Sen. Ashby hopes to see tweaks as New York state budget talks continue
The question at the New York State Capitol in Albany now is just how late the new budget will be. Governor Kathy Hochul and fellow Democratic leaders missed the April 1st deadline to agree on a new spending plan, acknowledging lingering disagreement over issues like housing and public safety. Some lawmakers say it could be mid-month before there is accord. For a view from the other side of the aisle, we’re joined now by Senator Jake Ashby, a Republican from the 43rd district.
So, from your view, how do things look right now?
From my view, it seems as if they're pretty far apart on several of the issues that I think are instrumental in crafting this year's budget. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wait this out. But I also think it's an opportunity for us to push on some of these issues and offer potential strategies for them. And so that's what we're trying to do.
Specifically, what are you focused on?
I'm focused on bail reform right now. We have crafted legislation that we've gotten a lot of feedback on both sides of the aisle that would eliminate cash bail, while giving judges back the discretion that they required to do their jobs and simultaneously, forming a commission of prosecutors, law enforcement and defense attorneys that would provide data for judges to make their findings. And so, their findings would be data driven. I think that this strategy, and this policy satisfies a lot of the concerns on either side of the aisle, and we're open to making changes to it. I think that when you look at what New Jersey did, it's similar in concept, and it's been successful over there. But that's to say, you know, hey, maybe we could do a better job in New York, this is our opportunity to do it.
Do you agree at all with Speaker Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that it is early on in the 2019 bail reforms and we might not have all the data we need to understand how they're working?
I suspect that's a that's a plausible argument. But I also think that, given the trends that we have seen, and index crimes around the area continuing to rise, that shouldn't prevent us from taking action and crafting better policy and as state legislators, that's our job.
What are some other issues that you would like to move on in this budget process? From the Republican conference point of view? We mentioned bail reform. What do you think of housing, say?
Housing, I think our conference remains opposed to the governor's proposal for that. I do think that it's obviously an issue that is impacting the state and I think affordability and over regulation is prevalent, and it's something that we need to work on. I know, obviously, within the legislature, the governor has an opportunity for that. But how many vacant buildings do we see around the state that could be used for housing, but the regulatory hurdles are preventing us from doing that. That's something that we can fix internally, and move on from there. We don't need to spend the amount of money that I think the governor is looking for, and making changes like this, and it can be organic to those areas and hand back local control and some regard rather than taking a top-down approach.
What are the needs in your district specifically? You represent an upstate district, a large part of it is a rural district. How does housing break down for you?
You know, it's funny, in the old Assembly district, we did have disparities in terms of population and the differences and demographics. We had the town of Berlin, and then we also had Lansingburgh, obviously two very different places. But there are there are similarities there and the new senate district that we have, we do have large geographic areas that are that are rural, but then we also have the entire town of Colonie, a municipality of 85,000 people. And then we also have the river cities along 787 and all of Rensselaer County. So, the needs of the district is varied and it does fit into I think a lot of the issues that we've discussed already; housing, criminal justice reforms, education, health care. A lot of those issues touch in the Capital Region. It’s a Capital Region seat, so I think most people are well aware of them. And I think we are seeking a balanced approach to this. It's not that we're neglecting or in opposition to these issues. It's that we want a seat at the table and we want a balanced approach. When we look at the solutions and strategies that have been offered over the years, they're imbalanced and we're having to come back and make corrections over and over again. I think it's important that we consider all points of view on this, including the minorities opinion.
Do you think that is happening in a different way under Governor Hochul than it did under then Governor Cuomo?
I think there's the potential for it. I think the fact that we are seeing some bipartisan agreement on issues, we were just having this conversation before you called about free school lunches. I think that's a great idea. So, I do think that there is an opportunity right now and in the future for more bipartisanship and I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that we that trend continues. But I'm also concerned that the budget right now is late and both sides seem pretty far apart on agreement.
Let me zoom out a little bit. What is it like when you are the member of minority conference? The famous three men in the room, they're all from the same party. So, you sort of have to wait until they come back with something first to their conference, then to the chamber. What is life like right now, as you're in this budget limbo?
Well, we're trying to work the connections that we have to make sure that the priorities within our district are met within this budget. That doesn't, that doesn't prevent us from doing it. Obviously, we would like a bigger seat at the table and we're going to continue to work to do that. But the fact that we don't have as much access as we'd like, isn't going to prevent us from working as hard as we can for the constituents in our district, and trying to get their needs met in this budget.
One more thing. The governor and the leaders have all been on the same page to say that let's get a 'good budget.' That's more important than an on time budget. Do you think that there's any damage done to the legislature's reputation and to what people think about the capitol the longer this goes on?
Well, I agree with that sentiment, as long as it's a good budget. And that's yet to be seen. So, depending on what it looks like, is it going to be worth the delay that we are currently in the middle of? That's yet to be seen. But we're going to continue to push. Like I said, we're going to continue to push for the needs within our district and make sure that they remain a priority.
Do you have a guess as to when there will be a budget?
I think, obviously not today.
That’s a good answer.