LEWISBORO, N.Y. State Assemblyman Robert Castelli (R, C Goldens Bridge) paid a visit to his old stomping grounds a Lewisboro Town Board meeting last week to present a snapshot of the 2011 session with a summary of major actions by the legislature. Castelli was a Lewisboro town councilman 10 years ago.
Its good to be back in my hometown, he told the board at its meeting at the Onatru Farm House. Ive sat on the other side of that table as you may know.
Castellis talk ranged from topics such as reforming Albany, the tax cap, mandate relief, environmental conservation and legislative initiatives.
We had a $10 billion gap in the budget and we were able to close it with no new taxes and no borrowing, Castelli said. Weve turned the corner and decided to do it the right way. A lot of the credit goes to our young governor up there.
The projected budget for 2012-13 was slashed from $15 billion to $2 billion, which Castelli said was not great, but better than it was.
Workforce reductions, the assemblyman said, were achieved through attrition without any layoffs.
The assembly member pointed to the creation of the Spending and Government Efficiency Committee (SAGE), which he said will help cut government waste.
Eight state agencies have been consolidated into four, he said. We can reduce the number of agencies throughout the state by 20 percent.
Castelli noted that the state spent $53 billion on Medicaid, more than California and Florida combined. However, he said that number could be reduced if fraud and waste is cut.
Castelli also lauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for passing an ethics reform bill, which will hold legislators to a higher standard.
It is one of the toughest ethics laws in the country, he said.
The assembly member noted that, while ethics reform is not a cure-all, it is an important step toward bringing substantive reform to the most dysfunctional legislature in America. He added that another way reform can be accomplished in Albany is by convening a Constitutional Convention.
Every 20 years the question of whether the state should convene a Constitutional Convention is placed before the voters. The last time the issue was place before the electorate was in 1997.
I believe that a Convention would shake up the way Albany conducts business by giving New Yorkers more power over state government, Castelli said. The Peoples Constitutional Convention Legislation I am proposing would put the question of convening a Convention before the voters on the November 2011 ballot.
Castelli also raised the issue of the tax cap, which he said that without meaningful mandate relief would become onerous.
Without mandate relief this could be a real problem, he said.
Castelli pointed to the creation of the Mandate Relief Council as a solution. Among other things, the Council would require the governor to act on a mandate relief proposal within 60 days, as well as require the state comptroller to issue a detailed report on the cost and effect of unfunded mandates.
This council is not a paper tiger. It has teeth, he said. I believe we will see more mandate relief.
On the topic of environmental conservation, Castelli said he was happy to report that no funding was cut this year from the States Environmental Project Fund. He said the EPF allocation was kept at $134 million in 2011. He noted, however, that the allocation is still a major reduction from the $500 million level it was at just four years ago.
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