As we look back at 2016 and the state legislative session, there were a number of clear victories for the people of the State of New York.
For a sixth consecutive year the state budget was completed on-time and stayed within a self-imposed two-percent spending cap – which is consistent with the local tax levy cap that applies to school districts and local governments. The budget includes one of the largest income tax reductions in history for middle class taxpayers, increases overall school aid by approximately $1.5 billion, invests in our upstate roads and bridges, and offers help to those pursuing a college education.
Additionally, the 2016-17 budget builds upon several other programs I have long supported.
This year, more than $2.7 billion is being used to fund New York’s STAR and Enhanced STAR programs. These two outstanding programs deliver significant tax relief to millions of middle class families and senior citizens.
The state budget fully funded an additional round of property tax rebate checks. This past fall, millions of homeowners received much needed tax relief through a check in the mail. The rebate checks provided an average savings of $350 per household.
One piece of legislation, known as the Veterans Buyback Bill, was finally signed into law after passing the legislature three times and being vetoed twice. The measure, which I co-sponsored, has been a long time in coming and I am extremely pleased that this small thank you is now available to our veterans.
The new law allows all honorably discharged service members with five years of existing public pension credit to purchase three years of credit for their military service. Previously, state law only allowed World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War vets to purchase pension credits.
The goal of this law is simple – to honor those who have bravely served our country and to encourage them to return to New York and continue their public service as teachers, firefighters, police officers, and municipal and state employees. The credit is a small price to pay to recognize the training and leadership skills that our veterans received during their honorable military service.
I have also worked to strengthen the state’s economy by making sure our workforce is properly trained and prepared for the changing job market. As a member of the Senate Task Force on Workforce Development I helped review the state’s existing job training programs for both job seekers and workers interested in advancement or a career change. The task force held several forums around the state and this year released a number of recommendations to improve employee readiness, connect job seekers with potential employers, retrain those who have lost jobs, and make certain that our workforce meets changing private sector needs.
As a member of the Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction I have worked to enact new laws to fight the heroin and opioid abuse crisis and additional measures were passed this year. The laws focus on a number of key areas including initiatives to increase access to treatment and support those who are in recovery.
This heroin epidemic is a concern that will continue to be a priority going forward. Along with treating those in need of healthcare, we must also take additional steps to target drug kingpins who prey on the addiction of others.
I also co-sponsored legislation (S.8158), which has been signed into law, to protect children from being exposed to dangerous lead levels in school drinking water. The new law ensures that periodic tap water testing for lead is conducted by schools to obtain important information about the quality of students’ drinking water.
There were many other items that belong in the 2016 win column including: assistance for senior citizens; new programs to help farmers; and funding to protect our environment.
Of course, there is more work to be done and I look forward to discussing my 2017 priorities in the coming weeks.