E-Mail Newsletter – January 27, 2015

The Assembly Majority will meet again as a conference at noon today. We cannot afford to delay the business of the people, nor can it be compromised during a time when we face such critical budget and policy negotiations.

After difficult and frank discussions with the Assembly Conference, and in light of the magnitude of the situation with regard to what is best for the Assembly and the State of New York, there is a strong sense among members it would be best for the Speaker to step down and for this body to elect a new Speaker.

While I firmly support the presumption of innocence as a bedrock principle of our country, I believe this is what is best for the institution and the people we represent. There is a lot of hard work before us to move ahead and unite the body behind a new Speaker who can best represent the entire state, champion reforms, and restore confidence in the Assembly.

In other news:

We had a terrific third annual open house on Friday morning, the best turnout yet and a wonderful opportunity to meet with residents of the 109th District!

Last week, Governor Cuomo announced during his State of Opportunity speech his ideas for this year’s legislative session and his proposal for this year’s budget, outlining an ambitious agenda to continue to move New York State forward.

Below are highlights from the speech:

+ Property Tax Relief. The Governor is proposing a $1.7 billion plan that will tie in property tax credits with household income. This program would be phased in over four years and provide tax credits to more than one million middle-class homeowners and more than one million renters. Residential property owners would be eligible if they earn less than $250,000 a year in adjusted gross income and if their communities stay under the property-tax cap. Also, a homeowner's property taxes would have to exceed six percent of income in order to be eligible.

+ Raising the Minimum Wage. The Governor is proposing a raise to the state’s minimum wage to $10.50 statewide and to $11.50 in New York City. I support an increase in the minimum wage to help lift workers out of poverty and raise living standards.

+ Education. The Governor made note that 38 percent of high school seniors are not college ready, yet made mentioned that over 97 percent of teachers are rated ‘effective.’ While I am concerned about the readiness of our state’s high school seniors to enter college as best prepared as they can be, the Governor seems to only blame teachers for the challenges facing the classroom and the families served. There are a number of troubling education proposals I will write about in the coming weeks.

+ $1.5 billion for Upstate Revitalization. $1.5 billion is proposed to be divvied into three $500 million packages in which seven Upstate regions will compete. This is an opportunity to address a number of needs in the Capital Region to boost economic development, encourage entrepreneurship, and create new jobs - though I do not support the high stakes part of this competition to address economic needs across upstate. This competition would leave four regions empty handed if not selected. In the budget process, I will advocate rewarding parts of good proposals across the seven upstate regions as has been done in via the Regional Economic Development Councils.

+ State Emergency Preparedness College to be located at University at Albany! The Governor announced that the University at Albany will open the nation’s first-ever higher education institution focused on emergency preparedness, homeland security, and cyber security, in addition to a satellite office in Oriskany. This is terrific (and deserving) news for UAlbany and surrounding region and will help the state’s efforts in combating terrorism and assisting localities during disasters.

+ Passing the DREAM Act. The Governor has taken the call to pass the DREAM Act once again, which will allow for undocumented students to apply for tuition assistance through existing programs such as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and other state-funded grants.

+ Increase to the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The Governor is proposing an increase to $172 million, a 28 percent boost since 2011 and $11 million from last year. This is good starting point for such an effective program to protect our state’s air, land, water, and natural habitats.

+ Reforms to Criminal Justice. The Governor is proposing an increase of the age of "criminal intent" where juvenile convicts from 16 to 18 can be held in state prisons. New York State is one of only two states in the nation that treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults when they commit non-violent crimes and this proposal is both welcome and overdue.

+ Expanding Pre-K. The Governor, building upon increasing Pre-K access, is proposing $25 million to fund “high need” 3-year-olds to attend Pre-K.

+ Aid to Municipalities (AIM). The Governor’s plan currently has AIM funding flat at $714.7 million statewide. I will strongly advocate for additional AIM funding for the City of Albany to help provide relief to the City’s finances and most importantly property owners.

I will keep you informed upon our progress on these and many more issues throughout the budget process in the next few weeks.

State of SUNY. SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher delivered her annual State of SUNY address at the Egg in Albany on Friday, outlining SUNY’s accomplishments over the past year and goals they would like to set for the year among their 64 campuses statewide. One of the highlights is SUNY’s goal from increasing the number of graduates from 93,000 today to 150,000 by 2020.

State funding takeover of counties’ indigent legal services. Last week, I joined Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy and Assigned Counsel Administrator and former Albany County Judge Larry Rosen, in addition to legislative colleagues, in announcing reform recommendations to 18-b which affects indigent defendants.

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must provide lawyers to those who can’t afford it, and the State of New York implemented this by mandating counties to pay for these defense services but without providing the resources. A 2006 report chaired by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye labeled the state of public defense as an ‘ongoing crisis.' Phasing in state funding with strict standards and oversight is the best way to meet this need and provide equal access to legal representation for all New Yorkers, thereby reducing the burden carried by Albany County and counties across the state.

Later, we spoke with Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin about this growing problem.

Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a new job portal entitled Jobs Express, where thousands of private and public sector jobs are listed. Visit jobs.ny.gov for more information on how to apply for these opportunities.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note.

Sincerely ---