New York state is a difficult state to govern in light of the upstate downstate divide. This divide generally, but not always, translates into differing policy priorities between the more populated areas of the state versus the less populated areas. The suburbs often represent the swing vote swaying between a more conservative and a more liberal ideology on various issues.
On top of that challenge, there is the increasing struggle between the legislative and executive branch of state government. As Gov. Cuomo becomes more focused on the national scene, his focus has changed from governing the state as a whole to instead looking to strengthening his credentials with various constituencies. This has resulted in friction with the legislature because politics rather than policy become more of the focus. The necessary trust between the branches has handicapped the ability of Albany to achieve major policy achievements.
As a result, we see a mishmash of policy that was adopted or rejected in the 2017 legislative session. In the rejected category, very little was done to improve the Upstate economy. Most economists point to New York’s high cost of doing business as a reason why Upstate’s economy continues to struggle. Business growth and resulting employment growth has been buffeted over the years because state government continues to place additional burdens on employers such as wage mandates and excessive regulatory burdens. These policies differentiated New York from high growth states like Florida and Texas and tragically we continue to see our population decline Upstate, which simply exacerbates the problem.
Also in the rejected category is any mandate relief for our local governments and school districts. These mandates have resulted in New York being the property tax capital of the country. State government continues to be very willing to demand that our localities and schools institute expensive policies while at the same time refusing to pay the cost of these policies. Indeed, this has gotten so absurd that when a proposal was made in Congress recently to relieve NYS counties of their mandated Medicaid costs, the governor, in response, threatened to implement a new tax on the counties and name the tax after the very same congressmen who proposed the relief in the first place.
Lastly, also rejected was broad-based ethics and rules reform. While over the years the legislature has implemented various reforms that affect its members such as requiring greater public disclosure of legislators outside income or instituting the Joint Committee on Public Ethics (JCOPE) there have been few substantive rules reform such as term-limits for leaders that probably would do more for ethics in Albany than any of the multitude of so-called ethics bills passed over the last decade.
On the plus side, with the governor’s leadership, the state Public Service Commission adopted the Clean Energy Standard which recognizes New York’s Upstate nuclear plants for their zero-emission generation of electricity. These plants are now able to receive zero-emission credits, which provide them with economic stability thereby averting the certain closure of the plants. Keeping the plants open saved thousands of jobs, ensures diversity of our electrical generators in NYS (keeping electricity prices lower) and limits CO2 emission in New York which is important for our environment.
Another positive was the passage of flood assistance legislation for property owners, small businesses and municipalities along Lake Ontario and connected waterways who are dealing with record-high water levels. Both the Senate and the Assembly unanimously passed a bill to provide financial assistance to property owners. Also included in the bill is a property tax relief measure for those who have experienced major damage or erosion to their property. The governor has indicated that he will not sign the bill due to “technical” problems with the legislation.
I urge everyone affected by the high lake levels to please contact the governor’s office and request that he sign the bill. Those suffering from high lake levels need relief and this bill is a good start in providing that relief.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me. My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also can friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.