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September 26, 2006

Lawmakers: lack of political will and dysfunction are roadblocks to reform

New York’s highest-in-the-nation per capita tax burden weakens job and population growth, but some reform opportunities are faced with roadblocks, two panel members at an economic forum held Friday Sept. 22 at The Business Council’s Annual Meeting said.

"I think the Legislature is totally dysfunctional," Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany) said. Senator Breslin was joined on the panel by Assemblyman Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua); Assemblyman Robin Schimminger (D-Buffalo); Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz (D-Buffalo); and Senator George Winner (R-Elmira). The panel was moderated by Jack Aernecke, the weeknight anchor and business reporter for the Albany-area CBS affiliate, WRGB.

Senator Breslin said that he had taken many foreign delegations on tour of the capital in Albany. Many of the delegations were from former Soviet countries, or third-world countries, looking to Albany as examples of democracy.

Breslin said that, after seeing the Legislature in action, “there wasn’t one country that hasn’t said ‘Gee, we’re doing okay.'”

Representatives from the Republic of Georgia, once part of the USSR, looked at Albany and then remarked to Breslin, “It’s much more democratic where we are than it is here.”

Assemblyman Kolb pointed to the tax burden, and such issues as workers’ comp costs driving businesses out of the state.

“But there’s been no political will among legislators or governor to take on this issue and reform it,” Kolb said. “People have to be willing to compromise on some key issues.” Kolb also attributed the stalemate in workers comp reform to labor forces refusing to talk about key issues such as permanent partial disability.

“There is no shortage of solutions,” Kolb said. “What’s missing is political will.”

“If you look at just the state tax burden, it’s really more moderate compared to other states,” said Assemblyman Schimminger. “It’s the local tax burden that’s high.”

Schimminger said local government spending is a result of choices made by local governments in response to the wishes of their communities. But he said Albany does drive a portion of the local tax burden with unfunded mandates.

Assemblyman Tokasz, who is not running for reelection this November, said Medicaid is a large burden on taxpayers.

“There’s no question that the system we have in New York State is a very expensive system,” Tokasz said. “But, by and large, it’s driven by health-care costs.” He added that all health-care costs, not just Medicaid, are rising.

Senator Breslin agreed. “The uninsured cost more than the insured. We have to have more preventative care for the uninsured and the marginally insured.” He called for the expansion of community health centers.

“We need to avoid the imposition of costly new mandates on health insurance premiums,” said Senator Winner.

Assemblyman Schimminger agreed that no mandates should be added, and said lawmakers should pass a law that would allow New Yorkers to purchase an alternative health-insurance policy without the “bells and whistles” Albany mandates.

Tokasz also supported a basic policy. “Everybody doesn’t need Cadillac coverage,” Tokasz said. “We can get along with smart cars in terms of health care.”