Legislative Session Nears End; Positive Steps Taken to Reform Albany

As I write to you, my first legislative session as your assemblyman will be coming to a close in a few days, and I am pleased to see the positive steps Albany is taking to reform the way the Legislature does business. From reducing the state’s bloated budget, passing ethics reform and facilitating shared services, Albany finally seems to be back on track to restoring its prominence as the “Empire State.”

After last year’s budget debacle that left New York state operating on budget extenders well into the 2010 summer, new and seasoned legislators came together this year to work out a sensible and on-time budget that closed the $10 billion deficit without raising taxes on already overburdened New York families and small businesses, and without falling back on credit and debt. We cut overall state spending by two percent, slowing spending growth by right-sizing government and consolidating several costly state agencies.

I was especially pleased that the agriculture budget was restored to $17.3 million – $3.5 million more than the governor’s original proposal; funding for the Tug Hill Commission was reinstated; and significant economic investments were made, including enhancement of the Excelsior Jobs Program and a revamped Recharge New York program, both of which will encourage private-sector growth.

Earlier this week, the Legislature passed an ethics reform package that will help us start addressing and managing the misdeeds of politicians and policy influencers. While the reform measure is not fully comprehensive, we do achieve some important things. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay for the pensions of convicted public officials, and we’ve broadened the scope on income and asset disclosure so we can know who may have an undue influence on elected officials.

Following years of public disappointment in our elected officials, it’s now time we move forward in a positive light on how we can address the myriad of ethical issues that have plagued state government. Ethics reform is something I believe in and have supported since day one, and as your assemblyman, I will continue to fight for that promise. This ethics reform legislation is just the beginning. We did the right thing, but we have to continue discussing the matter and find better ways to address ethics in state government.

Finally, one of the main priorities of the governor and the Legislature this year was to promote shared services by local municipalities. I was pleased that my first bill to pass the Assembly is legislation that will combine three town courts in Lewis County into one. The bill will authorize the towns of Harrisburg, Montague and Pinckney in Lewis County to elect a single town justice to preside over each town court. Once the legislation is signed into law, this will be the first multiple town court consolidation in the history of New York state. This town court consolidation initiative is just one example of how local government entities can consolidate, share resources and be more efficient. Hopefully, other municipalities will be encouraged by this merger and look to share services in other ways as well.

In conclusion, my first session as your assemblyman has been both challenging and rewarding. It has been eye-opening to see how Albany conducts business, and as such, I remain committed to working with my colleagues to reform our state government, promote economic development, and encourage all levels of government to work together to be more efficient and to save taxpayer money.

As always, I welcome your questions or concerns regarding state matters. Please do not hesitate to contact me at 315-493-3909, or by email at blankenbushk@assembly.state.ny.us.