As the impasse over the State budget continues, it is increasingly difficult for residents to evaluate what any individual legislator is trying to do, when nothing seems to get done. The State Senate and State Assembly are institutions with many different, discordant voices, competing for attention, and representing very different groups of people – with very different points of view. As the Assembly member who represents this piece of New York State (1 out of 150 members), I wanted to share a series of comments:
1) The budget impasse is more about regional interests than strictly partisan political interests.
NYC representatives want school aid and municipal aid restoration; those of us from the suburbs want to see property tax relief included in the budget package; upstate legislators want economic development funding. When resources are tight, compromise becomes infinitely more difficult.
Each element is fighting primarily for their vision of what needs to be done in this difficult budget year – who to tax, how much to tax, how and where to spend less money. There are certainly special interests on each side of every one of these issues, but the assumption that every legislator cares more about those interests rather than “the people” is simply not true.
I hear, loud and clear, from the voters every day – but the voters of Brooklyn and the Adirondacks are telling their legislators very different things every day.
2) Everyone needs to consider some measure of sacrifice.
Legislators have not received paychecks in 6 weeks; even when we do get back payments (once a budget is adopted) our mortgage companies, utilities and other creditors do not expect to wait weeks for their payments. I have no vested interest in continued gridlock.
I’ve have already committed to a voluntary 3% pay cut this year; such sacrifice needs to be made across the board by everyone in the political leadership class if we ever hope to convince workers to make concessions. No one, in any line of employment, is free from fear of losing their job – and job loss is what has driven the economy downward. The sacrifice is meant to forestall the worse case scenario of greater job loss, and further downward spiral.
3) Cut spending, especially non-essential spending.
I have joined a cadre of Assembly members who have given up any claim to “pork” funding, i.e. discretionary grant spending, for this budget year; we cannot cut school aid, for example, and still squirrel away money for a pet project here or there, however worthy those projects may be.
I have eliminated two posts out of five in my government offices – and I routinely score among the bottom two or three Westchester legislators in every listing of public mailings, office spending, etc. All of us must do more with less.
4) No scapegoats.
It is easy to bash Wall Street – but whatever the sins of individuals, financial services is the industry that drives our economy. It is “pound foolish” to tar everyone in an industry for bad behavior, when we are trying to catch a corrupt or incompetent few, and thereby hinder the many from helping us pull out of this mess.
The same principle of mass vilification of individuals applies to the oft-criticized public employee – some individuals try to beat the system, but most are simply decent, hard-working people trying to their job everyday. That we need to cut spending and regulate abuses is clear, but lets not do so with a glee to find scapegoats we can blame. The problems are far too complex for simplistic views, loudly expressed.
5) New taxes have real world impacts.
If Pepsico moves out of New York State, all because our state passes a “soda tax”, have we made a net gain or net loss by instituting this new tax? If we allow wine in grocery stores, do we have a net gain or net loss when wine and liquor stores close on the small main streets of New York? If we cut the STAR program spending, but it triggers higher property taxes in Westchester, what have we accomplished? New taxes – which look appealing at first glance and in 30 second TV ads, may have a very significant downside.
The climate of anger is calling for the guillotine to be trotted out in the public square, ready for use on the aristocrats of Albany, without considering who is doing what. As I travel day-in and day-out, to meet with people, holding office hours at the diner, updating the seniors and the civic groups, I take my public positions with great consideration to how people feel, but also with a clear-eyed understanding that the final answers in this budget, which we are still fighting over, will not be to the liking of some. That is why they are tough decisions, in these tough times.
New York State Assemblyman, 91st Assembly District
Larchmont, Mamaroneck Town, Mamaroneck Village, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye Brook, Rye City, Rye Town