2006-07-06 / Other News

Successful Session Signals Positive Direction For State

Guest Column- Assemblyman Alan Maisel

The recent legislative session in the state capital has wrapped up, closing with new laws that will invest in the future, give New York City schools a fairer share, make our streets safer and reform state government. It was a productive legislative session that I hope signals a positive change of direction in the coming months and years.

For the second year in a row, the Legislature passed an on-time budget that gave a fair shake to all New Yorkers. This bipartisan budget, which was negotiated out in the open in joint conference committees, provides a record increase in school aid, keeps a college education within reach and protects health care.

In particular, the budget was a clear victory for New York school children, as it fulfilled the capital funding requirements outlined in the CFE decision - providing New York City with $1.8 billion for capital construction - on top of building aid - to modernize our schools. The budget also helped the city stretch school construction money further by increasing the cap for the Transitional Finance Authority by $9.4 billion to help fund the cost of New York City's current capital plan, and secured building aid payments to the city to support the increase.

The Legislature's plan also included a nearly seven percent increase in formula-based school aid. New York City schools will receive $501 million more than last year - including a $25 million increase to expand universal pre-K classes, enabling the city to serve an additional 7,500 four-year-olds, as well as more for class size reduction and aid for students with limited English proficiency.

To help restore hope and create new economic opportunities in many distressed neighborhoods, the Legislature launched an innovative $300 million initiative to clean up blight, demolish or deconstruct residential properties that are beyond repair, and help rehabilitate abandoned and decrepit buildings.

As the legislative session wound down, the Assembly worked on several laws to protect the safety of New Yorkers. We eliminated the criminal statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault while extending the civil statute of limitations, enacted landmark laws to toughen drunk driving penalties, and created strict penalties for fleeing the police. In another major accomplishment, we passed a law to triple the size of the state's criminal DNA database. The measure will expand the database to encompass all persons convicted of felonies and 18 key misdemeanors.

To address the tax burden New York families face, we made tax relief a priority - eliminating the state sales tax on clothing and shoes under $110, creating a maximum $330 child tax credit, ending the marriage penalty tax, and capping the sales tax on gasoline. In addition, the STAR personal income tax credit was increased to $115 for single filers and $230 for joint filers, bringing total STAR savings for New York City residents to $1.1 billion annually.

The Assembly, in particular, continued seeking to reform Albany. We listened to the concerns of those who opposed last year's constitutional amendment to reform the budget and refined our proposal to bring more transparency, accountability and efficiency to the budget process. Not only will it ensure on-time budgets every year, it will lead to better spending plans that serve all New Yorkers. In addition, the Assembly and Senate agreed on legislation to combat Medicaid fraud, including the creation of a Medicaid Inspector General and stricter penalties for offenders.

Still, I urge the Senate to take action on several reform measures passed by the Assembly, including a sweeping campaign finance reform measure that will help stem the influence of special interest money in elections and a ban on most gifts from lobbyists to legislators, their staffs and other state government employees. We need measures like these to restore the public's confidence in their state government.

The 2006 legislative session set a positive tone in New York, but there is more to be done. In a few months, New York will elect a new governor, providing a perfect opportunity to tackle our challenges with fresh ideas and energy. I look forward to working in partnership with our new governor to reinvigorate New York.

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