The Legislature is back in session in Albany and I wanted to take this opportunity to fill you in on some of the major initiatives that are gearing up this year. You can take a look at the Assembly’s review and analysis of the Governor’s budget proposal by clicking here. While I’m spending much of my time in Albany, please know that my district office is still available to help you with any questions or concerns you may have.
1. New ethics measures outlined
Last year’s session was marred by several cases of lawmakers breaking the public’s trust. As a result, some reforms have already been put in place to improve financial reporting and provide greater scrutiny of legislator’s activities. Obviously, much more needs to be done to rebuild the public’s trust and ensure that all elected officials are doing their jobs honorably.
My colleagues in the Assembly and I have been pushing for major changes including closing the LLC loophole which allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts to campaigns, limiting contributions to party accounts and transfers between committees, and increasing disclosures for donors. The Governor also proposed limiting the outside income of legislators, changing the powers and duties of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), and changing lobbying laws. I am also pushing for reforms to our conflict of interest laws which have not been changed substantially since 1965.
2. Upstate infrastructure gets boost
Repairing and rebuilding infrastructure is a critical component to the continued redevelopment of our community. Roads and bridges move goods and consumers to the area; and efficient water and sewer systems, and access to quality broadband help businesses grow. All these areas would see major investments over the next several years through proposals the Governor presented during the State of the State and Budget address.
The Governor is also calling for a multi-year plan that would help rehabilitate and maintain 200 state and local bridges, pave 1,300 miles of roads, and improve flood-prone roadways to protect them from future severe-weather incidents. The Greater Binghamton Airport would also be eligible for part of a $200M fund that will make major improvements at five Upstate airports. An additional $100M is proposed for the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2016 to help local water systems, and $500M would be invested to increase access to broadband internet across New York. Working with my Upstate colleagues, our goal is to make sure that these investments are real and are on par with spending Downstate.
Assemblywoman Lupardo joins Speaker Carl Heastie for a tour of BAE Systems in Endicott during his visit to the 123rd District in July. Companies like this will benefit from Infrastructure investments in Upstate and Downstate.
3. Proposed school aid needs a closer look
Securing funding to help our students succeed is always one of my top priorities during the budget process. This year, the Governor proposed a $961 million increase for school aid; an allotment that includes $266.4 million for Foundation Aid (FA) and $189.4 million for Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) restoration.
These numbers are far less than what many education professionals believe to be adequate funding levels; ideally FA would be funded at $1.1 billion and there is still $434 million in GEA money to be paid back to schools. At an education budget hearing last week, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia called for a $2.4 billion boost in education spending. With next year’s tax cap set at 0.12%, these proposed funding levels will make it extremely difficult for districts to properly operate. This will no doubt be the source of much debate during the next two month.
4. Funds to boost Broome County Anti-Poverty Initiative
Last year, I was able to secure funding in the budget to begin an anti-poverty initiative in Broome County. This year, the Governor has pledged $25M to ten Upstate cities to help these efforts. Binghamton and nine other cities will each receive $500,000 in planning and implementation grants; this money will help the efforts we started in 2015. Following the initial stage, these ten communities will also have access to a $20M grant pool to match private sector and foundation funding.
In Broome County, 18% of all residents and 25% of children are living in poverty. As we continue to see economic improvements, many of these individuals are still being left behind. The systemic and generational nature of poverty in our community will take a comprehensive and collaborative approach to alleviate. I was recently chosen by the Speaker to serve on a new Assembly Anti-Poverty Task Force. Hopefully, we will be able to learn from best practices and share ideas that will help our community.
5. Women’s Caucus grows, sets priorities for session
Last year I was elected to serve as Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, a bi-partisan group comprised of lawmakers from both the Assembly and Senate. In 2016, our caucus has now grown to 55 women – the largest number of women to ever serve in the New York State Legislature. Our mission is to improve the participation of women in all areas of government, support issues that affect and benefit women in New York State, and provide a network of support for women in the State Legislature. This year the Caucus has chosen access to affordable, quality child care and after-school programming as priority initiatives, along with preparing for next year’s100th Anniversary celebration of women’s suffrage in New York. You can follow the LWC on Facebook and Twitter.
Assemblywoman Lupardo, Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, and colleagues from the LWC.