2007-06-01 / Community

Senate Dems Set 'Suburban Caucus'

Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith today announced the creation of a Suburban Caucus within the Democratic Conference, taking the lead on issues of importance to suburban communities.

Smith announced that Senators David Valesky (Onondaga County) and Craig Johnson (Nassau County) will serve as Caucus co-chairs, directing collaborative efforts in calling attention to important suburban issues, such as high property taxes, small-business development, energy costs, health care, transportation, community development and services for the elderly.

The Caucus is comprised of six Democratic Senators who represent suburban communities in the vicinities of New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany. Members include: Craig Johnson (Nassau County), David Valesky (Onondaga County), Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Westchester County), Suzi Oppenheimer (Westchester County), Neil Breslin (Albany County) and William Stachowski (Erie County).

"Because members of the Senate Democratic Conference represent much of New York City, some might wrongly assume that our agenda is concerned primarily with urban matters," Smith said. "Just as we have a diverse Conference that represents a wide variety of opinions and personal backgrounds, our members also represent an array of unique communities throughout the state - rural, urban and suburban alike."

Valesky said, "It is important for suburban communities to know that their concerns are at the top of our agenda as we continue to fight for New York's hardworking 9-to-5 families, tackling important issues like New York's crushing property tax burden, the need for affordable health care, small-business development and transportation. These are some of the great challenges facing all New Yorkers, though they are especially magnified for those living in suburban communities."

Valesky noted that the changing dynamics of suburban life warrant special attention. A report issued last year by the Brookings Institution found that America's suburbs - once havens for prosperous families flocking from the city - are experiencing more and more poverty and economic blight.

The study found that in 1999, the number of poor individuals living in cities and suburbs were nearly equal. However, by 2005, the report said, "suburban poor outnumbered their city counterparts by at least 1 million."

"Now is the time to provide visibility for the increasingly diverse needs of suburban communities which today face many of the same complex problems commonly associated with city life, though the character and scale of those problems are unique," Valesky added.

Today's announcement of the Senate Democratic Suburban Caucus also follows a recent report by the Business Council of New York State, which found that New Yorkers shoulder the nation's highest per capita state and local tax burden of $5,770 in fiscal year 2004-05 - a full 57 percent above the national average, the report found.

"Suburban New Yorkers didn't need a report to tell them their taxes are too high," Johnson said. "Skyrocketing property taxes are stifling our suburban communities, making it extremely difficult for hardworking families to get ahead and for small businesses to develop and thrive."

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Americans spend more than 100 hours commuting to work each year, with the New York City Metropolitan area ranking highest for work-commute time, at an average of 30.4 minutes. Similar problems plague other suburban communities throughout the state and are exacerbated by rising gas prices, Johnson noted.

"Transportation improvements, particularly mass transit, are essential to sustaining the quality of life in suburban communities," Johnson said. "And this is exactly what our caucus is all about - quality of life, which is the main reason why people come to live in the suburbs."

"We must be sure to preserve and protect the kinds of quality-of-life issues that brought people to the suburbs in the first place, to ensure the vitality and sustainability of these communities," he added.

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