As mentioned previously, this week's column will serve as the first of a special two-part series looking back at 2011 and the year that was, highlighting some of the major successes from the recent session as legislators prepare to return to Albany in January for the 235th Legislative Session.
When people look back on 2011 from a state government perspective, I believe it will be remembered as an historic year that began a long process of moving our state toward reclaiming its rightful place as a national leader in private sector job creation, excellence in government and reducing the taxpayers' burden. While we cannot say that each of these issues have been resolved entirely, we can say that 2011 gave us a head start toward achieving real progress.
JANUARY: A NEW GOVERNOR AND A CHANCE FOR NEW YORK TO HIT THE "RESET" BUTTON
The swearing-in of new Governor Andrew Cuomo meant a fresh start for New York State and the chance to leave years of Albany's partisan gridlock and "governance by crisis" mindset behind. I said that the Governor's State of the State Address, delivered on January 5, 2011, represented a fresh start and a chance for New York to hit the "reset" button. Many of the themes the Governor outlined - returning to fiscal responsibility, instituting better management of state government and taxpayer dollars, delivering real tax relief, rebuilding our economy and strengthening ethics - were cornerstone issues I have long been fighting for. I pledged my bi-partisan cooperation with the Governor so we could transform New York State for the better.
FEBRUARY: COMMENTING ON 2011-12 EXECUTIVE BUDGET, OFFERING SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE NON-PARTISAN REDISTRICTING REFORM A REALITY
February saw the Governor unveil his 2011-12 Executive Budget, a comprehensive spending plan that began a long overdue, and at times painful, process of restructuring, redesigning and reforming state government by taking concrete steps toward reducing government's cost and size. Once again, the Governor was reading from my policy playbook!
In February, I sent the Governor a letter outlining my specific recommendations aimed at improving his "Redistricting Reform Act of 2011" to ensure a redistricting process that was 100 percent fair, non-partisan and delivered the competitive elections New Yorkers deserved so they had a real choice on Election Day. I urged the Governor to join me in taking partisan politics out of redistricting by establishing a truly independent Legislative Redistricting Commission.
MARCH: DELIVERING AN ON-TIME STATE BUDGET THAT ACTUALLY CUT SPENDING
With one day remaining before the state's April 1 fiscal deadline, we passed the 2011-12 State Budget on March 31, delivering an on-time spending plan for the first time in a long time. The budget was by no means a perfect spending plan, but a realistic and necessary one. It involved tough choices that began a long overdue - and sometimes painful - process of reducing spending, rightsizing state government and reforming Albany's broken culture of tax-and-spend. The budget contained important victories including defeat of a "Success Tax Surcharge" extension, closure of a $10 billion budget deficit, enactment of the Power for Jobs program and a reduction of government spending.
APRIL: USING TECHNOLOGY TO SAVE TAXPAYER DOLLARS, RECOGNIZING NEW YORK'S "TAX FREEDOM DAY"
As part of my ongoing effort to save taxpayer dollars and reduce costs during these tough economic times and era of multi-billion dollar State Budget deficits, in April I asked residents to connect with me electronically through e-mail and social media outlets to reduce legislative mailing costs and save taxpayer dollars. I am pleased to report that, thanks to constituents who are now contacting me electronically, my office has been able to significantly reduce its legislative mailings and, in the process, save thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Also in April, I recognized New York's "Tax Freedom Day," which was America's third latest and said Albany could not continue putting tax relief on the backburner. Our state's Tax Freedom Day - April 24 - represented when folks had finally earned enough to pay off their annual tax bill and was 12 days after the national Tax Freedom Day of April 12. I said New York is still one of America's highest-taxed states and that unless Albany took concrete steps to reduce the burden of our property, individual income, corporate, gasoline and sales taxes, New York's engine of job creation - the private sector - will remain stuck in neutral.
MAY: LISTENING TO CONSTITUENTS DURING MY "TELE-TOWN HALL"
May 18 was my "Tele-Town Hall Meeting" which featured an important conversation about New York's future with thousands of local constituents from across the 129th Assembly District. A Tele-Town Hall is an innovative outreach tool that lets elected officials like me hear from, and speak with, constituents simultaneously during a lively and informative telephone conference call. During my Tele-Town Hall Meeting, I had the opportunity to communicate with thousands of residents who asked me specific questions and took part in opinion polls seeking their views on issues such as tax relief, reducing spending, creating private sector jobs and rightsizing state government.
JUNE: PUSHING FOR UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF, RECOGNIZING AN IMPORTANT LEGAL VICTORY IN THE FIGHT TO ENFORCE THE LAW
As the 2011 Legislative Session was nearing completion, the issue of unfunded mandate relief had fallen off Albany's radar as absolutely nobody was talking about it. In my opinion, that was completely unacceptable and represented a clear failure on Albany's part to "get it."
I said that simply doing nothing while Albany's unfunded mandates continued pushing local governments, school districts and taxpayers toward bankruptcy was NOT an option! This is why I gathered our Conference, County leaders and local government advocates in the State Capitol to make one final push for unfunded mandate relief before the 2011 Legislative Session concluded. Joining me were County leaders such as Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, and local government supporters such as New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Tim Kremer. We called for up-or-down votes on a host of legislation that would, among other things, cap state spending, freeze the local share of Medicaid costs for counties and force the state to pay for its unfunded mandates.
In addition, June saw a landmark State Appellate Division ruling that lifted the temporary order preventing the collection of taxes on cigarettes sold on Native American lands to non-Native American Indians. As the only Legislative Leader in state government who has continually pushed for enforcing the law on this matter, I said the ruling was a big victory for upstate taxpayers, businesses and everyone believing in the rule of law. Now that the legal roadblocks were removed, I said New York had a "green light" and should move full speed ahead with enforcing the law, collecting the taxes and leveling the playing field. I urged the Department of Taxation and Finance to begin the tax collections immediately.
COMING NEXT WEEK: 2011: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART II
Next week will feature Part II of 2011: The Year in Review, picking up where the 2011 Legislative Session left off, focusing on the months of July through December and everything that took place during that timeframe. The column will focus on my fight to stop the Unemployment Insurance Interest Assessment Surcharge imposed on small businesses, the devastation caused to New York by Hurricane Irene and the continued efforts of certain liberal politicians in Albany to revive the Success Tax Surcharge - exactly as I predicted would happen in this weekly column back in May!
As always, constituents wishing to discuss this topic, or any other state-related matter should contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, or e-mail me at email@example.com.