2009-04-10 / Columnists

Smith Speaks From Albany

Commentary From The Desk Of Senator Malcolm Smith Minority Leader New York State

MALCOMN SMITH MALCOMN SMITH New Yorkers should be happy knowing our economy is getting back on track with the completed passage of the Enacted Budget for Fiscal Year 2009-10. After more than 30 hours of rigorous and thoughtful debate, my colleagues and I in the State Senate last week passed nine budget bills that will reverse decades of fiscal irresponsibility under the old majority.

This budget is far from perfect, as was the process to complete it. But even more imperfect are the economic realities we inherited and a fiscal crisis in which no sector of the state is immune. Following years of spending at a rate the state could not afford, as well as an economic meltdown on Wall Street and in the housing market, the new Senate Majority passed a budget in less than 90 days that contains the lowest spending increase in decades.

We are facing the most dire economic condition since the Great Depression, but through leadership necessary, tough decisions were made. This budget has pains, but it has bright spots as well.

No one wants teacher layoffs and larger class sizes, so instead of making cuts we held the line on education funding. Now every child from every region of the state will have access to the quality education he or she deserves. On top of that, we voted to give SUNY and CUNY returns on tuition increases. That's an historic shift of higher education policy, something that has never been done before.

Hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies won't be forced to endure harsh cuts when more people than ever need affordable access to quality care. We restored more than $1.1 billion and instituted reforms that will move our state towards a more cost-effective, primary and preventive care model of healthcare delivery.

We adopted visionary programs that will create 'green' jobs across the state and help us rebuild our infrastructure from Buffalo to Brookhaven. Using federal stimulus money to generate the jobs that will help take New York into a 21st Century economy, we created 86,000 new jobs that will put people back to work and get our economy moving forward once again. It's time that people stop talking, and start doing—that's what we've done.

The new Senate Majority reformed outdated, inefficient and costly Rockefeller Drug Laws to help non-violent offenders overcome addiction and return as functioning, contributing members in our communities.

He also implemented the most progressive change to our tax code in more than 30 years with fair share tax reform. We've asked the wealthiest 4 percent of New Yorkers to help us keep vital services going, protecting 96 percent of taxpayers from tax increases. I am confident they will answer that call.

This was a painful budget in many respects, but I am confident that we will do better next year and that our economy will be in a better position because of the tough choices we had the courage to make. By far, it was the most difficult economic circumstances I've faced in my 9 years in the State Senate. However, all of us understand, considering the challenges we face, that we are in this together and we will get out of this together as one New York. It's the only way we can and the only way it should be.

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