Suggestions to Albany
It’s that time of year again in Albany: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to deliver his State of the State speech on Tuesday, including his budget proposal in the presentation. Then New York’s Senate and Assembly will draft their own spending plans for the 2019-20 fiscal year, and a finished product will be negotiated from there, hopefully by the April deadline.
Of course, there is a lot more than just the budget in the mix as the legislature begins its season. Many other laws are being considered, including numerous voting and ethics reforms, the Child Victims Act and expansion of abortion rights. Some of these may be used as bargaining chips in the budget negotiations; others will be dealt with separately.
We have a few preferences in all of this. Here are some:
¯ First, we hope the next budget includes increased funding for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, especially to hire more forest rangers, foresters and other staff to manage the Adirondack Forest Preserve. In recent years the state has bought huge tracts of land in the Adirondacks and increased I Love New York tourism promotion — but without a corresponding increase in DEC staff. That’s been problematic as an increased number of hikers batter the most popular mountains, often without knowing how to protect themselves and nature. A few more DEC hires could make a big difference in conservation.
¯ We hope state leaders can realize that state-subsidized broadband internet expansion upstate has become something of a snarled mess. It’s very hard for consumers to understand their options, which seem to be different from one block to the next, and many people aren’t getting anywhere near the internet speed they were promised. Fixing this situation won’t be easy, whether the state tries to weed out the problems or restructure the subsidies wholesale, but it probably won’t get better on its own.
¯ We hope the legislature and governor will authorize the state to sell the former Camp Gabriels prison — shuttered a decade ago — and issue legal clarification that when the state closes such a facility in the Adirondacks, it does not automatically become part of the constitutionally protected Forest Preserve. It’s ridiculous to say that a former prison is part of the “forever wild” land that cannot be sold or logged, but that’s the impasse we are stuck with. The state did not think so previously and almost sold it, but with an environmental group’s lawsuit threat hanging over its head, the buyer bailed. Now the state isn’t even trying anymore. It’s time to break this logjam.
¯ We hope and expect the Child Victims Act will be passed this session. New York’s stature of limitations for child sex abuse is too restrictive and should be expanded now that the public has had more exposure to why people kept silent about the abuse they suffered.
¯ In general, we support the ethics reform proposals we have heard, such as ending the LLC loophole that lets corporate entities make unlimited donations to candidates and replacing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics with something independent and useful. Frankly we are surprised at lawmakers’ appetite for these reforms considering that one party now controls both legislative houses plus the governor’s office — but we’ll take it.
¯ We also generally support the election reform proposals we’ve read about, such as early voting, same-day voter registration — which would require a constitutional amendment — and consolidating state and federal primary dates. New York restricts its ballot access more than other states, and that’s unnecessary. We agree with the New York State Association of Counties, however, the state must work with counties on phasing early voting into place. It would add to counties’ election expenses, and they have already set their 2019 budgets.
¯ New Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has supported Cuomo’s proposal to make the tax cap permanent, which we support — but we hope the legislature will also open its minds to paying for mandated services it has thus far dumped on counties.
¯ We hope to see the Environmental Protection Fund, and perhaps other state funds, used for more projects to upgrade infrastructure in ways that enhance environmental and human health — such as, for instance, replacing Lake George’s 85-year-old wastewater treatment plant, which emits excessive nitrates that lead to algae blooms.
Some may describe this list as rather boring, but we’d rather see the state spend our tax dollars on solid infrastructure than new land purchases or tourist amenities.
What would you like New York’s elected leaders to do this legislative session? Share your thoughts in a letter to the editor, submitted on our website or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.