Olean and Albany offices. As your Assemblyman, I take your concerns and opinions very seriously and I encourage you to visit with me as often as possible. As always, if you have any questions or concerns that I can be of any assistance with, do not hesitate to contact my office in Olean.