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Area legislators look ahead to 2016 session

Post Star
January 3, 2016

Former long-time leaders will be gone entirely in the 2016 session of the state Legislature, but main topics of discussion will be pretty much the same as in 2015, area legislators said.

“The first and foremost thing is ethics — the continuing saga with the conviction now of (Dean) Skelos and (Sheldon) Silver,” said state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury.

The minimum wage, education funding and infrastructure also are expected to be main topics.

Skelos, formerly Senate majority leader, and Silver, formerly Assembly speaker, recently forfeited their respective legislative seats after being convicted separately of political corruption.

They had previously resigned their leadership posts part way through the 2015 session, but kept their legislative seats.

Area legislators said the convictions have heightened public demand for reforms such as forfeiture of state pensions for government officials convicted of a felony related with their official duties, and term limits for legislative leadership positions.

“It’s now real to people and they can see it,” Stec said.

Senate rules already limit the terms of leaders, but not Assembly rules.

Little said term limits for leaders and committee chairmen in both houses should be enacted as law.

Less control
Ethics reform won’t be the only topic of optimism with the change in leadership, Little said. Legislation should have a greater chance of coming to the floor, such as a bill she has championed for years to increase criminal penalties for hazing. Silver had repeatedly blocked the legislation from coming to the floor in the Assembly, despite Democratic support, she said.

The Legislature begins session Wednesday, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has delayed his State of the State speech, typically delivered on opening day of the session, to Jan. 13, when he will deliver a combined State of the State and Budget presentation, outlining his priorities for the session.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said she isn’t waiting for the speech to begin advocacy.

Minimum wage
“I have already started being an outspoken advocate opposing the raise in the minimum wage to $15 across the board,” she said.
Woerner said increasing the minimum wage would be detrimental to farms and small businesses, and lead to laying off employees and reducing hours.

The state minimum wage increased from $8.75 to $9 per hour on Thursday, and $9.75 for many fast food workers outside New York City.

Labor unions have been calling for an increase to $15 per hour.

Stec said state officials should wait to analyze the impact of the latest increase on businesses before discussing another increase.

Stec said his objection to increasing the minimum wage is that it assumes workers will never advance beyond a minimum wage job. Instead of focusing on the minimum wage, officials should focus on improving the business climate and on helping low-wage workers get education and skills to advance to higher paying jobs, he said.

Education
Legislators said other priorities will be revising Common Core education standards and eliminating the gap elimination adjustment.

The gap elimination adjustment is an allotment deducted from each school district’s aid since the 2009-10 school year to make up state revenue shortfalls.

The dollar amount has been reduced over the years, but not totally eliminated.

“The governor said last year it (complete elimination) would be this year,” Little said. “The Assembly is never quite as interested in that. They prefer the money go to Foundation Aid, (one of several school funding sources), and Foundation Aid favors numbers — higher populations and all that.”

Infrastructure
State funding for infrastructure is a priority, not just roads and bridges, but water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, legislators said.

A coalition of environmental groups, including Adirondack Council, recently publicized results of a poll that showed support for legislation to authorize the state to borrow to establish longterm funding for environmental projects, including water and sewer infrastructure improvements.

“We did not immediately go out and urge that (borrowing) happen,” said John Sheehan, spokesman for Adirondack Council. “But we wanted to present that information because we think it’s been 20 years since the last one, and it might time for that to be back on the table for discussion.”

Woerner said she has mixed thoughts about a new environmental bond act. “I am confident that if we were to bond that money, that it would be money well spent,” she said. “But the state is really pretty close to its debt limit. I think we have to be looking at the overall picture.”

Legal settlements
Once again, Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature will have additional one-time revenue from legal settlements to allocate in the budget process.

“There are a couple of additional settlements that have come in over the course of the last year. But it’s certainly not going to be anything (in volume) like we saw last year,” Woerner said.

Legislators said money from legal settlements should be allocated for infrastructure.

“We need the five-year highway and bridge plan,” Little said.

State Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, did not return request for comment for this report The Post-Star left with her chief of staff on Monday and Wednesday

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