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Local state legislators say a different Albany with Democrats in total control

Photos by Tom Rivers: State Sen. Robert Ortt said it’s a new environment in the State Legislature, now that Democrats have the majority in the Senate.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 January 2019 at 10:42 am

ALBION – Local state legislators said the state capitol is different now that Democrats have full control of the Senate, Assembly and Governor’s Office.

The Republicans were knocked out of power in the Senate after the November election. State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, now finds himself in the minority conference. He said legislation is getting passed that used to be blocked by the Senate.

He opposed the legislation to expand abortion rights and offer state aid for undocumented students to attend college.

“We’re not going to be able to stop nearly what we were able to stop in the past,” Ortt said Friday during a legislative luncheon at Tillman’s Village Inn.

He expects legislation, including expanded paid family leave and other progressive proposals that would raise businesses’ cost, to have a strong chance of becoming law.

“Right now it’s a challenging time,” he said. “They are moving fast and furious.”

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley decried new state legislation that expands abortion rights and offers college aid for undocumented immigrants.

Ortt said he worries about the budget priorities shifting money from distressed areas of upstate now, especially rural areas that don’t have a strong advocate in the majority conferences. The governor’s budget, for example, nears wipes out AIM (Aid and Incentives to Municipalities) for the Orleans municipalities, reducing that funding by $290,000 in Orleans County.

The State Senate, when it was in Republican control, would have blocked the AIM cuts to villages and towns, he said.

State Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, said the new power structure in Albany puts more focus on New York City and urban areas.

“There has been a dramatic shift that has occurred in Albany,” Norris told about 100 people at the luncheon. “The state government is solely controlled by one party. The rural counties are not getting the attention that they deserve.”

The change comes after recent success in getting long-sought state funds to repave the Lake Ontario State Parkway from Hamlin to past the Kendall townline, and a plan for the state to fix seven canal bridges that have been either closed or had the weight limits significantly reduced.

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said the state has passed “lots of unheard of things” – the expanded abortion rights and college aid for students in the country illegally. Hawley said he is concerned about the impact of the rising minimum wage and other costs, such as workmen’s compensation rates, that make the state less competitive for businesses.

The higher costs and regulations discourage businesses from growing, and are part of the reason the state’s population is declining.

“The governor says it is because of the weather,” Norris said about the shrinking population. “It’s because of our property taxes and mandates.”

Norris said there are job opportunities across the state, but businesses struggle to find employees with the right skill set. He wants the state to push more vocational training programs to help businesses meet their needs and also have residents better equipped to excel in the economy.

Hawley said there is a chance he might have to give up his position because of a ban on outside income over $18,000 annually for state legislators.

The NYS Compensation Committee on Dec. 10 recommended the ban on outside income as part of a proposal to increase legislators’ pay from a base salary of $79,500 to $130,000. The committee gave legislators a one-year grace period with the outside income limits to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The ban would effect Hawley, who owns an insurance business, and many other state legislators who works as attorneys.

“I want to continue,” said Hawley, who has been in the Assembly for 13 years. “I’m still energized. I still enjoy it.”

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