Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Saratoga/Schenectady
My goal for years has been to convince legislative leaders to reform state government, reduce out of control property taxes and help grow private sector jobs.
The urgency of accomplishing those goals has never been more pressing. During the past decade, New York lost more than 1 million people to other states and led the nation in highest property taxes and worst business tax climate.
Yet, as taxes skyrocketed and jobs and people fled New York, we were told by Albany’s “Tri-ocracy” of “Three Men in a Room”: former governors, assembly speaker and Senate majority leader to “wait till next year” for reform.
In 2011, reform of state government finally began and “next year” became “this year.”
First, our new Gov. Andrew Cuomo was able to marshal all his resources to persuade a recalcitrant legislature to go along with his agenda.
Second, after years of over-taxing, over-spending and over-borrowing, the Legislature realized what I, and many of my Republican colleagues have long argued – the state is broke and the right choice is to pursue fiscal reform.
Back in January, I advised that to be successful, the governor needed to “speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
That big stick is the support of his agenda by the voters and taxpayers of New York State – and that’s exactly what Gov. Cuomo did.
As I said previously, New York doesn’t need a Superman as Chief Executive: it needs a Solomon. We remember one of our recent governors who thought he was the Man of Steel and would steamroll anyone who got in his way – and he ran into Kryptonite with the likes of the New York State Legislature by picking a fight at every chance.
Gov. Cuomo was wise enough to understand that one should never pick a fight but be ready to stand up to the Legislature when necessary but also use reason and thoughtful persuasion to convince them to go along with his agenda.
For example, the governor held many informal meeting with legislators in his office and at the Executive Mansion. At one breakfast meeting with me and my Assembly Republican colleagues, our conference questioned the governor about restoring VLT monies to the municipalities that hosted them. The governor said he’d look into it and sure enough, he went back and restored $1.5 million in VLT aid to Saratoga Springs that’s going to be a real win for the city and will help keep property taxes down.
From the start, the governor inferred that budgeting in New York wouldn’t be business as usual if the Legislature didn’t pass a budget that reduced spending by the April 1 deadline. He would use his executive powers to push through his budget as an emergency extender or give the Legislature a choice of shutting down government.
That promise, I believe, was a major motivator to bring the legislative leaders to the table to pass a fiscally responsible, on-time state budget that for the first time in recent memory contained no new taxes or borrowing and actually reduced spending by $3.1 billion from the previous year.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I, and the members of the Assembly Republican Conference, am honored to see that others came around to see the need to fight back against the highest property taxes in the nation. Now that we’re capping property taxes, the next step is to freeze them and then move to cut taxes once and for all.
To help reduce consumer energy costs and grow the green jobs of tomorrow that will power New York’s economy, we passed the Article X law to build new power plants and made permanent the Recharge New York-Power for Jobs program. We passed sweeping ethics law reforms to ensure greater disclosure, transparency, and accountability in state government. We also enacted the SUNY 2020 program to help families better plan for future education costs.
This year, I’ve been outspoken about saving millions of tax dollars and the environment by stopping the wasteful printing of bills that often go unread and end up getting tossed into landfills. I’m pleased to report that the Legislature passed a bill I co-sponsored that will enable the New York State Legislature to begin the transition to go paperless, by amending the constitution to stop the placement of paper copies of bills on the 212 legislative desks and permit a digital copy to suffice.
Readers will recall that I’ve been a long-time advocate for stronger laws to prevent animal cruelty. This year, we held the first-ever New York State Animal Advocacy Day to bring together pet owners, animal advocates, law enforcement, veterinarians, animal shelters, rescues and others to fight for the toughest laws in the nation to protect companion animals. Studies have shown that animal cruelty is a bridge crime and that violence against animals can and has led to violence against people. This effort helped lead to passage of legislation I was a sponsor of to increase criminal penalties for animal fighting.
These accomplishments are a great start but there’s still more work to be completed. I agree with the governor that our top priority moving forward must be: jobs, jobs, jobs.
The governor has created 10 regional economic development councils to promote job growth and we need to make sure taxpayer dollars are wisely spent. We must focus on removing bureaucratic red tape and other obstacles that impede private sector job growth along with enacting tax cuts to help small businesses create jobs. To do this effectively, he must include taxpayers, local elected officials, and those that face the challenge of owning and running a small business in New York State.
We took the first step to providing local governments with mandate relief and now we need to further eliminate unfunded state mandates to take financial pressure off municipalities and help lower property taxes. With a property tax cap in place it’s time for a spending cap to put a limit on state government spending.
Let’s pass non-partisan, independent redistricting reform to take the power to draw legislative lines out of the pockets of politicians and into the hands of voters.
We’ve come a long way over the last six months to reforming state government and making New York open for business. But there are still miles to go.
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