Assemblymember Cahill's Assessment of the 2007 Legislative Session
On Day One, everything did indeed change. Governor Spitzer took office and we fundamentally altered the way the people's business is conducted in Albany. In a refreshing and long overdue climate of reform, policy is being debated on the merits as opposed to the partisan gridlock that dominated the discourse for the last decade.
A few short weeks into the legislative session, in my role as Chair of the Legislative Ethics Committee, I joined with the Governor and other key leaders to pass the largest overhaul of state ethics laws in two decades. This groundbreaking reform set the tone for the resolution of issues that had been bogged down for years. We quickly moved to make the often criticized budget process more open, accountable and accessible to our citizens. We worked with the Governor to come to agreements on amendments to the Workers' Compensation law to satisfy the needs of both New York's labor force and business community.
As a member of the health budget conference committee, I helped to broker a budget agreement to significantly change the state's approach to health care, to expand health coverage to 400,000 uninsured children while managing to avoid potentially crippling cuts to our hospitals and nursing homes. The budget we adopted also began to change the way we finance education while providing record increases in school aid and property tax relief. While the budget did not go so far as to eliminate the use of regressive real estate taxes for the purposes of funding education, a proposal that I have been advocating for many years, it provided a new aid formula, a foundation, to build upon toward a solution to the property tax crisis that is destabilizing our communities. I am encouraged by the dialogue that is taking place in Albany regarding this issue and plan to continue my work on this, my number one priority.
Throughout this session I worked very closely with my Senate counterparts from the Hudson Valley to pass legislation that will benefit our local economy and preserve our unique quality of life. Senator Saland and I ushered through legislation that extends a key provision of the law governing the Hudson River Valley Greenway so that it may go forward with its efforts to develop and implement smart growth strategies in our communities. We also worked together to change the law in order to give a local business, the Skytop Brewing Company, an opportunity to grow and expand their already successful operation. I partnered with Senator Larkin to bolster our agricultural economy with legislation that will expand the Shawangunk Wine Trail and give our farm-based distilleries access to market their New York produced products to restaurants throughout the state.
I also fought hard to secure Assembly passage of two pieces of legislation sought by nearly every community in Ulster County. The first will remove the threat of unwanted casinos being imposed upon Ulster without legislative approval and the second will allow our municipalities to join in the Hudson Valley Community Preservation Act which will give them the ability to enact a revenue stream dedicated to preserving open space. I am hopeful that our State Senators will see fit to act on these important initiatives before the close of the year.
Perhaps the most significant change that came about on Day One was the Governor's decision to surround his himself with advisers and agency heads chosen because of their experience, knowledge and expertise and not their party affiliation. The selection of Willie Janeway as Region Three Director for the DEC has provided our communities with a dedicated individual who has a vast understanding of environmental issues and a willingness to tackle tough problems. In his short few weeks on the job he has already begun to work closely with me to address many pressing issues in 101st Assembly District.
On a similar same note, I have organized a bi-partisan legislative flood caucus that is working closely with Michael Balboni, the Governor's chief public safety advisor, to develop an implement a comprehensive plan to deal with the disastrous flooding that has ravaged significant portions of the state in recent years. Most recently I welcomed Patrick Foye, newly appointed Downstate Chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, to the Kingston area to have a frank discussion with our business and community leaders on how to create a climate that that will allow for economic development and expansion that is appropriate and suited to Ulster County. I have already opened a dialogue with Dr. Richard Daines, the new State Health Commissioner to navigate our complex and important local and statewide health issues.
While there is much more to be done, I am now confident that we have the mechanisms, the people and the leadership to further our work toward making the great state of New York a better place to live and work. I look forward to a continuing climate of progressive, proactive and heads-on change in Albany in the remaining months of this calendar and for years to come.