Assemblymember Cahill: Legislative Session Closes With a Flurry of Deals
Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster, Dutchess) announced the close of the 2006 Legislative Session. "In all the years that I have had the honor of serving the people of the 101st Assembly District, I cannot remember a time when the Legislature left Albany with progress on so many fronts," said Mr. Cahill. "We were able to come together and advance a record of accomplishments that I am proud to bring back to the people of our communities."
This year marked the second in a row that the Legislature enacted an on-time budget. The final $112 billion spending plan included record levels of funding for education, health care and the environment while providing a myriad of tax relief to the hard working families of New York State, including the permanent elimination of the regressive 4-percent state sales tax on clothing, saving shoppers approximately $600 million a year, a new child tax credit with a maximum benefit of $330 for each child between the ages of 4 and 17, a reduction in the marriage penalty tax, an income tax credit for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians and a tax deduction for New York State National Guard members called to service.
"Many New Yorkers are finding themselves working longer hours and second and third jobs just to make ends meet," noted Mr. Cahill. "Every opportunity we can grasp to alleviate a portion of the tax burden our residents face is a step in the right direction."
As the Legislative Session wound down, lawmakers passed a major property tax relief package, enacting an annual tax rebate program replacing the personal income tax credit recently approved by the Legislature. Rebates will be equal to roughly 30 percent of a homeowner’s STAR benefit and will be sent on or before October 31st of each year.
"While this rebate is not going to solve the property tax crisis our communities are now facing," said Mr. Cahill. "It will provide much needed relief, but the real issue will never truly be addressed until we eliminate the regressive property tax system that currently funds our schools." Assembly Bill A.8069, introduced by Mr. Cahill, would eliminate the use of regressive real estate taxes for the purposes of funding education. "Eliminating the school property tax and shifting to a more progressive statewide wealth-based model, so that we can base education funding on a uniform method that takes into account an individual’s ability to pay rather than relying on an arbitrary perception of the value of property in a particular area will remain my top priority going forward," said Mr. Cahill.
Lawmakers also reached accord on several major issues as the session came to a close. Finally, after months of contentious negotiations, the Senate and Assembly came together to create the Office of Medicaid Inspector General, a position that is expected to save $300 million lost to fraud and waste. They also agreed on legislation to reform the State’s budget process through the creation of an Independent Budget Office (IBO), the provision of forward funding of education and moving the start of the fiscal year by a month to May 1 to allow more time to analyze revenues in developing a state budget.
The Legislature passed several major crime-fighting initiatives that would expand the DNA database, eliminate the statute of limitations for Class B felony sexual assault crimes and raise the civil statute of limitations in such cases from one year to five years and create new penalties for individuals arrested while unlawfully fleeing a police officer.
A bi-partisan twelve bill legislative package aimed at increasing avenues for organ donor awareness, enhancing donor opportunities and providing tax incentives for organ donors and their families, was advanced by the Assembly and taken up in the Senate. Of the twelve bills passed by the Assembly, five of which Assemblymember Cahill either introduced or co-sponsored, six were taken up and passed by the Senate. Those bills will now be sent to the Governor for his consideration. If signed into law, they would accomplish the following:
- require the State Transplant Council to study the issue of a presumed consent standard in organ donations;
- provide that driver's licenses and renewals issued to a person making an anatomic gift include a prominently printed statement confirming the organ donor status. This legislation has been introduced and passed by Assemblymember Cahill in each of the last five years. This is the first time it has been taken up in the Senate;
- change the organ and tissue donor registry from one of intent to consent;
- provide donors and their families income tax credits for up to $10,000;
- require driver's license applications to allow for a voluntary contribution to the Life - Pass It On Trust Fund;
- establish an anatomical gift information program to promote public awareness of organ donation.
"No one in this State has been free from some kind of incident, tragedy or joy associated with an individual who benefited or would have benefited from an organ transplant or from research on organs that has led to advancements in science to extend and improve life," said Mr. Cahill. "It is important that we take those experiences and turn them into something positive by pledging to support organ donation research, raising awareness or by becoming an organ donor. This comprehensive legislative package will go a long way towards striking down existing barriers for potential organ donors."
In addition to the progress made on legislation of statewide consequence, Assemblymember Cahill was successful in getting many local initiatives through the Legislature. Topping the list was the $13 million that Mr. Cahill negotiated into the budget to restore and modernize the historic Old Main Building located on the SUNY New Paltz campus. "Once again, our alumnus Assemblymember Kevin Cahill has been a champion for his alma mater, SUNY New Paltz," said New Paltz President Steven G. Poskanzer. "This $13 million appropriation will allow us to begin to create a modern facility to support teacher training and to house newly-hired faculty. We plan to restore the historic Old Main Building, which sits at the heart of our campus, to its rightful stature as an architectural gem."
"These monies will not only serve to enhance the educational experience for the student community at SUNY New Paltz, it will stimulate the local economy by bring well paying construction and service sector job opportunities to the area," observed Mr. Cahill. The final budget agreement also includes $1 million for the Kingston Technology Park and $5.5 million for rehabilitation work at Belleayre Mountain.
Mr. Cahill advanced a number of proposals aimed at encouraging a regionalized "smart growth" approach to proposed developments in the Hudson Valley, in particular those projects geared towards the revitalization of the Kingston waterfront. The City of Kingston will now have the power to decide upon the location, construction and regulation of boathouses, moorings and docks in any waters within or bounding the City, effectively putting them in the driver’s seat when it comes to advancing their local vision for the restoration of the shoreline.
Kingston will also now be authorized to sell an 8.1 acre waterfront parcel located on Abeel Street to the highest bidder. The land is currently being used as a veritable dumping ground for boating equipment. In accordance with the legislation, proceeds from that sale will also be reinvested into the waterfront further enhancing public access to the shoreline. The development of the waterfront and environs can now occur consistent with Kingston’s master plan for the Rondout.
"These measures will help put local development decisions back in the hands of the local government," said Assemblymember Cahill.
Mr. Cahill ushered through legislation that would allow the Catskill Park towns of Denning, Shandaken, Olive, Woodstock and Hardenburgh to join the Hudson River Valley Greenway. These Catskill Park towns will now be afforded the same opportunity as other Greenway communities to create a new framework for how development measures can be taken and to allow for economic progress and success without sacrificing the historic and natural treasures of the region.
The State Legislature passed a bill introduced by Mr. Cahill to give roads and highways along the Shawangunk Ridge official designation as a State Scenic Byway and add it to the State’s scenic byway system. This designation will make the area eligible for federal funding to promote tourism and improve transportation infrastructure.
"While this was a productive year in Albany on several fronts, there remains much to be done in many critical areas. Major concerns include real property tax and education funding reform, our health care delivery system and sound, sustainable economic development," noted Mr. Cahill. "I plan to continue to work diligently to advance legislation I have crafted to address these issues and set New York on a sounder path in the future," he concluded.