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From the Desk of Senator Jack Martins - May 20, 2011

Summer Is Upon Us

As we head into the summer, we are still hard at work in Albany. We must continue to build on the momentum we’ve established since March when the Senate, Governor and Assembly worked together to pass an historic budget that closed a $10 billion budget without raising any taxes or fees. It represented a vast change in how Albany conducted business in recent years when the state outspent its revenues and then relied on taxpayers to close the deficits with tax increases.

This is a new era in state government, one of fiscal responsibility. Passing increased burdens onto our overtaxed taxpayers is not acceptable. I came to the Senate this January after serving for eight years as a village mayor. There was no better experience to prepare me for the Senate than serving in local government.

As a former village mayor and now the chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Local Government, I understand the issues facing our communities. I understand the pressures that local governments including our towns, villages, and special districts and, for that matter, our school districts are dealing with in trying to do more with less in light of ever escalating costs including pension and healthcare costs. That’s why I am continuing to push for meaningful, real mandate relief.

I have often said that local governments are our most efficient level of government. Just look at our villages here in the Seventh Senate District and the services they provide our residents.

Not everyone realizes it, however. In March 2010, the Citizen Empowerment Act went into effect. It was an initiative that was lobbied for by then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The law enables citizens to dissolve or consolidate their local governments, including villages and special districts.

While I fully support putting such crucial decisions in the hands of the people, there are several problems with this law. I opposed the law then and I oppose it now.

I have introduced a bill that clarifies this law, giving residents a greater say in the decision-making process, ensuring that residents know the fiscal impact as well as how their services will be provided in the event a local government such as a village or special district is dissolved or consolidated. Residents should have all the information before they are asked to vote on such a crucial question. It’s that important.

The current law allows for residents who wish to dissolve a local government to collect the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters or 5,000 signatures (whichever is less) in the government to be dissolved. However, the law imposed no time restriction for the collection of these signatures, which can be collected over a period of years.

My bill calls for the signatures to be collected within a period of 60 days – more than enough time if there truly is a need or support for dissolution or consolidation in the community.

If residents do, by majority through a referendum, decide to dissolve the local government, the board of the government to be consolidated has to formulate a dissolution plan. However, under the current law, residents of that government do not have the opportunity to approve that plan. Under my bill, residents would have an opportunity to vote on that plan through a referendum.

Perhaps, most importantly, my bill provides that residents will know the estimated financial impact of the proposed dissolution or consolidation. If the ultimate goal is to save money, voters should know whether a consolidation or dissolution of a local government would ultimately save money.

As part of the democratic process, it is essential that voters have the necessary information before they are asked to vote. This past week my bill passed the Senate with, by far, the majority of opposition coming from state senators from New York City where they have no villages, towns or special districts and, as such, the law doesn’t apply and my proposed bill would have no impact.  No further comment necessary.

My colleague, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, is sponsoring the counterpart to my bill in the Assembly. It’s another example of the Assemblywoman and I working together across the aisle to do what is right for our communities.  I look forward to working with her to ensure that the bill passes in her house.

I will continue to update you in the weeks ahead as we address myriad issues during this session. As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve.