On Wednesday, January 4, Governor Cuomo will outline his agenda for New York in his second annual State of the State Address. In 2011, after Governor Cuomo's first State of the State Address, I said it was time to hit the "reset" button and begin a fresh start after enduring years of embarrassing ethical scandals and a pattern of fiscal and governmental mismanagement under recent administrations.
I believe we have begun a lengthy 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, but we have a long way to go before crossing the finish line. In this column, I will outline my continued call for much-needed reforms and legislative priorities that I am hoping the Governor will include in his 2012 State of the State Address.
JOB CREATION IS JOB NUMBER ONE
The over 700,000 unemployed New Yorkers are screaming for jobs, jobs, jobs - and I don't blame them! Times are tough and folks deserve the opportunity to earn a living and support their families - a cornerstone of the American Dream. Governor Cuomo - and the legislature - must focus their attention on job creation so that families can continue to prosper across the state.
A true jobs agenda is based on getting government bureaucracy out of the way and helping to lower crushing costs of doing business such as energy and workers compensation so businesses will invest and create jobs. We need to lower business taxes, roll back senseless regulations and build upon New York's regional economic assets. Having spent most of my adult life in the private sector, I know what so many Albany politicians fail to recognize: job creators are not looking for a government handout. What they want is for government to stop making it harder for them to run their business, turn a profit and grow jobs.
REAL RELIEF FOR TAXPAYERS INCLUDES UNFUNDED MANDATE RELIEF
The Assembly Minority Conference has long championed mandate relief for local municipalities and school districts. Unfunded mandates are the web of rules, regulations and red tape that Albany imposes on local governments and school districts that ultimately raises local property taxes. Municipalities across the state must include these cast-iron costs in their budgets, which leaves little wiggle room except to cut local services that are especially critical in these tough economic times.
In 2011, much attention was given to the passage of the property tax cap, but New York's overburdened taxpayers - who ultimately foot the bill - will only see real relief when Albany reduces costs on localities in conjunction with the cap.
True mandate relief would begin with providing a moratorium on new unfunded mandates for as long as a property tax cap is in place; freezing County Medicaid costs; giving the Governor and state Legislature the power to repeal existing unfunded mandates; allowing localities to seek waivers from state government on specific unfunded mandates and enacting comprehensive pension reform.
RETHINK, RESTRUCTURE AND REFORM STATE GOVERNMENT
Simply put, government costs too much and spends too much - and New Yorkers get a poor return on all that spending. Between 2000-2010, spending grew over 70 percent, and that is simply not sustainable! We need to impose fiscal discipline on State Agencies and consolidate entities with overlapping functions; redesign New York's Medicaid program and reduce the rate of growth in government. It is imperative we examine every government program, every policy, to determine if it is actually working for patients, students and taxpayers.
One way to streamline government is through a 'People's Convention to Reform New York.' I believe holding a People's Convention can put the tools in the hands of overburdened taxpayers and bring about critical changes that New York needs through a truly democratic process. Possible reforms that could be considered include initiative and referendum, term limits, a state spending cap, unfunded mandate relief, independent redistricting, along with debt reform. For more information on the People's Convention or to sign the online petition, go to www.reformny.org.
DON'T SHORT-CHANGE LOW AND AVERAGE WEALTH SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Governor Cuomo has indicated that his Executive budget proposal will include a 4 percent increase in state education aid, which is about $755 million. However, he has not indicated how he plans to distribute this money. I advise him to consider a need-based aid distribution plan that will ensure low and average wealth school districts do not get short-changed.
Additionally, the Governor has stated he wants to "incentivize" school district performance and focus on the students. I couldn't agree more, but across the state there is a threat of school closings, teacher layoffs and students do not have equal opportunities in the classroom. Wealthy school districts are offering more programs and educational opportunities than low and average wealth school districts. This has to change. We must first level the playing field and then talk about "incentivizing" performance fairly across the board.
2012: THE YEAR THAT NEW YORK STATE RECAPTURES ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE AS A NATIONAL LEADER
I look forward to working with the Governor to achieve these critical priorities during the coming Legislative Session. We still have a lot of work to do, but I believe we hit the "reset" button last year and will continue to reform and rebuild the great state of New York. Even through the hardship of a tough economy, our Conference will work with the Governor and the Legislature to deliver results worthy of a finish line celebration.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.