2008-02-08 / Columnists

Smith Speaks From Albany

We Must Do Better
Commentary From The Desk Of Senator Malcolm Smith Minority Leader New York State Senate

MALCOMN SMITH MALCOMN SMITH As we arrive in Albany for another legislative session, I would like to reassure New Yorkers from every corner of the State that the Democratic Conference of the State Senate is ready for change. For many years, we have been demanding action on key economic issues such as high property taxes, job loss, energy cost and predatory lending, but demanding is not doing; and now is the time for those of us up in Albany to start putting some weight behind our words. These issues are all part of a set of priorities that, along with education, health care and economic development, our state can't afford to ignore or postpone.

After years of disappointment in Albany, where too many problems were left unresolved, I am glad to see others are recognizing the need to address the issues real New Yorkers care about. In his State of the State address, Governor Eliot Spitzer noted the biggest challenges that our state faces.

To compete in the global economy and create jobs that last, we must invest in higher education. To make New York a more affordable place to raise a family, we need to protect homeowners from asphyxiating property taxes and predatory lenders. And to make our government more open to the people it is sworn to protect, it must become more transparent and accountable to those it serves.

In business, I learned that small problems left unresolved lead to big losses. And as an employer, I understand the importance of a well-educated work force, trained to meet job demands. We must do better. Senate Democrats now propose to allocate $150 million in funding to encourage universities to relocate or expand their campuses to the downtowns and Main Streets of upstate cities. This $150 million in funding would help revitalize the Upstate economy by attracting and retaining new businesses with physical improvements to commercial strips and capitalizing local funds for small business development projects.

As a community leader, I've succeeded in finding new homes for families, but I've also seen too many families lose their homes because of high taxes and unscrupulous lenders. We must do better. We need to help local governments alleviate the tax burden on their residents. This past year, the State Legislature increased funding to the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) program by $22 million to encourage local fiscal improvement in distressed areas. While this was a good first step, it is not nearly enough to produce the kind of impact that is needed for genuine economic relief. Our proposal to increase AIM funding by $350 million annually would substantially lessen the damaging effect that nearly two decades of reduced revenue sharing and inflation have had on local economies. These reforms are essential to keeping New Yorkers where they belong, in New York.

As a church member, and through involvement in my community, I've seen too many families torn apart because young people are forced to move away to find good jobs. We must do better. We need to make smart, strategic investments to reverse the negative effect of prior mismanagement. In our RIGHT NY proposal, the Senate Democratic Conference is proposing a $1 billion capital investment initiative. This plan will enable all regions to grow together and strengthen the middle class by creating an estimated 20,000 new good paying jobs over the next three and a half years. The proposal includes investments in agriculture, higher education, infrastructure and technology.

As a legislator, I've seen the dysfunction that occurs when partisanship replaces progress and special interests come before the people's agenda.

Last summer we challenged the Republican majority in the Senate to remain in Albany over the summer to finish the necessary reform of our campaign finance laws, paid family leave, Article X, judicial pay raises and other issues which fall on the long list of unaccomplished goals, but they failed to accept our challenge. If we are going to offer more for the people of New York we cannot accept failure any longer.

I commend Governor Spitzer on his call for action. It's time for a new direction in the state. It's time for a change. The Senate Democratic Conference is ready for the challenge and ready to lead. We can do better. We will do better.

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