By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Amidst all the hopes for a better way to conduct state government in Albany, New York will take a unique step when the Legislature reconvenes today.
It may be the only state in the nation where the government has increased in size, with an additional seat in the Senate, the result of redistricting plan approved in 2012. The upper house now has 63 members.
“So much for smaller government,” one veteran legislator quipped last week as he prepared to return to Capitol Hill for the new session.
The most significant change confronting lawmakers is in the Senate where, based on the latest figures, the Republicans will have 32 members, the Democrats, 26, and the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction, 5. The IDC led by Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, has been pushing for what he envisions as a “bipartisan coalition,” comprised of the five renegades and the Senate GOP caucus, to control the Senate.
Three area lawmakers reflected last week on the upcoming agenda and what they consider as vital issues for 2013.
Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, has adopted a wait-and-see attitude on the impact the breakaway Democrats will have on the Senate and its ability to function efficiently. The senator is quick to note that he is not in total agreement with everything the IDC seems to be pushing. He said earlier, though, that the move toward a three-conference Senate could mean — unlike in recent years — more bills could reach the floor for discussion.
And there are valid concerns whether the so-called gridlock atmosphere could return to the Legislature, especially if Klein insists that the Senate rules be changed so that the IDC would have “equal authority over everything.”
As for the agenda, Maziarz cited the ongoing battle to secure more relief from state-mandated costs to communities. Many local government officials are frustrated with the lack of any strategy to ease the financial burden on counties for those mandated programs and services. Yet those programs tend to have “constituencies” with a vested interest in prolonging their existence.
The need for increased school aid for upstate districts is another priority in the senator’s opinion. Increased security in schools is also crucial in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, Maziarz said, and those challenges also need to be addressed by the entire criminal justice system.
Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said he will strive to work for a balanced budget, a goal he has kept in mind since being elected. Thus far, Ceretto said he has been impressed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership skills. “I have faith he will direct us to what’s best for this state.”
Ceretto also is determined to continue advocating for Western New York to get its fair share of low-cost power from the New York Power Authority. In addition, the lawmaker recalled that he and other colleagues had met months ago with Cuomo in the wake of a media report that the Niagara Falls State Park was generally considered to be in shabby condition for a tourist destination. “The governor didn’t blow us off,” Ceretto said, noting that hefty funds were soon made available for major improvements in the park.
On the contentious casino gambling issue, Ceretto said he will reserve judgment until the current arbitration panel rules on whether the Seneca Nation has exclusive rights to operate gambling casinos in Western New York. “If the ruling is the Senecas do have that right of exclusivity (part of the compact), I probably wouldn’t support the measure (to legalize casinos).” On the other hand, if the city was allowed a state-run casino, I’d support it because it would create more jobs and improve our local economy.”
Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, lists reforming the present “scaffold law” as a priority in the new Legislature. Under the state labor law (Section 240-41), the owner of a property incurs “absolute liability” for any accident that occurs on a construction site anywhere in New York, even if the worker is at fault. “This law has the effect of driving up the cost of any construction project,” Schimminger said, noting it adversely impacts on developers and their potential investments.
The lawmakers agree that the second passage for legalizing casino gambling is bound to be more difficult. It is generally accepted that the Legislature would never even consider such a bill unless it specified the sites of the proposed casinos.
Meanwhile, the New York State Racing Association is expected to unveil an ad campaign Monday touting the success of the nine race-track virtual casinos — known as racinos — and promoting the idea of upgrading them to full-blown facilities complete with slots and table games.
While Schimminger’s regional office is in Erie County, his 140th District includes some 20,000 constituents in the North Tonawanda area.