PULASKI, NY — People are concerned about the direction our state is headed. We have some of the highest property taxes in the U.S., a sluggish economy, and an onslaught of corruption cases and other scandals involving taxpayer dollars. The following are some questions I am frequently asked on these important issues and some ideas on how to change and improve state government.
What is the biggest problem with Albany?
There is a general lack of transparency in the way the legislature conducts business. For example, although New York has a massive budget, most of it is negotiated behind closed doors by what has come to be known as “three men in a room”—the Governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader. This process should be opened up to allow rank and file members and the public to have more of a voice. The same goes for general legislation. For major pieces of legislation, there should be public hearings where proponents and opponents of the legislation testify. This might give legislators perspectives that they may not have considered and could result in the proposed legislation being improved upon.
How do we weed out corruption and special interest control in Albany?
I have seen firsthand how the lack of transparency and the consolidation of power in the hands of a few has had a corrupting influence and has often led to the enactment of poor public policy. Pay-to-play has dominated state government for too long. For these reasons, I co-sponsor the Public Officers Accountability Act (A. 5864) which among other things would (i) establish crimes against the public trust; (ii) create a new crime for failure to report corruption; (iii) reform legislative grants to prevent conflicts of interest; and (iv) implement term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs.
What are your thoughts on Common Core and the Board of Regents?
The roll-out of the Common Core curriculum and the efforts to tie teacher’s evaluations to standardized test scores was deeply flawed. It was flawed because it was a top-down approach. The “one-size-fits-all” approach does not work for our education system and does a disservice to our teachers and to our students. I am not against minimum standards, but I continue to be opposed to taking power away from local school districts. They are in the best position to know their schools, students and teachers. I would like to reform the way our state’s Board of Regents is appointed. Because they are appointed by the legislature with each member getting one vote (Assembly member and Senator) the appointments are controlled by the Assembly Speaker who is not accountable to anyone but his constituents and conference. At the very least, the Governor should have the appointment power with the consent of the State Senate. Theoretically, the Governor is accountable to all the voters of the state and accordingly the Board of Regents would, in turn, be more accountable.
What is the most pressing issue facing our area?
The economy is the number one issue I hear about from constituents. Most say taxes are too high and, as a result, we are losing people and businesses to other parts of the country. New York’s property tax burden is one of the highest in the country thanks in large part to state mandates, particularly Medicaid. For that reason, I support a state takeover of the local share of Medicaid for counties outside of NYC over a 10-year period and a 50% takeover of NYC’s Medicaid costs over a 20-year period. The state has already provided some relief to the counties by capping counties’ Medicaid costs. This has lessened the burden on counties by $3.3 billion. A complete takeover would build on these savings. This legislation also would require that all local savings resulting from the takeover would be required to be passed directly on to the property taxpayer. I also support the creation of the Real Property Tax Redesign Team which would identify mandates to be funded or revoked by the state in order to accomplish $500 million in annual savings to localities.
There is no lack of solutions to the many problems of our state government. The real challenge is finding the political will to enact the much-needed reforms. Nevertheless, I will continue to be a voice for our region and push for these changes. If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also can friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.