January marks the beginning of a new political season, with second-term President Barack Obama sworn in this week and new and old faces settling into their seats in the state legislature.
New to Albany is Democratic state Assemblyman David Buchwald, representing the 93rd Assembly District, which includes Lewisboro and Katonah. In November Mr. Buchwald, a White Plains resident, defeated former Republican Assemblyman and Goldens Bridge resident Robert Castelli, who had held the office since 2010. As a former economic analyst and White Plains Common Council member who grew up in Westchester County, Mr. Buchwald is aiming to bring a variety of skills together to fight for the needs of the district, economic needs first and foremost, he said.
“I am focused on bringing good paying jobs back to the area and fighting so we have a partner in state government recognizing that we have throughout the area, and specifically Lewisboro, real places that state government can help,” he said.
Taking on the economy
One of the first goals he is committed to is moving the district office to a main street with greater mass transit access in Mt. Kisco. With the 93rd District stretching from Harrison to North Salem, an office in Mt. Kisco would serve as a more centralized and accessible location, he said, as opposed to the current temporary office in White Plains.
“It’s a crucial step and demonstration of my commitment to help seeing main streets throughout the district thrive,” he said.
Mr. Buchwald hopes with the new location the office will have a more open and viable atmosphere where people will be able to drop in on their lunch breaks to interact with their elected official, he said.
Part of his focus on the economy and strategy to bring good paying jobs back to the county includes building on Westchester’s infrastructure and educational resources to create science and technology jobs, he said.
“We could very much use a state and regional focus on scientific research, providing jobs not just for the immediate future but for decades to come,” he said. “We need to build and be focused so that the next set of IBMs are also located here in Westchester.”
Raising the state minimum wage is also a top priority on his agenda, he said. Currently New York has the same minimum wage as the federal standard — $7.25 per hour — and he draws attention to the fact that a number of neighboring states have raised minimum wages to $8 or more per hour, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.
“I think it is important we give everyone who is employed an opportunity to provide for their families,” Mr. Buchwald said. “I hope to see progress on that front. One of the most important aspects of the economy is to make sure we have supportive consumer spending, and it is manifestly clear to me as a former economic analyst that a boost in the minimum wage supports that aspect of economic growth. I’m sure there are certainly folks that could argue against the entire concept of having a minimum wage, but to me it is a pretty basic way of ensuring that everyone who participates in the job market is able to also participate in the important consumer spending aspect of the market as well.”
Furthering the partnership between local and state government will require making sure municipalities have more support from Albany to reduce unfunded mandates driving up local property taxes, Mr. Buchwald added.
Republican state Sen. Greg Ball was calling for unfunded mandate relief last year, with attempts made last November to hold a special legislative session to pass comprehensive and innovative mandate relief before the end of 2012. A state senator since 2010, Mr. Ball won re-election in November and represents Lewisboro and Katonah as part of the 40th Senate District. The economy is also a top priority for him and, like Mr. Buchwald, he calls for an increase in the minimum wage but touts a multi-pronged approach.
“My focus is on passing my bipartisan bill, assisting both the employer and the employee, by cutting taxes on small businesses by 20%, fully repealing the MTA payroll tax and raising the minimum wage,” Mr. Ball said.
A strong advocate for the state-mandated property tax cap, Mr. Ball said to provide real tax relief the tax cap must be met with more action to ease the burden on taxpayers, particularly regarding labor and education.
“Thinking outside the box, we should include statewide pooling of insurance costs for teachers within such a package, as well as make it easier for principals and administrators to get rid of incompetent teachers and hire and retain young, new energetic ones,” he said.
This extends into the debate circulating around the Triborough Amendment, a clause of the Taylor Law of 1967, a New York state statute meant to support negotiations between labor unions and employers while setting financial and legal consequences for strikes. The amendment allows for unions to operate under the terms of previous contracts while negotiating new ones and has been criticized as counterproductive to negotiations between labor and management, particularly in light of skyrocketing costs of health and benefit packages.
Mr. Ball is less concerned with repealing the Triborough Amendment and more focused on certain aspects of it, in particular step salary increases, especially those for teachers, he said. This aspect of the amendment must be changed in order to give administrators and school boards long overdue negotiating power, he said.
“There is no real incentive to negotiate in good faith because of this automatic increase and it needs to be changed,” Mr. Ball said.
Mr. Buchwald also said there should be less focus on repealing the Triborough Amendment, and he is putting his attention toward unfunded mandate relief.
“I’ve seen at the local level far too many times either local governments or school districts come up with innovative ways to save taxpayers money and run things more efficiently, yet run up against the fact that New York state too often has a one-size-fits-all approach to how things should be done,” he said.
Not everything eye-to-eye
While the two state legislators have some goals in common, one topic the two differ on is New York state’s recent gun law, the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013. Mr. Buchwald helped pass the bill, making it the first piece of gun legislation passed since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.
“Obviously any bill this involved is a product of compromises, and that is fine and part of what the legislative process is about, but overall it tries to draw the right balance between keeping our communities safe and protecting the legitimate rights of gun individuals,” he said. “These new gun-safety measures will severely inhibit dangerous criminals from gaining access to firearms, expand truly universal background checks on guns and ammunition, and ban dangerous assault weapons.”
Mr. Ball opposed the new law and took particular issue with the pace at which the legislation was passed, saying the act was rushed.
“The last-minute push, in the middle of the night without critical public input from sportsmen and taxpayers, was outrageous and forced members to vote on a bill they had not read,” he said in a press release after the bill was passed. “I simply cannot support a bill that turns law-abiding citizens into criminals by creating an entire new category of illegal firearms out of currently legal rifles and shotguns.”
Mr. Buchwald acknowledged that the Senate did vote during the late evening hours while the Assembly voted during the day, but the pace at which the act was passed was for good reason, he said.
“The governor cited the fact that when it comes to this issue, a very real concern is whether there will be a run on gun stores in just a handful of days as a way of circumventing the restrictions of the new law,” he said, “and was part of the impetus of making some provisions effective immediately.”