With the 2016 legislative session now underway, it is an ideal time to outline a few of my leading priorities. These are issues that I hear about on a daily basis from those who live and work in my district and what I would call “The People’s Agenda”.
The 2015 session was challenging for a number of reasons, including the indictment and eventual conviction of two top legislative leaders. It is important that steps are taken to restore public trust in Albany.
A number of actions have been taken in recent years to “clean up” Albany, however, there are additional steps I will be focusing on. We can start with final approval of legislation that ends pensions for those convicted of a felony. If a politician spends time feathering his own nest there is absolutely no reason he should receive a taxpayer funded pension. We also need to formally adopt legislation that places term limits on leadership positions and committee chairmanships.
Quality roads and bridges are indispensable when it comes to improving our economy and making sure the motoring public is safe.
The governor has called for $8 billion for downstate mass transit projects and we need equal funding for upstate roads and bridges.
New York State’s public education system is the core that supports so many other elements of our day to day life. Ensuring our schools have the resources they need to help students grow and meet new challenges has always been one of my leading priorities. The funding helps with classroom needs, and is imperative to keeping local property taxes in check.
One major item schools have contended with in recent years is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). I voted against the GEA when it was first imposed on schools and have been working to make schools whole again financially. The senate has lead the fight to erase the GEA and, to date, 85 percent of the original cut has been erased. This year, the GEA must be retired completely, once and for all.
Ensuring we have a vibrant and robust economy will help on so many fronts. Controlling state spending, improving our infrastructure, cutting energy costs, and rejecting new taxes are some of the strategies that help create a strong job growth climate. Regulatory and mandate relief, along with targeted tax cuts are also vital tools that will lower the cost of doing business in New York State.
There is also a great deal of discussion concerning a minimum wage increase. The fact is, the minimum wage just went up on January 1st, and is up 75 percent in New York State since 2004. Before any further increases are approved, it is vital that we carefully study the impact such a hike would have on businesses – especially the small businesses that populate many of our Main Streets.
The 2015 state budget included $500 million to develop high-speed internet access. This is a small portion of the ongoing state support directed toward broadband expansion projects in recent years. I will continue to support new funding to advance connectivity and also advocate for speedy completion of approved projects.
As a member of the Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction since its inception in 2014, I have been a leader in enacting new laws focused on addressing the heroin crisis which has touched every segment of our population and is destroying individuals, families, and communities. I have worked to initiate a multi-prong strategy to prevent drug abuse and overdoses, increase the availability of addiction treatment, and enhance the tools provided to law enforcement to keep heroin off the streets.
Additional measures, which were passed by the senate but not the assembly, will be front and center in 2016. I will also continue to work with community groups that are on the front lines and are making a real difference.