A new year means a new state legislative session, and the 2016 edition kicks off in earnest with the state budget to be proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Jan. 13 as part of his State of the State address.
Our wish list for Long Island is long. It includes funding for development projects, the environment and education. We’re also looking for a bigger portion of the new pot of bank settlement money that has been building since Cuomo divvied up some $5 billion of it last year. And although we do not generally support stuffing the budget with policy items, it might be smart to put ethics reform there, given the urgency for change after the recent corruption convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Here’s what we want:
Ban outside income for legislators, raise their salaries, and make serving in the legislature a full-time job.
Start public campaign financing, close the LLC loophole in campaign finance regulations, and ban the use of campaign contributions for the legal defense funds of elected officials.
Establish term limits for elected officials, and set time limits for legislative leadership roles such as speaker, majority leader and committee chairs. Too much power in too few hands for too long a time is an invitation to misbehavior.
Strip pensions from public officials convicted of corruption.
Take whatever budget and legislative action is necessary to finally bring to fruition the long-discussed third track for the main branch of the Long Island Rail Road. It would improve service and reliability immeasurably.
Allocate $1 million to study the feasibility of a deepwater port in Shoreham. A port would mean less truck traffic, less road wear-and-tear, better air quality, more jobs, more marketability for local goods shipped off Long Island, and a better way to get rid of our garbage.
Set aside money to study the feasibility of a car/train tunnel to Westchester County or Connecticut. For all the reasons mentioned above, plus quicker travel to New England and another route off Long Island in case of emergency.
Provide whatever additional funding is necessary to build a federal customs inspection station at Long Island MacArthur Airport, to allow the facility to accept international flights and jump-start its recovery.
Adopt some version of the innovative Move NY tolling-and-congestion pricing plan that would toll East River bridges, reduce tolls on other bridges, and charge people to drive into midtown Manhattan. It would reduce congestion, get more people to take public transit, and provide $1.5 billion per year for badly-needed transportation infrastructure.
Restore the Environmental Protection Fund to $300 million, the goal adopted nine years ago. The EPF funds vital programs in land conservation, clean water and wetlands protection, recycling, farmland preservation, sustainable waterfront planning and estuary restoration.
Put on the 2016 ballot a state environmental bond act, like the $5 billion measure proposed by former Long Island Assemb. Robert Sweeney in 2014. The act would pay for such things as clean water and clean air infrastructure, open space purchases, flood control and farmland protection. New York hasn't had such a bond act in 20 years, and polling shows New Yorkers overwhelmingly support one.
After years of deprivation, fully fund and staff the Department of Environmental Conservation so the agency can do the job it is mandated to do.
Increase funding for wastewater infrastructure well beyond the $75 million currently budgeted. Last year's funds went quickly; $200 million annually would be a good start.
Apart from whatever generous state aid is likely to be negotiated by Cuomo and lawmakers in an election year, set aside $3 million in annual funding to keep open the STEM high school and the Long Island High School of the Arts run by Nassau BOCES.
Pass legislation setting statewide standards for Airbnb, Uber and other similar services. It should recognize technology is changing established business patterns but also regulate their practices. The legislation should establish requirements for licenses, insurance, taxes, and other things. It also should eliminate the likelihood of a hodgepodge of counterproductive local regulations.
To help fight recent increases in homelessness, finance the construction of new supportive housing units that combine housing with such services as job counseling and treatment for addiction and mental illness.
It's a big agenda. Most of it addresses long-standing problems that affect the entire state, including Long Island. But a new year is a time for optimism and fresh beginnings. So let's get this done, and help Long Island and New York fulfill their potential.