Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has had a solid first two years in office. Working with Long Island’s Dean Skelos, the Senate majority leader, he has taken steps to control spending, reduce taxes, promote economic development and improve the overall business climate in our state. But there is more work to do, and Albany’s focus needs to remain on the economy.
As leaders from all over the state gather in the capital this week for the governor’s annual State of the State address, there’s talk that progressive items such as campaign finance reform, decriminalization of marijuana, changing stop-and-frisk procedures and gun control will dominate the legislative agenda this year. While it’s important to debate these issues — and the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., clearly suggests better gun control laws are in order — they should not crowd out the most important issue for 2013.
Albany leaders must still keep their eyes on the economy. Policies that address our economic health and the overall business climate should take precedence. Rebuilding the parts of Long Island and New York City severely impacted by superstorm Sandy must remain a top priority. It’s going to take years to rebuild those communities, and our leaders in Albany must remain aggressively supportive of and intimately involved in those efforts. There is no guarantee that Congress will approve the additional aid sought by Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Promoting economic development through a newly structured Empire State Development Corp. should be a priority, and the legislature should continue to support the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils. In the last two years, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, which I co-chair with Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, has won over $160 million for our region for important projects that will transform our communities — like the redevelopment of Wyandanch, Ronkonkoma and Hempstead; the Thought Box technology start-up incubator in Hicksville; and the new cancer testing facility for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. But Long Island needs more help and focus from Albany to get those projects completed.
The state should also continue to support local efforts to enhance our sewage capacity, expand our airports, expand service of the Long Island Rail Road, redevelop our downtowns and nurture our research institutions as Long Island develops a more innovative economy.
Figuring out what to do with the Long Island Power Authority also must be a priority in the next legislative session. Commercial customers use about half of all energy imported to or generated on Long Island, and thus pay half of the revenues collected by LIPA. The most important criteria Albany should consider when restructuring LIPA is the impact on rates, as Long Island businesses — which already pay the second highest rates in the state — cannot afford to pay even higher ones and be expected to remain competitive or expand here.
While the governor and the legislature made good efforts in controlling property taxes with the passage of the property tax cap and pension reform, more reform is needed to control pension and health insurance costs for public sector employees. Our municipalities can no longer simply tax the business community to pay for those spiraling costs.
Finally, Albany needs always to make education a dominant agenda item. Long Island schools and community colleges need a fair share of state aid as we ask them to train our future workforce in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
As the 2013 legislative session begins, yes, let’s debate important social issues. But let’s make sure the economic issues dominate the docket as we continue to rebuild from Sandy, strengthen our economy and reduce the overall cost of doing business in our region.