POUND RIDGE, N.Y. State Assemblyman Robert Castelli paid a visit to the Pound Ridge Town Board meeting Thursday night to present a snapshot of the 2011 session with a summary of major actions by the legislature.
We appreciate this because there a lot of things in this last session that will impact us, said Supervisor Gary Warshauer.
Castellis talk ranged from topics such as reforming Albany, the tax cap, mandate relief, environmental conservation and legislative initiatives.
We had a $10 billion gap in the budget and we were able to close it with no new taxes and no borrowing, Castelli said.
The projected budget for 2012-13 was slashed from $15 billion to $2 billion, which Castelli said was still not great, but better than it was.
Workforce reductions, the assemblyman said, were achieved through attrition without any layoffs.
Castelli noted that the state spent $53 billion on Medicaid, more than California and Florida combined. However, he said that number could be reduced if fraud and waste is cut.
There is a plethora of financial waste in the system, he said. I am looking into having the government set up a task force.
Castelli also lauded Governor Cuomo for passing an ethics reform bill, which will hold legislators to a higher standard.
It is one of the toughest ethics law in the country, he said.
The assemblyman noted that while ethics reform is not a cure-all, it is an important step toward bringing substantive reform to the most dysfunctional legislature in America. He added that another way reform can be accomplished in Albany is by convening a Constitutional Convention.
Every 20 years the question of whether the state should convene a Constitutional Convention is placed before the voters. The last time the issue was placed before the electorate was in 1997.
I believe that a Convention would shake up the way Albany conducts business by giving New Yorkers more power over state government, Castelli said. The Peoples Constitutional Convention legislation I am proposing would put the question of convening a Convention before the voters on the November 2011 ballot.
Castelli also raised the issue of the tax cap, which he said that without meaningful mandate relief would become onerous.
The tax cap is not a panacea, he said. We need a moratorium and repeal on some unfunded mandates. Unfunded mandates are the bane of our existence in Westchester County. If we want something in Albany, we should pay for it.
Castelli noted that the tax cap bill also called for the creation of a Mandate Relief Council. Among other things, the Council would require the governor to act on a mandate relief proposal within 60 days, as well as require the state comptroller to issue a detailed report on the cost and effect of unfunded mandates.
On the topic of environmental conservation, Castelli said he was happy to report that no funding was cut this year from the States Environmental Project Fund (EPF). He said the EPF allocation was kept at $134 million in 2011.
However, he said, this is still a major reduction from the $500 million level it was at just four years ago.
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