Libraries serve as a valuable resource for millions of residents in both rural and urban areas. In New York state there are more than 750 libraries. They are usually centrally located in communities and function both as a free and public space for events and provide key resources to people all ages. In addition to providing traditional services and educational resources, libraries provide free computer and internet access.
As has become an Albany tradition, the budget was passed in the early morning hours having been for the most part negotiated by what is known as “four men in a room” – the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Leader of the Independent Democratic Conference of the Senate. The massive $168.3 billion budget is bigger than any other state’s budget with the exception of California, a state with twice as many people as New York.
In recent years, the state has made significant investments in our state parks. Specifically, additional funding has assisted in improvements at parks statewide and includes everything from playground equipment, entryways, beach areas, trails, and restroom facilities. Not only were many of these upgrades necessary as a result of age and preservation of our resources, they were strategically done to encourage tourism and increase park attendance.
As was widely reported, earlier this month Joe Percoco, a former top-aide to Governor Cuomo, was found guilty of three corruption-related charges. While corruption convictions of state officials, sadly, are nothing new, the Percoco conviction was front page news because of his very close relationship to Governor Cuomo. Also, the trial shed light on how a few connected people have tremendous control over billions of dollars of public money that is supposed to be used for economic development.
Our property taxes are among the highest in the nation. New York needs to make structural changes if there is any hope for reducing tax bills for property owners. Legislation has been introduced that would help alleviate some of this burden for Upstate residents and stimulate economic growth. For starters, the state needs to take over the full cost of Medicaid. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program largely administered by states and is paid for with federal, state and local funds.
By 2020, it is estimated there will be a shortfall of 45,000 primary care doctors and 46,000 specialists across the country due to doctor retirements and other contributing factors. This is especially problematic for rural areas where there is a particular shortage of primary care doctors. Upstate New York communities can attest firsthand to this shortage.
Improving and maintaining local roads and bridges is one investment the state can make that positively impacts our Upstate communities, economies, and motorists. Yet during budget season it is always a challenge to ensure enough state dollars are invested in this type of infrastructure for Upstate.
Our state’s unique forestry and climate, freezing nights and daytime thaws in late winter and early spring, make it perfect for maple syrup production. By all accounts, the industry is showing signs of growth. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, maple syrup production has doubled since 2012 and last year, the number of taps climbed to 2.65 million which was the most state producers have recorded since 1944.
Last year, the Assembly Minority Conference hosted a series of forums across the state to better understand the often complex problems associated with domestic violence. During these forums, victims, advocates, service providers, law enforcement, and court personnel provided valuable insights that illustrated how our laws can be improved. As a result, my colleagues and I have recently introduced a package of bills that, if enacted, would close gaps in current law and provide law enforcement with tools they need to ultimately better protect victims of domestic violence.
The Assembly Majority is once again advancing an early voting bill through committees with a vote expected on the floor in the near future. The Governor is also making his push for early voting in his budget this year. While there are slight differences between the two proposals, both would result in another unfunded mandate and change our current system when it does not need to be changed.