Over the past 18 months, New York state has come a long way. Two years ago, New York was struggling under a crushing budget deficit and a dysfunctional Legislature. The Legislature had imposed billions of dollars in new taxes on clothing, healthcare, utilities, and a host of other items. Overall spending skyrocketed. Our state was the laughing stock of the nation.
With strong leadership from Governor Cuomo and close teamwork with Senator Young, we were able to bring the runaway taxes and spending under control. Local property taxes were capped at two percent, income tax rates were cut to their lowest level in 58 years, and two consecutive on-time budgets were enacted without implementing new taxes or fees.
As Governor Cuomo noted, Over the past 18 months, the Governor and the Legislature have fundamentally transformed our state through historic reforms and innovative economic initiatives.
Because of my extensive legal and local government background, I was able to hit the ground running. In the past 18 months, the state Assembly passed 24 bills that I co-sponsored, the vast majority with overwhelming bipartisan support. In total, I was a co-sponsor or multi-sponsor for 320 pieces of legislation aimed at improving our economy, cutting regulations, increasing employment, reducing the welfare rolls, and increasing tourism in Chautauqua County.
Of particular value to Chautauqua County residents is the reduction in the local growth of Medicaid costs. Last year, I sponsored a bill that would reduce the local cost of Medicaid growth by one-third, which would save Chautauqua County residents about $240,000 a year. I recruited over 60 bipartisan co-sponsors. Although the bill was not adopted in my first year in office, the governors budget the next year incorporated the concept and it was adopted.
At the same time, I supported the recommendations of the Medicaid Redesign Task Force, which included Assemblyman Giglio, that reduced the overall cost of the Medicaid program by $2.3 billion. Thus, we were able to help both local taxpayers and state taxpayers.
Working closely with Senator Young and Jamestown city officials, we were able to obtain special state legislation allowing the city to exchange vacant land for existing park land that was being used as part of the citys recycling efforts. This legislation will enable the city to receive a $150,000 grant to help renovate McCrays Point Park.
The Legislature also enacted a measure at our request that will promote local tourism in our region by dedicating local landmarks after notable residents, like Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson and Americas all-time favorite comedienne, Lucille Ball. As a result of this legislation, all the bridges that cross over the expressway near Jamestown are now named after prominent members of our community. This will help publicize the Robert H. Jackson Center and the Lucille Ball-Dezi Arnez Center.
The Legislature also enacted a measure just for Chautauqua County that makes an assisted living program for senior citizens eligible for Medicaid funding. This demonstration program has shown substantial taxpayer savings by diverting senior citizens from extremely expensive skilled nursing facilities to a much lower cost assisted living program. The legislation, which I co-sponsored with Senator Young, was unanimously adopted.
Unfortunately, not all the legislation I sponsored has been adopted by the State Legislature. For example, I presented an amendment to the 2012 budget that would have eliminated the 10 percent increase in cash benefits for welfare recipients and transfer the funds to a youth employment program. In my opinion, New York state needs to give a bigger hand up, not a bigger hand out. In addition, New York State already offers much higher welfare benefits than any nearby states. We cannot afford to become the welfare capital of the world.
I also joined forces with Senator Young and Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak (D-Cheektowaga) by co-sponsoring the bipartisan Public Assistance Integrity Act to ensure that public assistance cash benefits arent misused to purchase alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, or cash withdrawals from ATMs at locations such as liquor stores, casinos or establishments providing adult-oriented entertainment. Although this bill passed the state Senate, it has not yet been considered in the Assembly.
I also initiated legislation to allow social services districts to conduct random drug testing of welfare recipients to ensure that they are not using taxpayer funds to purchase illegal drugs. Remaining drug-free is also important because many companies require pre-employment drug testing as a condition for employment.
In an effort to help unemployed workers, I sponsored legislation that would enable those on unemployment to be able to work part-time without losing their full unemployment benefits. Its a proven fact that people who are working part-time are more likely to find other employment than those who are only collecting benefits. Since many part-time jobs also lead to full-time work, I believe we should be doing all we can to encourage employment. Unfortunately, this legislation has not come up for a vote.
What Im most proud of is our effort to improve the economic climate in New York state. Since being elected to represent you in Albany, we successfully reduced middle-class income taxes to their lowest rate in 58 years, closed a $13.5 billion budget gap without raising taxes or fees, capped the local cost of Medicaid, and provided $805 million in additional education aid for schools across New York. We also enacted the NY Works program, adopted regulatory relief, and enacted an energy policy.
Even while keeping state spending below the rate of inflation, we also provided aid to a number of key agricultural programs, including $3 million for the creation of the Agricultural Economic Development Program, obtained special funding for Chautauqua Lake, and increasing funding to expand the New York Veterans of Foreign Wars Office and Vietnam Veterans of America New York Council to ensure they receive the benefits they deserve.
It has been my objective to advocate in Albany on your behalf and put the interests of Chautauqua County residents first. I think we are making excellent progress.