Governor Falls Short on Ethics Reform Proposals but Gets it Right with Small Business Tax Cuts and Increase in School Aid

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Last week, Governor Cuomo delivered his State of the State address which, contrary to protocol, he combined with his 2016-17 budget address.  The speech lasted nearly two hours and set forth the Governor’s priorities for the 2016 legislative session.

The following are some of the highlights of his speech.

Ethics Reform

With the arrest and conviction of Sheldon Silver, the former Speaker of the Assembly and Dean Skelos, the former majority leader in the State Senate, it is evident that real ethics reform is needed in Albany.

Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address set forth a number of proposals that he claims will help clean up the ethics mess that we have in Albany.

Unfortunately, his two major proposals, public financing of campaigns and limiting outside income for  legislators, would worsen the ethics problems we have in Albany as opposed to improving the situation.

For example, NYC has public financing of campaigns for city counsel and city-wide races.

But an examination of NYC’s campaign system shows that public financing of campaigns has just cost taxpayers money, it has not prevented corruption, increased voter turn-out or made elections more competitive, all things that were promised when the NYC system of public financing of campaigns was instituted.

The Governor mentioned in his speech that by limiting outside income for legislators, New York will be copying what’s done in Congress.

Is that the system that New York really wants to emulate, a place that is made up of professional politicians.

Make no mistake, limiting outside income for legislators is the first step towards a full-time legislature.

This, in turn, will only discourage people from various backgrounds from running for office and bring to the New York legislature the concept of professional politicians.

Instead of the Governor’s proposals, the legislature should focus on reforms that will change how business in done in Albany.

We should institute term limits for leaders and have ethics complaints vetted by an ethics committee that is truly independent from legislative leaders.

Moreover, to encourage a more representative government, the Assembly should allow rank-and-file members to get legislation to the floor of the Assembly for a vote if a majority of members support the legislation.

$15 Minimum Wage

In the speech, the Governor again calls for increasing the State’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

He said that the state is subsidizing companies with low-wage workers because the state has to pick up the cost of those workers’ healthcare, education and childcare.

According to the Governor, if low-wage workers were paid more, the workers could pay for those costs that the state currently pays.

Maybe, however, the Governor failed to mention the job losses that will accompany the substantial increase in the minimum wage that he is proposing.

Small businesses are already struggling and to put further mandates on them will surely cause them to shed jobs.

Large businesses, in order to avoid high labor costs, will continue a push towards automation and fewer employers.

A much better proposal would be to expand the state’s earned income tax credit, which is a more efficient way of helping the working poor, than mandating an across-the-board wage increase.

Small Business Tax Relief

On a positive note, the Governor in his speech recognized the challenges that small businesses, the backbone of our state’s economy, face.

To help small businesses, he is proposing what amounts to a $300 million tax cut.

Under his proposal, the Corporate Franchise Tax rate would be decreased from 6.5% to 4% for small businesses with income below $290,000.

He would also provide a 15% tax exemption for qualifying small businesses. These are policies that I have supported in the past and look forward to working with the Governor in getting them passed this year.

School Aid

The Governor also proposes to finally close the GEA (gap elimination adjustment).

This was a funding cut that public schools took several years ago when the state was facing severe budgetary constraints.

Very often, however, this cut disproportionately hurt low-wealth school districts who are more reliant on state aid than higher-wealth districts.

Over the last few years, the the state has decreased the GEA but we have yet to totally close this gap.

I applaud the Governor for proposing to get rid of it completely but instead of getting rid of it over two years like he is proposing, I would advocate getting rid of it this year.

These are just a few major policies that the Governor is proposing.

There are several more that I will write about in future columns.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments regarding these or other state issues, please contact me.

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

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