The property tax cap, abortion and a plan for the legalization of recreational marijuana were among the issues Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) discussed with residents during a meeting held at the Kent Public Library on Feb. 2.
About a dozen residents came to the meeting to discuss, and sometime debate in a civil manner, state issues.
One of the issues that dominated the meeting was the 2-percent property tax cap on municipal governments and school districts. The state Senate has passed legislation to make the tax cap permanent but the Assembly has not acted on the proposed law this year, Galef said.
A resident, who declined to provide his name, said there should be consolidation of local governments as a way to hold down taxes.
“We don’t have too much government. We have too many governments,” he said. Galef said she favored the consolidation of town and village courts as a cost- cutting measure. The courts in the Village and Town of Ossining have been successfully combined, she noted.
Galef said unlike other states, New York requires counties to pick up a portion of the cost of Medicaid, noting it “has a big impact on the counties.”
Other unfunded state mandates, such as special education programs, are expensive for local governments, Galef said. In the past when there have been discussions in New York about changing state-mandated special education there have been protests from parents concerned about the quality of special education if the mandates were eliminated, she said.
Another source of potential savings would be the consolidation of school districts, Galef said. She formerly taught in Virginia where there were not individual districts as there are in New York, she said. In Virginia there was “a great education for our kids,” she said.
Resident Nick Trillo asked why state legislators are getting raises. Galef said a state commission came up with the recommendations for the raises for the legislators for the first time in several years. The raises are being challenged in courts, she noted. Galef said it is difficult for some legislators financially because outside income is limited for the part- time legislators, she said.
Though New York State legislators are scheduled to work six months a year in Albany, when the Legislature is not in session Galef said she works on such tasks like drafting legislation for the following year and meeting with constituents. Members of the New York City Council earn $140,000 annually, while state legislators are slated to receive $110,000 this year and $120,000 next year, Galef said. Adequate pay is needed to attract good people to run for the Legislature, she said.
Resident Joe Babnik expressed concern about abortion legislation recently approved by the state. One of his criticisms of the new law was that it would allow individuals other than doctors to perform abortions, Babnik said.
Galef said under the new law a licensed practitioner, such as a doctor’s assistant, can perform an abortion if the procedure is supervised by a doctor and medical services for an abortion can be provided by nurses and midwives if they are covered by their scope of practice. The other provisions of the law include continuing to permit abortions for the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, making abortions legal after 24 weeks if there is an absence of viability for the fetus or if an abortion is necessary to protect a woman’s life or health, Galef said.
Babnik said women have choices to not become pregnant by using contraception.
However, another resident, Eileen Reilly said women should have the right to choose and wondered if Babnik was telling women to abstain from sex.
Another concern expressed by Babnik was the advocacy by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Babnik, who was a New York City police officer, said in his experience in law enforcement, marijuana was a gateway drug.
Trillo asked why Cuomo was rushing to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
Galef said she wanted more information on the ramifications of legalization, but Reilly said she supported the governor’s effort to decriminalize marijuana use.
Trillo asked why the Legislature recently OK’d a plan to provide money for undocumented immigrants to go to college. Galef said years ago she opposed providing college aid to undocumented immigrants, but she changed her opinion when she learned about a Ossining High School valedictorian that was undocumented because he was brought to the United States by his parents who are not legal immigrants. The student would not be able to afford college on his own, she said. For an undocumented immigrant to receive college aid from the state that person would need to seek other forms of aid, she said.
Kent Library Director Carol Donick expressed concern about cuts in library funding being proposed by Cuomo. Galef said she was confident that the Legislature would restore the library funding the governor wanted to cut.