Senator Suzi Oppenheimer Says 2006 Session Ended With Major Agreements But Little Reform

Suzi Oppenheimer

July 07, 2006

State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck) said the 2006 legislative session ended with a flurry of agreements on tough new anti-crime measures, critical child and family funding, and a property tax rebate program, but brought no significant reforms to create a more transparent and open government.

"Let me start by acknowledging what we did accomplish this year: an expanded DNA databank that will put more violent criminals behind bars, an agreement to end the statute of limitations on rape and other sexual assaults that will bring more sex offenders to justice, a property tax rebate for overburdened homeowners and the creation of a Medicaid Inspector General’s office to help root out fraud," Senator Oppenheimer said. "These agreements, that will soon become law, represent major breakthroughs after years of debate and will help bring a positive change in New Yorkers’ lives.

"With that being said, let me tell you why I believe this year’s session was one of missed opportunities. We had all the incentive in the world to finally close the deal on a host of sweeping reforms that would have transformed our state government," Senator Oppenheimer said. "Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. No Senate rules reform. No real ethics reform. No campaign finance reform. No expanded Conference Committees. No redistricting reform. No MTA reform. No fundamental reform of our Medicaid system. The list goes on and on."

Senator Oppenheimer said she would have liked to seen a continuation of the leadership meetings held for the budget, where the Governor and four legislative leaders could meet every week to work on fundamental reforms and critical legislation affecting New Yorkers. From these meetings rank-and-file members and the public could have been included in the debate. It seems as if only that sort of public pressure gets the right legislation on the table.

"It is unfortunate that politics drives many of these agreements, not a commitment to real reform," Senator Oppenheimer said. "In a sense, some of these compromises come down to what will play well during a reelection campaign and which issues make good sound bites. But don’t be fooled. That’s not real change. Not the kind that brings real reform.

"We all agree that New Yorkers are being overwhelmed by local property taxes. That’s why I voted in favor of the rebate check for homeowners," said Senator Oppenheimer. "But we must also come to terms with the root causes of high property taxes. We simply must do more than cut rebate checks that will have no lasting affect on high property taxes. It’s feel-good politics and instant gratification. New Yorkers deserve better," Senator Opppenheimer said.

"When Congress proposed a gasoline rebate check earlier this year, Americans overwhelmingly thought it was a stupid idea," Senator Oppenheimer continued. "They understood what politicians were attempting to do: buy off their anger by offering them a few bucks. I suspect the same sentiment will be felt in New York. The Legislature cut the gasoline tax by four cents a gallon. That’s not an energy plan. New Yorkers want to see solutions that will reduce our future dependence on fossil fuels, not a gimmick that saves us pennies at the pump."

Senator Oppenheimer said everyone knows that skyrocketing Medicaid costs for counties are the major cause of raising property taxes. "We had an opportunity to truly reform our Medicaid program and put in place anti-fraud measures with real teeth. What happened instead were special interests watered down the bill," said Senator Oppenheimer. "Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. Will it come close to making the system more efficient or honest? No. And that’s why I pledge to keep fighting for true Medicaid reform that protects the safety net for our poor and elderly, while saving billions of dollars a year through efficiency and weeding out fraud."

Senator Oppenheimer was also disappointed that theSenate Majority failed to act on Senate rules changes or live up to their agreement to disclose member items. "If we are truly going to reform our government we must begin with genuine rules reform in the Senate. That means expanding the role of rank-and-file and minority party members to allow real debate and participation. Only with these reforms in place will we see a truly democratic body," said Senator Oppenheimer. "I’m sorry to say that the obstacle in passing these democratic reforms is an entrenched SenateMajority that stubbornly refuses to give up one stitch of power for fear that their airtight control over this institution will unravel."