With New York State hit hard by COVID-19, Assemblywoman Sandy Galef is encouraging voters to rely on her experience to turn things around.
“I know people want all this turnover, but when you have someone with so much experience, to have someone to get the problems solved is so helpful during this time,” said Galef, who is seeking her 14th term. “We need people there right now who can help with that structure because we have a huge problem ahead of us.”
Prior to 1993, when she began serving in the Assembly, the 80-year-old Democrat was a former schoolteacher and served 13 years as a Westchester County legislator. She is once again facing Republican challenger Lawrence Chiulli.
Galef, an Ossining resident, is keenly aware there are multiple serious challenges facing her constituency – taxes, health care, schools and unemployment. But she’s also focused on election reform to guarantee absentee voting is accessible to everyone.
With a roughly $14 billion state budget deficit, Galef said the problem will worsen if the federal government doesn’t provide assistance. Currently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is suggesting 20 percent across-the-board cuts if money fails to arrive from Washington.
“A budget is always a guideline but knowing that we were really spending wildly on COVID-related issues, and it’s been going on, we knew there would be across-the-board cuts,” Galef said. “We’re trying to put pressure on our federal legislators so we don’t have to make those cuts.”
To make up for the deficit, Galef noted the state could hike taxes on higher income earners, but that all suggestions should be considered. With little revenue to make up the shortfall, Galef noted many communities and organizations will be hurt financially, including schools, hospitals, nursing homes, municipalities and organizations that rely on state funding. Some sacrifices will have to be made, she warned.
As chair of the Real Property Taxation Committee, Galef issued concern about elimination of the STAR Program. If re-elected, Galef stressed she would work to make sure it remains intact.
School officials often cite a lack of equity in state education funding. Galef said more foundation aid is required for higher-needs districts to provide equal opportunities to all students. She said more money should be steered to ensuring students have the necessary tools to learn, including ensuring necessary access to technology.
Galef added that while officials have reopened schools safely, she worries that students may require re-evaluation when the school year is completed to make certain their learning hasn’t lagged. Some students may need to repeat certain courses or curriculum, then be pushed along when ready, she said.
At the height of the pandemic in early spring, Galef acknowledged there were severe problems managing nursing homes, but officials were unaware what they were facing when the virus struck. Galef has made suggestions to safely resume visitations, but said it’s a tough decision to make when you’re dealing with vulnerable individuals.
“If you open it up too much, loved ones die, and then you’ve done the wrong thing,” Galef said. “It’s a bad situation all over.”
Galef has voted in support of the NY Health Act. She said the pandemic has highlighted a lack of equity in the health care system. However, the state currently doesn’t have the financial resources to pursue the legislation, Galef mentioned.
While she supports the $3 billion green referendum and its ability to produce jobs, combat climate change and introduce alternative energy, it was a wise decision to postpone it until taxpayers feel comfortable supporting that level of borrowing.
Galef has maintained her opposition over the years to legalizing recreational marijuana, although she supported medical marijuana. The assemblywoman cited studies that claim marijuana is a gateway to hard drugs and worries about the impact it could have on developing minds.
“For me to foster another type of drug that may not be helpful for their life, I haven’t been convinced it’s a good thing for the health of a young person,” Galef said. “Instead of going with the science, I’m listening to the medical professionals.”
There has been no shortage of critics of the state’s bail reform law, but Galef has supported it. She said officials could make further revisions once there’s been an opportunity to analyze its progress. However, she doesn’t believe the law has sparked more crime.
Since COVID-19 hit in March, Galef said she has continuously worked to help those in need. While she has not indicated if this will be her last Assembly run, it will depend on the issues.
“It’s all about having enthusiasm for the job; the job keeps changing because the issues keep changing,” Galef said. “But we’ll see what happens the next time around.”