2016 Brought Good News for Fitz, Pension Reform, Infrastructure Dollars to Upstate

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay

Looking back at 2016, there are many accomplishments worth noting and other items that remain on the to-do list.

FitzPatrick to Remain Operational

After a tumultuous year, the community finally received good news August 9 that FitzPatrick would remain operational and that Exelon had reached an agreement to purchase FitzPatrick from Entergy.

This announcement came after the new Clean Energy Standard (“CES”) was adopted by the Public Service Commission.

The CES recognizes nuclear energy as a significant source of carbon free electricity generation.

If not for the collective advocacy of community leaders, businesses, and the formation of the Upstate Energy Jobs Coalition, the plant may have been forced to close.

Thanks to the hard work of many, Oswego County will now keep thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

The CES will help ensure that New York state has diverse sources of electrical generation and that the state’s nuclear power plants will remain operational.

I’m grateful we were successful in ensuring that FitzPatrick will continue to operate in Oswego County.

Budget Achieves Parity for Upstate Infrastructure

The 2016-17 budget contained considerable investments in infrastructure in Upstate.

Most notably the Legislature and the Governor agreed to fund the creation of a 5-year capital improvement program for the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT).

This plan commits $25.1 billion for DOT projects over a multi-year period.

Though the plan was created in the 2016-17 budget, the Legislature and the Governor must continue to agree to fund the plan in the upcoming years.

Included in the capital plan was funding for a new program called PAVE-NY, which sets aside $100 million for local governments each year for the next four years.

PAVE-NY funds will be distributed according to the same formula used by the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS).

Pension Forfeiture Passes

The State Legislature passed a resolution to amend the State Constitution to permit the forfeiture of state pensions for a public official convicted of a felony related to his or her public duties (e.g. bribery).

To successfully amend the State Constitution, however, the State Legislature will again need to pass the same resolution in 2017.

Following this subsequent passage, there will then be a statewide referendum in which the public will be able to vote “yes” or “no” on the amendment.

Given the public demand for reform, I am confident that the public will support this constitutional change.

Over the past 10 years, there have been more than 22 state officials who have either pled guilty or were found guilty of corruption-related criminal charges.

While pension forfeiture is a good start, more ethics reform needs to pass, such as imposing term limits on leadership positions and creating independent oversight of ethics complaints.

Gap Elimination Adjustment Restores School Funding

The gap elimination adjustment (GEA) was eliminated in the 2016 budget.

GEA was implemented in 2010, when the state was facing severe budget constraints.

Essentially, GEA was a statewide cut in state education funding.

The reduced funding was particularly burdensome for low-wealth school districts that were and are highly reliant on state aid.

Many low-wealth school districts are unable to raise revenue from other sources such as property taxes.

Since 2012, the state has been increasing education funding and closing the GEA.

This year I am glad the GEA was fully eliminated.

Law Limits Opioid Prescriptions

The heroin epidemic continues to plague our communities but thankfully, some changes enacted this year placed limits on opioid prescriptions.

Rather than a 30-day prescription for initial prescriptions for pain, the new guidelines limit it to a 7-day supply.

The new law also requires ongoing education on addiction and pain management for all who prescribe controlled substances and allows more trained professionals to administer life-saving drugs to reverse an overdose.

It also requires hospitals to provide follow-up treatment service for those who have undergone drug treatment.

After the surge in heroin overdoses, people have come forward to report their firsthand experience with substance abuse treatment programs.

Many expressed concern about relapses because there was little to no follow up services following drug treatment.

This new law specifies more support services be provided, and requires health care facilities provide better access to mental health treatment, housing, and employment training services if they are needed.

Absent, however, are increased criminal penalties for dealers, especially those dealers who are lacing heroin with fentanyl, which is known to be lethal.

In 2017, legislation needs to be passed that targets dealers who use fentanyl with the intent of enhancing another illegal substance such as heroin.

We also need to pass legislation that will crack down on dealers in general and give law enforcement the tools they need to better protect the public.

I look forward to outlining my priorities in 2017 in the next column.

In the meantime, I hope you have a Happy New Year.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.