Last week the Governor sent the Commissioner of Economic Development, Ken Adams, to address business leaders in White Plains. As part of the “People First” campaign, Adams discussed the Governor’s legislative priorities for the remainder of the session: marriage equality, ethics reform, and the property tax cap.
As both a resident of Westchester and an elected official, I support the Governor’s agenda. With less than five weeks left in the session, however, I am hopeful but wary that the Governor will be able to achieve his goals. We have yet to see bills from his office regarding same-sex marriage or ethics reform, and his property tax cap bill has serious flaws.
The Governor is a strong advocate for marriage equality, as am I. Commissioner Adams chose to focus on the economic advantages of marriage equality: increased tourism, revenue from wedding ceremonies, and an advantage in recruiting top candidates to work in New York. During this period of economic hardship, it’s difficult to ignore these incentives. But for me, the real reason for supporting same-sex marriage is about civil rights. Regardless of the potential for financial gains for the State, the gay and lesbian couples of New York deserve full and equal access to all the benefits of marriage.
Commissioner Adams also spoke of the four components of the Governor’s anticipated proposal for ethics reform: an independent body to monitor the activity of legislators, increased disclosure of outside income, pension forfeiture for elected officials convicted of felonies, and increased disclosure from lobbyists. I understand that the misuse of power diminishes public trust in elected officials. Thus, ethics and government accountability have been important to me throughout my career.
The Assembly, too, is supportive of the Governor’s ethics platform. In fact, just last year the legislature passed sweeping ethics reform legislation supported by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and NYPIRG. Unfortunately, Governor Paterson vetoed the bill. Despite this setback, I have continued my efforts to see greater accountability and transparency in government. In the current legislative session, for example, I have introduced a bill that would require elected officials convicted of felony crimes to forfeit their government pensions.
Westchester homeowners know that property taxes are too high. As a result, the Governor’s proposal for a cap has received wide-spread public popularity. And while I strongly support the need for tax relief, the Governor’s bill is insufficient because it doesn’t include any mandate relief for localities. Without mandate relief, a tax cap will inevitably lead to cuts in services and programming. Although the Senate has already passed the Governor’s proposal for a tax cap, they recently announced their willingness to negotiate. I look forward to the opportunity to craft a proposal that will both provide relief to individual taxpayers and ensure that localities have adequate resources to provide the services their residents rely on.
The Governor’s agenda is, in theory, on-target and I applaud him for attempting to address some of the most pressing issues facing New Yorkers today. Ethics reform is sorely needed to restore faith in elected officials; the time for extending the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples is long overdue; and property taxes have reached levels so high that relief must be provided. With such a short time left in session, I hope to see the Governor display the strong leadership abilities he exhibited during the budgeting process in order to achieve his- and my- legislative agenda.