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Ethics, Elections Reform a Start; Budget Moves to Front Burner

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent)

Last week, the Senate and Assembly came together and forged an agreement on ethics and election law reform, which will help clean up our state capital.

Everyone certainly recognizes the problems that exist and the need for tough ethics and election laws to address these issues and restore the people’s faith in our government. These changes will tighten up the laws that govern the relationships between lobbyists and elected officials as “consultants,” while also providing a long overdue means of enforcing violations in election law.

These are the changes I’ve pushed for along with colleagues from both political parties, good government groups and editorial boards here in Central and Northern New York, as well as across the state. This agreement is a critical first step, not the completion of what must be accomplished. In the end though, this agreement lays the foundation for future changes and enables us to now focus on creating jobs, controlling spending and providing meaningful property tax relief.

These reforms follow a pattern of reform over the past year with the new majority in place. Early last year, some initial changes were made to open up the Senate chamber and more extensive changes were made over the summer, along with authorities reform that will help make the many state authorities, which have long acted like shadow governments, accountable. There is a great deal that must change in New York State and wholesale constitutional changes may be where we are headed. However, for the time being, these changes are a start that enable us to get down to what affects us all in our daily lives—the economy, spending and taxes.

I’ve said it before, but there is no getting around the fact that we need substantive reform in the budget process. We must control spending, reject new taxes and fees, focus on job creation and retention, and work toward providing substantive property tax relief.

This week, the Governor will be releasing his budget on Tuesday. Since this column was written prior to its release, I am unable to discuss any specifics of the spending plan. However, news reports have said that the budget is expected to include consolidation proposals. This caught my attention because it is something I’ve pushed for since before this fiscal crisis began. There is no getting around the fact that redundancy in New York State government need to be addressed.

These proposals are smaller in scope than what I believe consolidation could accomplish, but they are a start. In any business, be it a dairy farm or retail, the first place you look for savings is eliminating those things you’re paying for twice. Government should be no different. If two agencies or authorities are performing many of the same tasks, they should be folded into one agency.

I’m eager to get to work on the budget this year. Last year was certainly the toughest budget year in my tenure as a state representative, but I remain optimistic for this year. I’m looking forward to passing an on time, balanced budget, while also keeping an eye on opportunities to pass key agriculture and energy legislation that will open up new opportunities for economic growth.