Friday, January 13, 2012

The Legislative Session Begins Again

The 2012 Legislative Session began with the Governor’s State of the State message delivered to a packed and enthusiastic crowd in the convention center in Albany.  Cuomo began his State of the State talking about the successes of the last session including the tax restructuring, ethics reform, marriage equality law, and the 2% tax levy cap. He then went on to outline an ambitious economic development plan which comprises three parts. First, he proposes the creation of a public private partnership, including the building of the largest convention center to be located in Queens as part of the Aqueduct racing and the  revitalization of the west side by turning the Javits Center into an economic development project funded by private dollars.  He also outlined an ambitious plan to give 1 billion state dollars to leverage $5 billion in private development in Buffalo.

His second economic initiative deals with gaming to create jobs and to increase state revenues. This will necessitate a constitutional amendment to allow gaming off Indian reservations.  He also talked about infrastructure repair including Tappan Zee bridge, as well as other statewide roads, bridges and flood plains. His third economic development proposal included multiple energy projects which would create jobs, again using the public/private partnership funds. All of these dollars add up to $25 billion which, in Mr. Cuomo’s words, will provide “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The rest of his State of the State dealt with fiscal discipline included mandate relief and reform of the pension system creating a Tier 6.  He reiterated that there would be no new taxes or fees in this year’s budget.  As far as mandate relief concerned, he talked about having public hearings with a robust public discussion and a vote on new mandate relief initiatives by end of session. He talked a bit about education, stating that he will be the students’ “lobbyist.”  At that moment a reporter tweeted “Quick, call JCOPE (new Joint Commission on Public Ethics).” He went on to talk about transforming education with a bipartisan commission of education. There will be educational experts to work with the legislature on new legislation.

At the very end of his speech, he did talk about government reform in the name of campaign finance.  He publicly stated he would send a bill to the legislature to reform the lax and poorly enforced laws in New York.  As stated by Governor Cuomo in his State of the State, he called for comprehensive reform of the state's campaign finance system to make sure that all New Yorkers have an equal voice in the political process. New York ranks 48th in the nation in voter turnout – he recommends that we must reconnect the people to the political process and their government. The Governor called for reforms including a system of public funding, lower contribution limits, and increased enforcement of our state's campaign finance laws. This is a League legislative priority this year as it has been for many years in the past. Our hope is that with the Governor’s backing and a strong coalition of groups around the state, we can finally achieve voter owned elections with lower campaign limits, closure of loopholes of current lax laws, and importantly, better disclosure of contributions and stronger enforcement of campaign violations.

This first week of the legislative session was relatively pro forma in that the Assembly reintroduced bills that had not passed the Senate last session. The Senate confirmed some appointments made during the off-session. Most importantly, the Senate and Assembly party conferences met behind closed doors in lengthy sessions; my assumption is that they talked to their members about pressing, imminent issues including the Governor’s State of the State economic initiatives and the coming state budget. Also, we know that the Senate briefed their members on redistricting focusing on a memo quietly released to LATFOR late on Friday afternoon in which their intention to create a 63rd Senate district when the Senate lines are released shortly.

The session will begin in earnest next Tuesday with the release of the Governor’s 2012-13 Executive budget. The League will monitor the Executive budget and will attend the budget hearings.

The next several days will bring great activity with the release of a federal judge’s decision on New York’s primary date for US congressional elections. This will have a great impact on the redistricting timetable so stay tuned as the League activity around redistricting reaches its climax. We expect the redistricting lines drawn by LATFOR to be released in the next several days with public hearings on the lines to begin by the end of the month. In coordination with its coalition, ReShapeNY, the League distributed a press release yesterday on our continued commitment to redistricting reform which is on the website. We will also be sending out more information on action that local Leagues can take on our continued push for redistricting reform.

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