By David Sussman
It’s become trite to say that Albany is broken—trite not because the statement is overused, but because the statement is used appropriately so often.
For those who haven’t been keeping score, over the past decades our lawmakers in Albany have delivered us massive underfunded contracts, some of the highest taxes in the country, a bloated government bureaucracy, a ridiculous pension system poised to bankrupt us and threaten the financial security of seniors who have spent a lifetime of work paying into these systems.
Albany effectively ceded control of jobs to unions and other special interests with work rules and other concessions, getting us to the point where, while other, more-business-friendly states’ populations nearly doubled, ours was relatively stagnant, costing us national influence and giving us the dubious distinction of being rated the single worst state in the United States in which to do business—thus costing us jobs and costing our families opportunity.
And it gets worse.
We began the summer season learning that several members of the State Assembly, including this district’s own representative, my opponent, Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, were involved in a scandal where assemblymembers cast votes for other districts and allowed other representatives to cast votes for them. Just so everyone understands this, the representatives involved, including Assemblyman Weisenberg, outsourced our democracy, facilitating votes cast in the name of our district by people not elected by our district and not accountable to our district. When confronted, Mr. Weisenberg was unfazed. It’s just how business is done in Albany. Some, like Mr. Weisenberg, even use the term “Planet Albany” to describe how business is done in a way that might not seem quite right to the people of Earth.
As the summer continued, we found out that Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez was involved in a sexual-harassment scandal and that Democratic Leader Sheldon Silver, along with co-conspirators in the offices of the Democratic Attorney General and Democratic State Comptroller, orchestrated a cover-up that used taxpayer money to silence the harassment victims. Our own assemblyman, my opponent, Mr. Weisenberg, was, of course, silent on the matter. (Presumably, he thinks that this is just the way of life on Planet Albany).
And now, as if all this wasn’t enough, a new scandal in Albany broke just this week. This week we learned that, on top of their $79,500 salary plus per diem (which they get for just 60-plus days in session, roughly $1,200 per day), some assemblymen were caught abusing their per diems, claiming taxpayer money for days they didn’t even show up in Albany, some to the tune of over $20,000 a year. What’s more, all ten of the worst abusers, as reported by the New York Post, are Democrats.
We then found out that amidst the corruption, the poor government, the high taxes, and the out-of-control spending, Albany lawmakers are thinking of giving themselves a salary increase—despite already being some of the highest-paid state legislators in the country. But I guess that on Planet Albany, that’s the reward legislators give themselves for coming in last place in business-friendliness and placing at the top of cost of living, taxes, and regulation.
We deserve more than an apologist for a broken system. We deserve legislators that aren’t afraid to present bold ideas and new solutions for making our state competitive again. We deserve legislators who will call out and expose corruption, not ignore it or explain it away.
I propose a bold new idea. It concerns the concept of our lawmakers voting themselves a pay raise at the next session of the legislature. This was mentioned in the New York Post over the weekend. Taking a cue from the Dodd-Frank bill, I propose a “say for pay” by the public for any raise for a public official. Any raise would need to receive approval with 60 percent of the votes cast at the next election of our state representatives, or else it would be null and void. Let the people decide if the Legislature deserves a raise.
As I’ve been walking the neighborhoods of our community, household after household, block after block, I hear stories of neighbors and seniors leaving because they can’t afford the high cost of living and taxes. Albany funds student education in New York City at $7,100 per student per year, while in Lawrence, Hewlett, and Oceanside, at only about $2,500 per student per year. Making up that difference costs the average Five Towns family about $1,500 per year in increased taxes. And it’s the same all over our legislative district. Oceanside and Hewlett-Woodmere each pay an extra $2,000 per household; Island Park an extra $1,000; East Rockaway an extra $850; and Long Beach families, already facing a 14 percent tax increase, are hit with another extra $580 per family.
When asked about this, my opponent explained that there is a “geographic war,” between the city, western New York, and “the affluent Island,” and that’s just the way things are on Planet Albany. My opponent does not fight, because he says things will never change. In the face of our local school districts losing some $14–$20 million a year in tax revenue, my opponent, Mr. Weisenberg, as a longstanding assemblyman on Planet Albany, gets us a mere onetime $50,000 grant and explains how he is making the cost of education livable, while allowing Albany to attack our very way of life.
Businesses do not come to New York, and those that are here find it hard to stay. Taxpayers find it difficult to fund our education system, property values go down, our population is stagnant, our children cannot find jobs, retirees are forced to leave, and our overall welfare is negatively impacted.
Earth to Planet Albany: If you do not change your course, you are surely headed for a crash!
Dr. David Sussman is the Republican, Conservative, and Tax Revolt candidate for the 20th District seat in the New York State Assembly.