A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

Election Day has come and gone and now that campaign season is behind us, it is time to move forward and begin planning for the coming legislative year.  While on the campaign trail, I emphasized my record of achievement, my strong partnerships with the people throughout the region, and my ideas for future growth.  I engaged in valuable discussions with business owners, local elected officials, and individuals young and old – those conversations will truly help me be a strong representative of our shared values and concerns.

Too many people are leaving our state and we need to turn that trend around by creating new opportunities for growth and success while making New York more affordable.

My focus will be on the concerns I hear every day – property tax relief, economic development, aid for our neediest schools, resources for our local roads and bridges, broadband access, quality healthcare, and the crushing heroin epidemic.  There have been wins, but there is work ahead and I am energized and prepared to roll up my sleeves and continue working for the people of the 51st senate district.

A great deal of talk has also surrounded the issue of ethics reform.  High-ranking officials within the governor’s administration have been paraded through the criminal courts, and top ranking elected officials have been convicted in recent years of looking out for themselves instead of the people they are sworn to serve.

I am committed to ensuring state government is open, transparent, and accountable.  I have passed many of the current state laws regarding ethics and financial disclosure. Moving forward, additional steps are needed, including:

  • Term limits for legislative leaders & committee chairs;
  • Creating an independent ethics panel to replace the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE);
  • Prohibiting conflicts of interest in state appropriations;
  • Greater independent oversight and review of New York’s economic development programs and discretionary spending.

This year, the senate passed the New York State Procurement Integrity Act (S.3984), which would improve transparency regarding the government procurement process.  Historically, the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) performed this essential oversight function, but in recent years, OSC’s ability to do so has been eroded. This legislation would restore this key control.

I also favor a fully searchable database that will allow the public to see exactly how economic development dollars are being used.  Again, the senate has passed legislation (S.6613) to create a searchable state subsidy and economic development benefits database so the public can monitor the use of taxpayer money.

The senate also approved a bill (S.5985) to bolster reporting requirements for START-UP NY by requiring the preparation of an annual report that would include, but is not limited to, the number of business applicants, number of businesses approved, benefits distributed and received, and the number of net new jobs created per business – including cumulative data that reflects the amount previously recorded and adjusted for net new jobs that have been lost.

We also need an independent budget office to provide objective, non-partisan analyses of state revenues, expenditures, and management practices for any legislation with a fiscal impact.  Accurate, up-to-date information is a key ingredient for prudent, timely budgetary and policy decisions. At least 23 other states including California, Texas, Florida, Connecticut and Vermont have already established non-partisan budget offices to assist their legislatures.  Senate bill 2325 would accomplish this goal.

I take very seriously the issue of public trust, and when it comes to the use of YOUR tax dollars, you should know how every penny is being spent.  Each of these reform measures were passed by a Republican led state senate but have failed to receive the backing of the Democrat assembly and governor.

Moving forward, I will continue to push for these reforms to ensure taxpayer dollars are invested in effective programs and state government is transparent and open.