By Andrea Stewart-Cousins
For too long, upstate New York families have seen their taxes go up, their communities shrink and their economy stagnate and decline. For decades, Republican politicians have worked to pit New York regions against each other. This cynical approach has driven wedges into our state when we should be deepening connections and encouraging smart growth. My Senate Democratic Conference understands that New York is one state and that all regions need assistance and revitalization.
I have the pleasure to serve a diverse district in Westchester County, where I represent some of the wealthiest communities in New York and some of the most struggling. I represent urban, suburban and rural communities, as do many of my Senate Democratic colleagues. I am proud that my colleagues, like local Sen. Tim Kennedy, understand the concerns of New Yorkers because we represent the diverse communities that make this state great. Senate Democrats don’t prioritize one region over another, because our top priority is improving the lives of ALL New Yorkers.
For 50 years, the state Senate has been dominated by Republicans, and during that time unfunded mandates and taxes have grown out of control. Local governments and school districts have been forced to raise taxes to keep up with mandates from Albany and a lack of adequate state aid. This helped create a cycle where taxes went up, businesses and families fled, and taxes were then increased on remaining property owners and families. This cycle has been devastating for upstate communities, and it needs to be broken.
For years, Senate Democrats have advocated for real investments in Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding. This state funding will help local governments make ends meet without relying on higher taxes, meaning New Yorkers will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money. The Senate Democratic Conference unveiled a targeted report and legislative package to grow the upstate economy. We have also rolled out mandate relief proposals, infrastructure investment plans and efforts to ensure fairness in the State Transit Operating Assistance (STOA) allocations, including for light rail. Unfortunately, all of these initiatives have been blocked by a Senate Republican majority playing politics and using scare tactics to grasp on to power.
The Senate Republican majority hasn’t only contributed to the economic stagnation impacting New York communities, they have also held back progress on issues that New Yorkers, upstate and downstate, overwhelmingly support. Issues including ethics reforms, women’s rights, the Child Victims Act, environmental protections and many more.
To address all of these issues, my conference has been working tirelessly to develop plans to grow the state economy and advance progressive reforms. We will continue to work closely with local elected officials, stakeholders, advocate organizations and New York families to ensure that the actions taken in Albany reflect the will of the voters.
I am very proud of the work my leadership team, including local Sen. Kennedy, and entire Senate Democratic Conference has done since I was elected leader in December 2012. We have worked to grow our conference, bring in diverse voices and outstanding public servants, and ensure our priorities have the support of New York families and communities.
The hard work my team and I have undertaken has shown more and more voters that we are ready to lead the state, and that is why Democratic Senate candidates have been getting elected in districts throughout the state. We will continue to move forward because we understand that we are one state and all New Yorkers deserve progressive leadership and better economic opportunities.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins is New York State Senate democratic leader.