The Remarks of Speaker Carl E. Heastie - Opening the 247th Legislative Session

January 3, 2024
Assembly Chamber

[as prepared for delivery]

Good morning members, staff and guests. Welcome back to the New York State Assembly Chamber.

I’d like to start by wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year. I hope you spent time with family and friends and are refreshed for the work ahead.

I’d also like to welcome our honored guest for joining us – Rabbi Keith Elijah Thompson of the Bronx Miracle Gospel Tabernacle from my assembly district in the Bronx. Thank you for being with us today.

And of course, I want to wish a warm welcome back to all my colleagues - no matter what side of the aisle you call home.

To my Assembly Majority colleagues, I am always so impressed with all that we accomplish here in the People’s House. The work that we do is incredibly important, and each year I try and take stock of all that we have accomplished, and I never fail to be amazed.

Whether it’s making investments in education, improving the lives of hardworking people, bringing good paying jobs to our state or enacting historic and meaningful criminal justice reforms – we in the Empire State are always at the forefront of the issues that really matter.

To my Assembly Minority colleagues, I look forward to our work together this year. I remain grateful that bipartisanship is alive and well in New York while the nation continues to split across party lines. I know that we take the idea of “people over party” to heart in New York and am honored to work with you again in the year ahead.

Over the last four years we have faced many challenges. I am so proud of how we worked together, not just in New York, but as a nation to overcome them.

It’s only through a combined effort – through true teamwork – that we can lower New York’s unemployment to three percent, raise wages up by four percent and build our economic future with a focus on putting families first.

By passing the CHIPS and Science Act the United States was able to strengthen our nation’s manufacturing and supply chain while making important investments in research, nanotech and clean energy.

To ensure New York remains at the forefront of domestic chip development, we passed the Green CHIPS bill, which has allowed us to incentivize semiconductor manufacturers to build new green factories right here in the Empire State.

And so far, this deal is paying big dividends.

Micron Technology – in one of the largest economic development projects in the country – is heading to Central New York, ready to spend $100 billion and hire 9,000 New Yorkers for well-paying jobs. They also anticipate a demand for 40,000 additional jobs in and around the region to accommodate new restaurants, hotels and businesses driven by the influx of new residents.

And here in Albany we’re making a $1 billion investment to keep the Capital Region at the international epicenter of chip research. With that money, the Albany Nanotech Complex will be able to purchase the most advanced lithography machine on the market – introducing 700 new jobs and $9 billion of private sector investments right back into the Capital Region.

All this while the Inflation Reduction Act continues to rebuild our nation’s economic future by lowering inflation by five percent, creating 170,000 clean energy jobs and helping families save hundreds annually on utility bills.

But these new jobs are just part of our rebuilding effort.

Thanks to the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, we are able to put New Yorkers to work repaving roads, rebuilding bridges, improving our airports, expanding internet access and delivering clean drinking water to all our communities.

But with this success, there are caution flags ahead on the path to economic recovery. The stock market is still extremely volatile with economists closely watching consumer spending trends and the Federal Reserve’s steps to further control inflation.

We must ensure our focus remains on providing for our hardworking families first and foremost. Here in the People’s House, we believe New York’s future is being built by these families. We believe it is our duty to extend the economic ladder of opportunity so that everyone can dream of a better tomorrow.

To help us extend that ladder, we fought to raise the minimum wage across the state each year until 2027 when it will be indexed to inflation, ensuring our hardworking New Yorkers will always be able to put food on the table.

To further extend our working families’ financial flexibility, we increased the reach of our child tax credit. With record-high childcare costs, we expanded eligibility to our Child Care Assistance Program and increased funding to ensure greater access to safe and affordable care.

Two years ago, we made a historic $7 billion investment to expand access to childcare, including funds for universal pre-kindergarten, provider grants and expanded care at our public universities and colleges. And just last month, $100 million was dedicated to the construction of new childcare centers and incentives for new workplace programs.

We take incredible pride in the relief this provided to our deserving families and will strive to continue our work to expand opportunities to even more New Yorkers.

But on our path to making New York more affordable we need to ensure housing is within reach for all. It is not an understatement to say that housing – or more pointedly the lack of affordable housing – is one the biggest issues facing this state.

Every community in this state is feeling the effects of our housing crisis and it is up to us to enact solutions. All stakeholders must come to the table and have a serious discussion about how we can work together to solve New York’s affordable housing crisis.

We must build more affordable housing across the state, but at the same time protect those in our existing housing stock. We can’t afford not to act.

We must also continue our focus on New York’s education system.

Schools look a lot different now than when I was sitting behind a desk. There is a need to continue our investments in new technology, training and materials. In last year’s budget we worked together to secure an almost $3 billion investment for our schools – fully funding Foundation Aid after nearly two decades. This support will ensure our schools can recruit and retain teachers and elevate students back to their pre-pandemic learning levels.

We continued our historical investment with $3 billion in our public colleges and universities – keeping tuition flat across all campuses and continuing our mission to fully fund opportunity programs. I truly believe education is the great equalizer and these programs require adequate funding to ensure students have access to a world class education at an affordable cost.

Since I became Speaker, we’ve doubled the funding for our opportunity programs through the Assembly’s Road to Higher Education Success initiative, giving all students the chance to get an education and better their economic opportunities.

Last year we demonstrated our commitment to putting New York families first at a critical point in our history.

With all these gains and with a clear eye on the work that we need to do, I do not think it is an understatement to say that we stand at the precipice of a climate catastrophe. Importantly, New York is making an investment to ensure clean air and water, build climate-friendly homes, protect wildlife and create innovative green jobs along the way.

In 2019, we passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, setting critical environmental standards for our greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy initiatives. Each year since, we’ve built off this bold effort by setting goals for zero-emission vehicles, removing barriers to electric vehicle charging infrastructure and incentivizing New Yorkers to find plastic alternatives.

We know the future of New York is green and remain committed to building a healthier state for future generations.

Yet while we keep looking forward, neighboring states move backward. Across the nation, women are looking for reproductive healthcare without the intrusive beliefs of politicians. Last year, we proved to the nation that New York continues to be a sanctuary for reproductive access.

We began right in January, passing the Equal Rights Amendment for the second time and ensuring voters can make their voices heard on the issue this November. We extended contraceptive access across the state and for our students at our state colleges and universities. While other states were setting the groundwork for prosecuting health care providers for merely doing their jobs - we built on our previous efforts to shield them from these attacks. 

Health care decisions should be between a woman and her doctor.

Health care decisions should be between a woman and her doctor.

But despite our hard work and commitment to fighting for our protected classes, the headlines across the country highlight that once believed unalienable rights are under constant threat. New York needs to stand strong and continue to be the beacon of hope for what our nation could be – a refuge for future generations to dream big under the assurance that their rights are protected under our state constitution.

Our commitment to protecting the rights of New Yorkers is exemplified by our record-setting year for criminal justice reform. We passed legislation to help those wrongly convicted seek justice. We also provided $100 million in aid for prosecution and defense teams across the state so that justice can truly be served.

And we paved the way to wipe the slates clean of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. The Clean Slate Act will give these hardworking men and women a new opportunity to obtain housing, seek an education, a good job and provide a better life for their families.

This comes as crime continues to decline across the country. In fact, data from 2023 shows the sharpest decline in homicides on record. In New York City – crime is down four percent, homicides are down 11 percent and shootings are down 25 percent from last year, while burglaries are at their lowest since 1998.

We are hopeful these numbers will continue to decline as the economy improves and we give those in need new opportunities to grow.

“Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” the Statue of Liberty reads, as a promise for all. A promise that no matter where you came from, hard work is enough to achieve your dreams. We stand by these words and continue to shoulder the responsibility of New York’s long history of immigration.

But we also recognize the limited power of state government to provide long term solutions for this new influx of asylum seekers. As their ability to pursue a future in our great state or anywhere in the nation - lies in the hands of the federal government. I know President Biden and the Senate are seeking solutions and it is long past time that the House joins them to alleviate the crisis.

Here in New York, we understand bipartisanship sits at the heart of good government. Our two parties may disagree on the details, but we both understand the importance of putting New York families first. As we plan for this new year – I urge my colleagues to continue their efforts to build New York as a shining example of our country’s future.

I know it’s difficult to understand the impact our work is having when we’re constantly moving forward, moving onto the next deep need of our state. But I have seen our work in action.

Since I became Speaker, I’ve spent each summer and fall touring our communities and meeting with people across the state. This trip allows me to see the incredible beauty of our state and understand the transformative impact our work is having.

In Columbia County, I met with two homeowners newly housed thanks to the investment we made to combat the rural affordable housing crisis.

In Onondaga County, I met with families whose children with disabilities can now get the care they need.

In Niagara County, I toured the incredible Camp Spirit to see how our work is ensuring children always have a fun and safe place to go during the summer.

In Suffolk County, I saw the work we’re doing to prevent youth violence through community engagement and empowerment. 

In Queens, I met with volunteers working to keep our parks safe and clean thanks to our restoration efforts. 

And right here in the Capital Region, I met with the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York where our funding and legislative efforts are ensuring no family goes hungry on our watch.

From a firsthand account – the work of the Assembly Majority is benefiting the lives of hardworking New Yorkers across the state. I implore you to focus on this and keep in mind that we are working to create a state that the next generation will be proud to call home. 

My Assembly colleagues, once again, welcome back to the People’s House for the 247th Legislative Session. I look forward to what we will accomplish in the year ahead.

Now let’s get to work!