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Rockland Representatives React to State of the State

Image: Times Union

Image: Times Union


It was bold for New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to give his State of the State speech on Wednesday, the day after President Obama gave his final State of the Union address. But then, it was a bold speech. Governor Cuomo spoke for an hour and a half, his proposals ranging from massive infrastructure projects to fundamental political ethics reforms. His tentative budget for the coming year totals $145 billion, all of which is accounted for in a 500-page briefing book. “It was an ambitious agenda,” New York State Senator David Carlucci, D-Rockland, said in a phone interview on Wednesday night. So ambitious that even New York’s best speed-reading legislators are still combing through the document – those 500 pages don’t read quite like a George R.R. Martin novel. But following the speech, Rockland’s representatives in the Senate and Assembly, Carlucci and Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, spoke with Nyack News and Views about the speech, Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, and what they believe will be most important from a local perspective.
Ellen Jaffee: I was very impressed, and pleased, by the wide range of proposals that the governor made.CarlucciJaffee201107
David Carlucci: Me personally, I watched the State of the Union last night and I juxtaposed that to the State of the State. And there’s a major difference. You know, with President Obama it was just talk. There was no real plan. Which is unfortunate. Whereas Governor Cuomo laid out a plan with specific pieces of the agenda and things that we are going to get done, and get results.
EJ: I’m encouraged that he focused his comments and initiatives on restoring economic justice within the state. You know, definitively addressing income inequality and poverty. He recognizes homelessness as another important issue. And we have in the Assembly supported over and over the $15 minimum wage. And of course, the very important thing for women and families is the 12 weeks of paid family leave that is so essential.
DC: Paid family leave is one of the things I’m really optimistic about. We can really talk about the merits of that, we can talk about how it’s going to be funded. It will impact the quality of life of so many people in our state now and for generations to come. So that’s something that’s so important. I think it’s going to be difficult but I think there’s a pathway forward.
EJ: And in terms of education, Gap Elimination Adjustment is something that my colleagues and I wrote a letter to the governor, saying it was time for the Gap Elimination Adjustment to be eliminated this year. And I was really pleased that he suggested that we do that. Certainly he also recognized the concerns about the common core and the emphasis on testing. Funding public education is so essential, but also insuring that response to implementation of the common core and the over emphasis on testing are things that he’s recognized are more important.Photo: 97 Thomas Vista School bus. Credit: http://www.schoolbusdriver.org/modern.html
DC: It’s a priority for me to fund education. And the governor is talking about a record increase in education funding. Universal pre-K – we have to make universal pre-K truly universal.
It’s not always just about the dollar amount, it’s about where you put it and how you structure it. For instance, after-school programming: extremely important. And the problem we have right now, at least in Rockland County, is that they only fund something like $800 per student per year. I’m not sure what the exact number is, but the problem with the system is that it’s not a matter of the overall funding, it’s the funding per student. So when people talk about increasing funding for after-school programming, it may not address how much you pay for each student – that’s a problem. Same with universal pre-K. You could increase universal pre-K funding, but if you’re not funding each child at an adequate level, it’s not really doing the job that it needs to do. And those are some of the things that we’ve seen problems with here in Rockland County, where there is a gap in this district. Where Universal Pre-K is not universal. There’s still a lottery system. I was happy to see the governor address some of those things, but now it’s my responsibility to make sure our issues are being heard.
EJ: Another issue that he mentioned that I think is very important to Rockland is maintaining the flat tolls until at least 2020. And we’d like to extend that obviously.
DC: The governor has also proposed a toll tax credit that will help middle class families. That’s something that’s extremely important, because tolls are a regressive fee. And it hurts middle class families and poor families the hardest. The toll freeze helps in that stability. And I think that we can build upon that to find some long-lasting reforms that will save money for commuters. And that will be cracking down on toll evaders – that’s costing us tens of millions of dollars per year – and reforming the authorities, possibly consolidating the authorities. Like the Thruway Authority and the Bridge Authority. That’s something that we need to get serious about to really save money long term.TZB / New NY Bridge, 1st ILiftNY Supercrane Lift, 5/24/2015. Photo Credit ©2015 Dave Zornow
EJ: I don’t know if everyone’s in agreement about this, but I think the cost of the Tappan Zee Bridge should be spread out across the state, perhaps a little increase everywhere. Because this really increases so much opportunity and economic development. It enhances the state’s economic environment. So why not have that cost spread out rather than just focus on a couple of areas with big impact? We in Westchester and Rockland and Orange use the Tappan Zee Bridge, but you have people crossing from upstate businesses, from downstate, so I think that that structure is something I would like to expand discussion regarding. But I’m glad the governor at least said until 2020, at least so we have time to push our agenda, to assure that the cost does not burden our local communities.
DC: We could have a great, beautiful bridge, but if we can’t afford to cross it that will crush our local economy. We have to make sure that it’s affordable for people to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge. And by freezing tolls, that adds some stability.
EJ: Moving forward, I think that what will happen is that the leadership will get a sense in general conversations of which issues everyone agrees on. And then we’ll move on to those that are a little more contentious.


Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.


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