It’s Time To End Albany’s Clichés

Legislative Column from Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R,C-Black River)
January 10, 2012

When I first joined the Assembly, I had many assumptions about Albany politics – that it is beholden to special interests, mired in political gridlock and, well, just plain ineffective on resolving the serious problems faced by our state. Albany’s problems have become so commonplace that they can seem like mere clichés. However, I see glimpses of hope and the possibility that legislators and state leaders can work together. Last year ,we worked together to pass an on-time budget that closed a $10 billion deficit and reinvested in New York’s agricultural markets – that is the type of cooperation that is needed in every aspect of legislating.

When someone is told the same thing over and over again, I begin to wonder, “Does the message lose its power?” Is our positive counter-plan on how to improve Albany beginning to sound like an empty cliché itself? I hope not, because I know something needs to be done now to turn New York State around and avert further disaster.

Unemployment in New York has remained stubbornly high at eight percent. Last year, nearly 800,000 New Yorkers – our relatives, friends and neighbors – were out of work. Albany’s fix is to throw money at the problem, but I believe there are greater challenges which need to be corrected before any investment can create lasting change in our economic trajectory.

Tax, job and energy credits partnered with government-backed low-interest loans will not correct the problems still posed by layers upon layers of overwhelming government and regulatory red tape. This Band-Aid spending does not expedite or mitigate the time, effort and trouble it takes to get approval to open a small mom-and-pop shop or a small manufacturing operation. Albany’s anti-business attitude can still scare away investment and potential economic recovery.

As New Yorkers struggle to find work, additional pressures remain. Property taxes rose over decades to the point that families and land owners have difficulty affording the community they call home. Albany responded with a two percent property tax cap, which, in turn, has created serious budgeting problems for our local governments and schools.

Albany would send down lofty edicts to our local governments without the required funding to comply with these new unfunded mandates. Over decades, these mandates continued to grow, adding special-interest sweeteners to Medicaid, public-employee pensions and other seemingly unnoticed, but costly, aspects of government.

This was the real reason local spending and taxes grew far faster than inflation. Now, however, with capped tax revenues, our schools and local governments are facing financial shortfalls – and they still have to fork over nearly 90 percent of their budget to these unfunded mandates. These local governments have two options - override the cap or cut services - neither of which is an ideal choice for the taxpayer.

Albany’s response to unfunded mandates was typical and little more than another New York government cliché. The Governor formed a commission, the Mandate Relief Redesign Team. Soon after this they quietly reported their findings; even more inconspicuously, the team has been disbanded to just a handful of players. Nothing has been done to halt and remove these burdens on government and our taxpayers. As I have since the beginning, I continue to fight for unfunded mandate relief.

Yet, here we are, at the start of another year full of grand promises and old, failed solutions. To fix statewide unemployment, Albany is going to throw investment down to New York City and over to Buffalo with little to nothing in between. Little is being done to make New York a business-friendly state for every region. Even a fair education for all New Yorkers has been blocked by Albany’s refusal to fix the unfair and biased school aid formula that punishes less wealthy and rural districts.

Will Albany actually get to work on the issues which affect the entire state or just pander to special interests and downstate New York? We need to tap into that can-do work attitude that was present during last year’s budget process to end these typical Albany clichés and truly reform the state in the public’s interest.

If you have any ideas or comments regarding ending Albany’s clichés for true reform, please email or call (315) 439-3909.