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Sprouse-Guzman: The myth of balance in Albany

The New York State Senate prepares gavel in

The New York State Senate prepares gavel in as the legislative session draws to a close at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. (June 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Albany Times Union / Michael P. Farrell

For years, Republicans have told us it's vital that they control the State Senate to protect Long Island's interests. They've argued that their control provides balance in Albany, which is otherwise dominated by Democrats in the Assembly and key statewide offices.

Republicans have used this argument successfully to win every Long Island State Senate seat, even though Nassau and Suffolk counties have more registered Democrats than Republicans.

But, as we ready for the Nov. 4 election, we can't afford to fall for their argument anymore. Repeatedly, on issues including the minimum wage, women's equality, higher education equity and fair elections, they've blocked the agenda of working-class Long Islanders. The Senate Republicans' record since 2010 shows "balance" in Albany has been bad for Long Islanders.

A close look at the 2014 legislative session and campaign underscores stark differences between the parties. This is especially true of the minimum wage debate. Virtually every Long Islander knows that $9 per hour -- coming in December 2015 -- is not enough to live on Long Island. Nevertheless, Republicans led by Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), would not agree. While many Long Island Democrats supported an increase to $10.10 per hour, with local wage authorization and future increases based on inflation, local Republicans stood in the way. Their typical talking point -- that a higher wage hurts businesses and reduces Long Islanders' incentive to succeed by moving up and out of these jobs -- shows that it's been a while since Skelos and his peers worked a hard day for low pay.

During the 2014 legislative session, Republicans also shattered the dreams of thousands of New Yorkers by blocking the New York Dream Act, a bill to expand college tuition aid to all eligible students, regardless of immigration status. The legislation lost by two votes statewide after it received no votes from any of the nine-member Long Island Senate delegation. By denying Dreamers help to go to college in New York, Republicans callously blocked the road to opportunity for thousands of students with great potential to help our economy. A 2014 report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that the legislation would lead to significant economic benefits and more tax revenue to our state by increasing the number of skilled workers who stay in New York. That reality, however, is not reflected in Republican voting records or explanations.

The Republican leadership also blocked progress, by refusing to allow a vote, on two other key issues that most Long Islanders stand behind: women's equality and fair elections. On women's equality, the Republican leadership refused to put the full, 10-point Women's Equality Act to a vote in the State Senate, despite the Assembly passing it twice.

Skelos' conference followed the same playbook to stall fair elections legislation that would help limit the impact of big money and give every Long Islander a more equal say in our political process. There are likely enough votes to pass a bill to create a statewide public financing system, however, Senate Republicans wouldn't allow the bill to come to the floor in either 2013 or 2014.

Every two years, we get a chance to shake up New York's political structure and make a change. It's hard enough to make ends meet and provide opportunity for our families. In the name of a mythical balance, State Senate Republicans have made living on Long Island more difficult for us.

We should not give them another chance.

Frank Sprouse-Guzmán is a member of Make the Road Action Fund, a progressive advocacy group.


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