The Legislature has officially adjourned for this 2010-2011 session. Many new bills passed the Legislature. Though I’m not pleased with everything that did pass, one thing you can’t argue with is a lot was accomplished. I’d like to outline for you a few of the bigger issues that came through the Assembly toward the end of session.
The big headlines during the last week included the legalization of gay marriage, which has been signed into law by the Governor. I voted in opposition of this in the Assembly. I believe this changes our definition of family and conflicts with many religious beliefs that many in our state feel strongly about. I received many phone calls in opposition to gay marriage at my assembly office and very few in support of gay marriage. I felt I voted representatively on this issue.
The Legislature capped property taxes for municipalities and school districts, preventing them from increasing taxes more than 2 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. I voted in support of this in the Assembly; however, the root cause of our tax burden continues to be nine unfunded state mandates that require localities to pay for various services. They include Medicaid, public assistance, child welfare, pre-school special education, indigent defense, probation, early intervention, youth detention, and pensions. All of these programs are essential so ferreting out how to save costs is complex and has been assigned to the Mandate Relief Council.
This year, the Mandate Relief Council helped save $127 million in state mandates by working with the Legislature to amend current law. One such example included in these projected savings is to allow the Office of General Services to buy fuel and electricity in bulk for municipalities to purchase. The state also has made it possible for local governments to enter into public works contracts with counties.
It is my hope that the Mandate Relief Council will continue to find ways in which municipalities, counties, state and federal agencies can consolidate services to better serve the public. Changes like this will decrease property taxes and make our state more attractive to prospective business and property owners, while continuing to help families and those in need through public resources and municipal services.
The Legislature re-authorized Article X, which I also opposed. While I support many of the items included in this bill, I do not support the aspects pertaining to wind farms because it removes some of the local control municipalities have on where wind farms are sited. Due to the wide swath of land required for wind farms, I believe our state needs to develop a better, statewide plan for the development of wind energy.
I supported a planned tuition increase for our SUNY schools in the Assembly. The SUNY system is comprised of 64 institutions that include everything from world-renowned community colleges to first-rate graduate schools. SUNY provides many an affordable and possible alternative to private institutions as well. However, during the past three years, our state has faced several budgetary crises and was forced to make cuts to the SUNY system. The system also was due for a planned tuition increase when one considers the average cost of tuition in other states for public higher education institutions is $7,605 per semester. New York’s tuition is considerably lower at $4,970 per semester. During the last week of session, the State Legislature passed a plan to increase SUNY tuition by $300 each year for the next five years. It is a reasonable alternative to unplanned tuition spikes that occurred in the recent past.
As I said, though you may not agree with all of what was decided, we can agree that much was accomplished this session, especially in comparison to recent years. However, more needs to be done to return our state to its Empire greatness, especially by way of being friendlier to business. It is my hope that in the next session we can make more meaningful changes to lower energy costs for businesses and further reduce property taxes by creating a more efficient government.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also may find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.