Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh (R,C-Ballston) speaks on the floor of the NYS Assembly
On June 4, the Majority closed the 2022 Legislative Session — a session where we saw modest victories for our communities but one that did not go nearly far enough to address record inflation or a growing crime crisis.
We saw hundreds of bills crammed late into the night where debate happened out of the public eye. Both our budget and end-of-session process continue to be a disservice to those we serve. After taking some time to rest, and to review what we did in Albany this year, I wanted to share some positives and negatives with you, the taxpayer.
Let’s start with the positives. During the budget process we voted on a suspension of the motor fuel excise tax, which began on June 1 and will run through the end of this year. Also during the budget process, we passed $30.9 billion in state support for school aid, a 7.2% increase from last year, along with $99.6 million for library aid, an increase of $5.5 million from last year.
I will continue to advocate for increased funding for our schools and libraries, which are too often overlooked but are essential for the development of the next generation of leaders.
Another huge positive that came out of this year was the establishment of what will now be a cabinet level state Department of Veterans Services, an initiative that was led by my colleague, Jake Ashby. The department will now be headed by a member of the governor’s cabinet, and it will directly address the concerns of New York veterans and provide support to a variety of veteran service agencies.
However, there were certainly negatives this session, and many more missed opportunities. To begin, we saw a completely flawed and unconstitutional power-grab surrounding our redistricting process, in which Assembly and Senate Majorities tried to gerrymander the maps for their own political gain. While these maps were eventually overturned by the state’s highest court, the controversy wasted valuable legislative time.
When Gov. Hochul’s hand-picked lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, was indicted on bribery charges, legislators like me were forced to waste more time taking up the ‘Brian Benjamin- Bill’ to allow for his swift removal from the ballot and replacement with another candidate.
Although the bill language was worded generically to apply to any individual arrested for a crime, it was clear that the legislation was crafted specifically to help the Governor clean up a mess she created by her failure to properly vet her running mate.
During the last week of session, my colleagues in the Majority used much of their time to get sound bites for their re-election campaigns, rather than find meaningful, common-sense solutions to improve the everyday lives of New Yorkers. Hours were spent debating pro-abortion legislation in one of the most pro-choice states in the country. Women across our state have ready access to abortion providers.
The Majority knows this but continued to grandstand on this topic, along with legislation on firearms.
In the last few weeks we have seen tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. Young men who have been filled with hate have committed heinous and reprehensible crimes in these communities. Nationally, the debate is focused on a zero-sum game. Your side is wrong, and my side is right. The issue at hand is so much more complex than that. We need to find common-sense solutions that work across party lines.
Unfortunately, Democrats in the Majority did nothing that will make our communities safer. Instead, much of the debate last week sounded like a campaign stump speech, rather than a plan of action.
At the end of the day, this session dealt with record gas prices, soaring crime and a New York that is simply becoming unaffordable for the middle class. We failed to even debate our inflation relief bill (A.8481) that would slash state sales tax for two years. This bill would have provided immediate relief at the gas pump, at the grocery store and on our energy bills. On the topic of crime, each of New York’s major cities have become hotbeds for violent assaults, robberies and shootings.
Despite the constant citation of statistics, the Legislature took very little action on the issue of violent crime this year, a true failure of leadership.
Finally, and most consequentially, New York has simply become unaffordable. Record inflation coupled with some of the highest taxes in the country has further accelerated the exodus of our residents. Our economic model of high taxes and high spending out of Albany is simply not sustainable.
The taxpayers who are responsible for footing the bill are owed so much better than this. Not only are we all paying record prices, but the Majority continues to push climate legislation through the Climate Action Council (CAC) that could cost each homeowner over $35,000 to fully electrify their existing homes. This last issue is deserving of its own column in the coming months.
When the average New Yorker finally realizes what these climate initiatives are going to cost, there will deservedly be an uproar!