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New York's legislative session begins with concern over economy, taxes


Monday was the first full day of session in the New York State legislature, and lawmakers have a lot to contend with, including a multi billion dollar budget deficit.

The state Assembly gaveled in first, with remarks by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The speaker, a Star Trek fan, used one of his favorite quotes from the series as he offered a critique of what he calls “radical policies” by President Trump and the Republican Congress in Washington.

“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one,” Heastie, said using a line from the Star Trek character Mr. Spock. “It’s unfortunate this sentiment is not shared in Washington.”

Heastie condemned the recently approved federal tax overhaul as an “unprecedented cash grab” from New York and says women’s reproductive rights are “under attack”.

Afterward, Heastie addressed the over $4 billion dollar structural deficit. He says he does not think spending cuts will be necessary, if spending growth is curbed to 2% or less from last year.

“I don’t believe that we have to do any cutting in education or health care,” said, Heastie, who said he expects “significant growth”  in both areas.

But he says he’s not opposed to raising taxes on wealthier New Yorkers, if necessary.

Heastie, a Democrat, is firmly in control of the majority in the Assembly where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one.

Meanwhile, in the New York State Senate, the future of the Republicans who rule the chamber is not quite as certain.

Currently, the GOP has 31 Senators and the Democrats have 30, but two seats in Democratic majority districts are vacant.

After Governor Cuomo calls special elections for those seats sometime later this year, Democrats could regain control of the chamber, an event that Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins alluded to in her remarks.

“We’re in the chamber in our seats ready to work,” said Stewart- Cousins. “And, who knows, by the end of the session we may all be in different seats.”

The Democrats would still need to unite with a break -away faction of Independent Democrats, as well as one lone Democratic Senator who currently caucuses with the Republicans, in order to rule the chamber.

Senator Stewart Cousins, the only female legislative leader, wore black for her speech, she says “in solidarity with all women” and against sexual harassment. And she focused many of her remarks on women’s rights, including on a bill to codify into New York State law the abortion rights in the landmark US Supreme court decision Roe v Wade.

“We need to recognize, once and for all, that women’s rights are human rights,” said Stewart -Cousins.   

Some Republicans in the chamber do not support the measure.

Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan, in his remarks, says he wants to pay attention to issues that are exclusive to New York. He says the Democrats, including Governor Cuomo in his January 3rd State of the State speech, are focusing too much on policies from Washington.

“When I listened to the governor’s speech last week, boy was it ambitious,” said Flanagan, who said he’d rather talk about improving the state’s economic picture. “When we’re going to focus about New York it’s got to be about jobs and jobs and jobs.”

Flanagan says he’s also concerned about out migration from New York State, and says he wants to control property taxes by making a temporary cap permanent.

The Senate leader says he, too wants to work to improve the chamber’s anti sexual harassment policies, but says he wants to think hard to make sure everyone is protected.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.