New York state Senator Dan Stec critiques legislative session
The New York Senate adjourned its session earlier this month after a marathon of late-session votes. The Assembly is scheduled to return Tuesday to act on a number of bills before its final adjournment. After the Senate ended its session, Dan Stec, a Republican from the 45th District, said the session had ended with a “flurry of bad bills.” Stec tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he gives the session a failing grade based on the budget:
The budget’s the lion's share of what we do and unfortunately, like it is every year, a lot of policy was crammed into that. But the simple bottom-line number of the budget, I think, is enough to give us a failing grade on: $229 billion. If you look at that number, $229 billion and what it represents, it's out of control. And we've had people fleeing the state and they have been for the last several years. And this year’s session, between the budget and the other policies that were voted on, it will only accelerate that exodus and that should be very concerning. You know, we've been telling them this is unsustainable year in and year out. The fact is, we are underwater financially in the state and nothing we did in this session is going to improve that.
Dan Stec, when I talked to the assembly representatives from this area that you know very well, D. Billy Jones and Matt Simpson, one of the things that they were frustrated about was the fact that because the budget was late the other bills and pieces of legislation ended up basically not getting passed or being rushed through. Did you experience the same thing in the Senate?
This is the latest budget in 13 years. We did not extend sessions. I would suspect that this year, we crammed in a lot more in those last two weeks than normally and I know we didn't get everything done that we normally would have because we lost a month to the budget.
You sent out the release saying that the legislative ended with a “flurry of bad bills.” Which ones are the bad ones and just how bad are they from your perspective?
Well, there's a few of them. But the two biggest issues facing New York State, we hear it in polling, we hear it from our constituents, is crime and affordability. The Clean Slate legislation, sealing felony conviction records for people that have been in prison that are now coming back into society. They want to seal those so that potential employers, somebody that's hiring bank tellers, somebody that's hiring childcare workers, they can't know the criminal history of a candidate. I don't think that's fair to those people. I don't think that's fair to future victims. I don't think it's fair to current victims. I don't think it's fair to the taxpayer. Literally on the floor in debate in the Senate, one of them defended this by saying it wasn't fair that these are the people that got caught and it wasn't fair to all the other people that do these crimes that never get caught. That's the rationale in the New York State Senate for sealing criminal conviction records. So the Clean Slate was one of the big ones. One of the last bills we voted on was to give free health care to people that are here illegally. That's a monumental expense. Again, I think it goes to fairness. There's a lot of people are here legally working hard trying to make ends meet paying for their health care, if they can afford their health care, and we voted in the state legislature to give it away to people that are here illegally. I think that that's, again, an affordability issue and it's a fairness issue. One of the other bills is the tinkering of elections law. Let me tell you a little secret. There are no election law changes happening in Albany that are there purely to make the process better, safer, easier, fair. If it's getting pushed through the legislature in Albany under one party rule it is to benefit one party: the party that's in power. And I just think it'll drown out local issues, the differences and ideas. So it was a constant trickle this entire session that turned into a deluge right at the end of just bad ideas and more bad policy. They're doubling and tripling down on things that are driving New Yorkers out of the state.
Dan Stec, was there anything positive that came out of this legislative session?
Well, it's impossible to spend $229 billion without there being some good being done with that money. You're throwing stuff against the barn wall some of it is going to be good. And so there are a lot of small victories both in the district and around. Most of our legislation is not controversial. I mean, we voted on over 1600 bills in the Senate. Maybe 100 of them were, you know, significant and controversial. But, you know, there's little things, little victories. But as far as game changers or something that counterbalances this? I don't think so. You know, I mean, I was pleased with some of the investments that we're going to make in the Adirondacks on environmental standpoint, the EPF (Environmental Protection Fund), additional funding for CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) for highways, an investment in road and bridge infrastructure and environmental problems in the state is worthwhile. But, you know, I had a few of my own bills that went through. One that I'm particularly pleased with is the statewide bill that addresses invasive species. I believe the governor will sign it. It's a small victory, but you know what, it'll make it easier for a future town that wants to fight Asian clam or zebra mussel or you name the invertebrate. Now, instead of needing special legislation, it will be allowed under current law. So I think that was a positive step. Again, a personal bill that I sponsored. Most of my local legislation got through. I carried again successfully the constitutional amendment for Camp Gabriel's to allow selling that former prison facility. So many of our prison facilities around the state, in particular in the North Country, that have been closed sit there unused, dilapidated. They become blights on their communities. The will has not been there to do anything with these properties. But in Camp Gabriel's case we need a constitutional amendment in order to sell that. The things that I was carrying that I needed to work on, I got most of them done. So I'm pleased about that. But you know, the big picture here the size of the budget, what we're doing with affordability and crime, what we're dealing with the electrification and taking away gas appliances and forbidding any new construction to be powered by gas without having a good plan timeline that's achievable. I mean my background, I'm educated at Clarkson. I've got a degree in engineering. I was in the Navy's nuclear power program. I know a little bit about electrical power generation and distribution. What they're trying to do, what the legislature has mandated in law, is not feasible. It's not achievable. Certainly not on the timeline that they've got. And it's going to be obscenely unaffordable and I'm really concerned about that. We should be striving to be cleaner but we've got to do it in a responsible way which means it's got to be technically feasible and it's got to be affordable to the rate payer and the plan that they've been pushing through Albany is neither of those things.
Republican Dan Stec served four terms the Assembly. He is serving his second term in the state Senate.