A new legislative session in Albany typically starts with at least a veneer of sunny optimism. But this year, there’s plenty of bickering between state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Now, they have to do their jobs. Hold real hearings on important issues. Pass legislation that reflects what constituents want. Understand that no one has a monopoly on good ideas, and let bills from minority party members come to the floor for votes. On Monday, Cuomo unveiled some interesting ideas for NYC, and many are worth consideration. And it was encouraging to hear Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie say on opening day that New Yorkers “sent us here to get a job done.” Here’s what we want done:
Ethics reform: Corruption is as much a problem as dysfunction in Albany. First, do the required second approval of the constitutional amendment to strip pensions from public officials convicted of corruption. Also ban or strictly limit outside income for lawmakers, raise their salaries, and make their jobs full time. Alternatively, institute term limits for elected officials. Bar elected officials from using campaign contributions for legal defense funds and start public campaign financing. Increase executive-branch oversight by expanding or restoring the authority of the state comptroller and attorney general. Otherwise, voters can say yes in November to the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention and get ethics reform done that way.
Election issues: Give voters more choices in elections by simplifying rules for getting on ballots and by banning cross endorsements, which give one candidate multiple party lines. Make voting easier by enacting laws to automatically register voters when they do business with selected state agencies, move deadlines for registering and switching parties closer to election dates, consolidate New York’s primary dates, and institute some form of early voting, perhaps beginning the Saturday before Election Day.
Criminal justice: Pass a bill that requires the state to take over from counties the cost of criminal defense legal services for the poor while ensuring uniform quality of representation and oversight of how counties spend the money. Raise the age of criminal responsibility. New York and North Carolina are the only states that still prosecute 16-year-olds as adults.
Education: Pass a form of Cuomo’s proposal for free public college tuition that includes a smart standard for eligibility, a defined funding source, and resources for schools to help students meet the graduate-on-time mandate. Pair that with a new plan for predictable tuition hikes.
Business: Create jobs, as many as possible. Take a hard look at the state’s Regional Economic Development Council competition to assess whether awards deliver the jobs they promise. Commit enough state funding to make the Kingsbridge National Ice Center a reality in the Bronx, rather than fodder for another legal battle. Invest in NYC’s life sciences industry, but add resources for companies to stay beyond their incubator stage. Try to streamline regulations.
Transportation: Reduce traffic by voting to toll East River bridges, and charge motorists who drive into lower Manhattan and midtown.
Environment: Pass the climate and community protection act, which would require the state to collect data on greenhouse gas emissions and set a plan for reductions based on that data.
Housing: Cuomo, Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan must sign the existing agreement that would begin to release a promised $2 billion for affordable housing and supportive housing for the homeless. Re-establish incentives to build more affordable housing, but not via the old 421a program, which gave too many tax breaks to developers who built too few affordable units.
Organ donation: To help raise New York’s abysmal organ-donation rate, pass legislation that declares a person to be an organ donor unless he or she expressly opts out on a driver’s license..
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There’s a lot to do when you are representing all the people of New York.