Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, issued a statement to New Yorkers today about the accomplishments in the legislative session that just ended, from passing a state budget on time and same-sex marriage legislation to ethics reform. He praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, for his leadership. He also said there’s a lot of unfinished business, including pay equity for women, campaign-finance reform and independent redistricting.
The Senate left without passing health-care exchange legislation that was agreed upon with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Senate. All states are supposed to set up the marketplaces to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act. Otherwise the federal government will step in and set up the exchanges. Sampson said he is disappointed the Senate did not adopt legislation supported by Democratic senators that would set up an independent redistricting process.
Sampson said he hopes senators can “continue the spirit of bipartisanship that allows us to meet the challenge of change and inspires New Yorkers to once again believe in a New York where anything is possible — because together, everything is possible.” There are 32 Republicans in the Senate and 30 Democrats.
Here are Sampson’s complete remarks:
My fellow New Yorkers,
The 2011 legislative session started the new decade off right – by putting the people first.
Highlighted by the passage of an on-time and balanced budget, ethics reform, a property tax cap, strengthened tenant protections, and marriage equality, we began to restore the faith and trust in state government to give New Yorkers a reason to believe in the great things New York can accomplish.
There is no question we have much more to do to create jobs and fuel our economic recovery, but with session now over, I want to reflect on the things we have accomplished together, the unfinished business taxpayers still need us to complete, and the promises some have yet to keep.
At the start of the year, many pundits said this would be the same old Albany. They saw Albany gridlock standing in the way of New York’s progress year – after – year – after – year.
They were wrong, because we had a new Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Aided by a diverse coalition of experienced veterans and energetic freshmen, we worked together to change how taxpayers view Albany.
Governor Cuomo deserves credit for providing the strong leadership and tough medicine we needed to set the table for the economic recovery our retirees, our Middle Class families, and our working poor deserve.
Thanks to Governor Cuomo, we passed an on-time budget that closed a $10 billion dollar deficit without any new taxes or borrowing. And we started the process of consolidating agencies to deliver a state government that works better and costs less.
There was pain in the budget, but we stayed true to the principle of shared sacrifice by winning key restorations for school aid, higher education, and critical human services like Title 20 senior centers, homeless programs, summer youth employment, and juvenile justice reforms.
It is due to these tough but true choices, that New York is once again open for business.
Then we took on the elephant in the room – Albany’s ethics problem – an issue that has affected both parties in both houses.
Once again, led by Governor Cuomo, and with bipartisan support, we passed comprehensive ethics reform legislation that built on last year’s efforts to clean up Albany and give New Yorkers the more open, accountable, and responsible state government they deserve.
It was not perfect by any stretch, but the stronger disclosure requirements, creation of an independent oversight commission, greater transparency for lobbyists, and tougher deterrents for public corruption are a good start to building a state government as good as the people we serve.
We also started to deal with New York’s affordability crisis. Whether you live in the suburbs or the cities, too many New Yorkers can’t afford to live here.
By passing a property tax cap to ease the burden on homeowners, mandate relief to help our local governments, and stronger rent regulations to protect tenants, we are helping real New Yorkers stay here, work here, and start their families here.
Recognizing that we needed to do more to protect tenants, we passed the first expansion of rent laws in almost 30 years. I wish we could have done even more to strengthen rent regulations, but our journey to achieve lasting tenant protections is not over – it has just begun.
And then we come to our historic passage of marriage equality.
Two weeks ago, Senate Democrats stood twenty-nine strong to announce their support for marriage equality, and brought New York to the doorstep of history. On Friday, June 24th, we took the final step by passing marriage equality into law.
The passage of marriage equality is a signal to the nation and the world that New York is ready for equality. The birthright of equality is now a reality for more people in the Empire State.
Throughout its history, New York has carried the mantle of justice. The torch has now been passed to a new generation of leaders, activists, and advocates in the fight for justice and equality for all New Yorkers.
I thank Governor Cuomo for his strong leadership and comend Council Speaker Christine Quinn for being a true champion on this issue. New Yorkers for Marriage Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, the Gill Foundation, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and all others who have been our partners in reaching this moment share in this achievement. And I applaud the courage of all legislators who stood up for equality.
I last, but most importantly, I want to commend Senator Tom Duane for his relentless advocacy on behalf of his community and all New Yorkers. Senator Duane changed hearts, changed minds, and in the process, helped change the course of history. None of this could have been possible without him.
The passage of marriage equality is a powerful example of what is possible when people work together to do what is right. With renewed optimism and restored faith, I look to the future because whether it’s GENDA, the HIV Rent Cap, or funding for research and health programs, the fight for true equality has just begun.
What we achieved by working together is about more than the progress we made on policy changes to protect New Yorkers. This was about keeping our word and forging the path of public trust that will lead New York toward a brighter future.
But we still have unfinished business.
There are women who work just as hard as men but don’t receive equal pay for equal work. That is why we need Pay Equity. And we need to keep New York’s commitment to choice by passing the Reproductive Health Act. This is not the time to let our guard down. This is the time to reaffirm our commitment to the principle that women’s rights are human rights, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
There is also $150 million in federal funding for the Health Care Exchange at stake. It has to be passed this year for New York to get the money. Just as we worked together to win federal Race to the Top money, we must come back and get this done.
For those who think our work on ethics is done, I have three words for you: Campaign Finance Reform. We must do more to restore trust in government. We have to take big money out of our elections, and give regular New Yorkers a say.
We also need to do more to protect the clean water supply for 70 percent of New Yorkers and that means ending the immediate dangerous practice of hydro-fracking before it begins.
At the start of session, I urged all legislataors to Keep Your Promise and Pass the Pledge. I am deeply disappointed that we are closing out session without keeping the promise 54 of 62 Senators made to support independent redistricting. If we don’t stand by the promise we all made, the opportunity for real change will be lost for another 10 years. I urge Senate Republicans to bring independent redistricting to the floor.
It is my hope we continue the spirit of bipartisanship that allows us to meet the challenge of change and inspires New Yorkers to once again believe in a New York where anything is possible – because together, everything is possible.
On behalf of the Democratic Conference, I wish all New Yorkers a happy, healthy, and safe summer.