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After census, independent redistricting is urgent

Western New York families cannot afford any more of Albany's dysfunction. Decades of late budgets, legislators in handcuffs and politicians picking and choosing who they represent have sabotaged the entire legislative process and hurt local taxpayers. That's why our first order of business in the next legislative session must be the reshaping of the political system through ethics, budget and redistricting reform, which takes on new urgency following this month's release of census data.

Albany has put politics ahead of progress for far too long. Instead of creating jobs and passing common-sense legislation like UB 2020, which would transform our region, state leaders fought political food fights, leaving us the mess.

Of the 62 incoming members of the State Senate, an overwhelming 53 of us signed the "New York Uprising" pledge to pass ethics, budget and redistricting reform. I may be new to Albany, but when 85 percent of legislators agree on anything, we need to get to work and get the job done.

Fixing a broken budget process and holding legislators accountable for their behavior will bring significant change, but the key to the success of these reforms is independent redistricting. At the root of Albany's corruption are politicians dominating a current districting process that can assure their colleagues' careers for a lifetime, or their careers' end.

Legislators today literally pick who they want to represent. If you don't meet their criteria as a likely voter, you get pawned off to a neighboring district. This is the exact opposite of how government should operate. More competitive legislative districts mean better legislators, and better legislators will look beyond their political differences to get UB 2020 and other efforts passed.

With the impending loss of two congressional seats because of this year's census, the need for redistricting reform now is crucial. Its passage will bring stability to a broken process; not acting could mean Western New York loses its voice in Washington, D.C.

The loss of two congressional seats is devastating for our state, but the possibility that the districts of accomplished local representatives like Reps. Brian Higgins, Louise Slaughter and Chris Lee could be drawn out of existence simply cannot be allowed.

An independent redistricting commission gives Western New York a fighting chance; it means district boundaries will be drawn based solely on population and remove the opportunity for legislators to be targeted based on political affiliation.

There is too much at stake for Albany to continue toying with the well-being of hardworking families. Now is the time we must keep our pledge, create new jobs and put New Yorkers back to work.

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Timothy Kennedy was elected in November to represent the 58th State Senate District, including parts of the City of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Lackawanna, Hamburg and Eden.

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