Special Session Recap

By Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

As I wrote last week, I had some goals for the special session. We were called in to cut spending, so I wanted to be sure that the cuts we made would not cause an increase in property taxes and that vital services remained intact. We made a lot of tough decision, but in the end, I believe we accomplished this goal.

What we decided on was a package that included $427 million in cuts for 2008-09 that we anticipate will translate to $1.7 billion over the next two years.  These cuts were not easy to make. Certainly, these cuts will affect agencies and programs, but if we had not acted decisively now, the pain would have been far greater had we not made these cuts.

Just as important is what we did not cut.  School foundation aid, including the record increases we saw in the 48th Senate District this year, was not touched. Aid and incentives to municipalities was not touched. Funding for community colleges was not touched. These are three areas of funding that, if reduced, would have resulted in property tax increases. In addition to protecting local tax rates from shouldering part of the state’s burden, the region did relatively well compared to cuts made downstate, both when you compare dollar amounts and percentages.

What we didn’t get accomplished was property tax relief. My colleagues and I in the Senate had already passed a property tax cap and the Assembly adopted a version of the circuit breaker. However, no compromises were reached to bring an acceptable form of the tax cap in union with an acceptable form of the circuit breaker. These programs work together—one to cap spending, the other to cap our tax bills—but alone they will not provide the real and immediate relief we need.

Yet, even without the property tax cap or circuit breaker, there were a few bills that never made it to the floor which would have provided help to a few communities in the district. I’m talking about four Central and Northern New York home rule bills that I introduced on behalf of the village of Parish, the towns of Granby and Schroeppel, and the city of Watertown. These bills were held up despite the needs of the residents, simply a result of politics.

The majority continues to claim we never made them aware of how important these bills were. We introduced each bill with a clear home rule message stating the importance. When the majority asked for a list of priority bills, our conference sent them memo after memo listing some or all of these bills depending on the request.

I had learned that bills with my name on them were being purposely ignored by the majority for political reasons. In response, I took my name off a bill I co-sponsored to lower the hunting age, but I could not do the same for these home rule bills, as I am the only sponsor.

After session ended, the majority began to blame the holdup on a form called the 63, even though many bills pass without such forms. Still, when we were called back into session I saw it as not one, but two opportunities to try once again to get these home rule bills passed. So we sent another priority bill memo indicating that these should be brought to the floor for a vote, and we also filed the form 63s.  Yet after all of this, the majority never saw fit to bring the bills up for a vote in either of the Senate’s August sessions.

There is no question that we need reform.  As an Assemblyman, I worked across party lines to chapter legislation specific to the needs of my constituents. As a Senator, I’ve worked with the executive branch and colleagues in both the Senate and the Assembly to address the needs of our region. Yet the Senate majority’s leadership has continued to stand in the way of these home rule bills for Central and Northern New York.

I’ve introduced legislation to change the home rule process and I have signed on to legislation that would improve other aspects of the way the Senate operates. Partisan politics should never interfere with doing what is right for our citizens. We need to come together, across party lines, to reform the Senate, address our state’s fiscal concerns, and bring real relief from burdensome property taxes.