A Hometown View From Albany
It appears the old pay-to-play environment Governor Andrew Cuomo says is over at the state Capitol is still alive and well in some corners of the Capitol. The recently concluded legislative session in Albany left area State Senator John Sampson with a bad taste because, he says, the impoverished were overlooked and pushed aside in favor of those wealthy who can gain the ear of state lawmakers by contributing to their campaigns.
“I’m disappointed with a lot of things the Republicans have done, especially this year with cutting off debates, basically really deleting what power, if any, the minority (Democrats) has in representing their constituencies,” Sampson complained to the Canarsie Courier.
Sampson, who is the leader of the Democratic Conference, says the people who need state services the most should be setting policy and setting the legislative agenda in Albany.
“We can no longer cater to those who are privileged and those who have the money to get the ear of the people in power,” he said. “What about the rest of the people? What about the 99 percenters who have to work on a dayto day basis just to survive? They are the ones who should be implementing policies. The policies that are implemented should reflect the support for those people and not the support for the one percent who can afford those tremendous campaign contributions and thus [get] their issues [heard]. Their concerns get promoted far and above those who get impacted.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo, who appears to have dissed the Senate Democrats in favor of the Senate Republicans’ agenda, did so in an effort to restore order between the executive and legislative branches of government. That effort, it appears, is leading towards a pay raise for state lawmakers, who earn an annual base salary of $79,500. Money for daily trips to Albany to cover travel, meals, and room expenses are in addition to that. Further compensation is given to lawmakers who are the chairpersons of a committee or have a leadership post.
Sampson says at this time he is not a fan of a legislative pay raise when so many New Yorkers are receiving poverty wages.
“For there to be a conversation about increasing the wages for legislators without there being even a discussion about increasing the minimum wage, that’s abominable,” Sampson laments. “The minimum wage is a poverty wage. Thirty years ago I was working for $3.35 per hour. Today that would have been $7.85 per hour. What are we doing?”
The current minimum wage in New York State is $7.25 per hour. A livable wage is much different than the minimum wage because this wage is calculated on what it would take to care for a family, not the lowest amount you can pay someone. A livable minimum wage would need to be in the range of $15.00 per hour for the average family to live properly, according to labor experts. No one at the Capitol is talking about a livable wage, not even the advocates for raising the minimum wage.
Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, an organization focused on raising the minimum wage, says donors from large corporations enjoy influencing the political clout held by Senate Republicans.
“Senator (Dean) Skelos, the Senate Majority Leader, received the largest sum of any individual senator, taking in $17,500 from these very campaign contributors who are opposed to the minimum wage,” Scharff said. “New Yorkers will never be sure their priorities are being addressed. In fact, we can be sure our priorities will not be addressed by our election officials while those officials can run for office without being subjected to the corrosive influence of CEO campaign cash. We believe raising the minimum wage is not happening because of the lack of fair elections.”
“The Senate’s opposition reflects that they want to be able to keep collecting the large donations from the CEO campaign contributors rather than give the public the chance to control our own elections,” she added. “It’s time to restore our own democracy in New York State.”
Another example of the Democrats’ discontent with their GOP counterparts in the upper house is over women’s rights. Several times this session, Senate Republicans slammed the door on having a discussion about women’s rights, whether at a hearing, legislative debate or at any other forum.
In another example, “...what you see now is how special interests have a stronghold in the policies and the legislation that is being enacted and being pushed out here in Albany,” said Sampson.
Sampson, who is actively campaigning in new territory including the tony communities of Bergen Beach and Mill Basin now held by Senator David Storobin, a Republican, says he will overcome the conservative-leaning portion of the new district. Sampson says he is even getting along with Storobin.
“David (Storobin) is a colleague and we have to deal with our colleagues,” he said. “It’s about constituents. It’s not about whether you’re Democrat or Republican. So David is a colleague and we’re going to work with him.”