New York State Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger Interview Excerpts – Recorded Friday May 14, 2021.
In normal times, pre-Covid, and post-Covid, the entire city of New York, wanders through my district or comes into my district to work pretty much every day. And if you’re a tourist to New York City, you are going to many places in my district, so I might have 320,000 constituents, give or take. But I really have millions of people who come into my district, day in, day out year in, year out. And I think that’s one of the special and complex things about where I represent.
There were one or two story lines, where the Democrats would take it for a year or two, but never more than two years, and never more than one person majority, which meant somebody got a cold, you didn’t have a majority. And so, two years ago, the Democrats took the majority, with a shocking seven person increase. And, and then some additional Republicans decided to say goodbye, even though they had run for reelection, and we added more toward our Democratic base. And so now, we have finished our second election cycle last year, increasing our majority. So we went from wandering the desert for almost 100 years to having a majority that is now an actual veto proof majority, meaning we have 43 Democratic senators, and you need 42 to override a governor’s veto.
I was given the honor and responsibility by my conference of becoming the chair of the Finance Committee, which some people look at as, “Oh, that’s a very powerful committee,” and other people look at as, “Oh, that’s a whole lot of work.” And everyone’s always angry at you. Because you have to say no, far more often than you can say, yes. So my experience in the now basically three years I have been the chair of the Finance Committee, is that both of those sides are right. It is an enormous amount of work and responsibility. People are often mad at you because you can’t tell them yes or you can’t tell them yes until a budget is negotiated. So they’re struggling for months, hoping to get the right answer and waiting it out. And I joke that people suddenly think I’m this very powerful senator, when I’m the exact same person I’ve been, probably since you knew me
And this year in this budget, we were able to do a commitment of the meeting the target over a three year period. So we’ve promised a growth in the education funds over a three year period, to meet the foundation aid standards statewide. And so it’s, it’s huge in two reasons. One, because nobody had been doing this for well over a decade, and two, the concept that even though we live in a world of one year budgets, that you really need to look at the planning, perspective of multi year realities. And you have to be able to say, well, it’s a great goal, but it’s not a goal we can reach in one year. But you know, what, if we try to do something with a three year plan, or a five year plan, we probably can get there. And so stop talking about everything, as if it starts and stops in 12 months cycles, because that’s not how government really the world really works. So that’s the other I think, you know, really important piece of just that one story line of education funding.
Then we of course, significantly increased our commitments to any number of program areas. And that, to be truthful, was heavily helped along by federal money that finally got committed after Joe Biden got into the White House. And the Senate was also in the U.S. Senate, was also able to move legislation with Chuck Schumer as the new head of the U.S. Senate, and our vice president able to give that extra vote that they need, seemingly quite frequently, so we finally got the federal money to deal with the crisis that we were facing. And we are, we’re still facing New York City, New York State, every state in the country.
But we’re desperate for money at the state and local level. And thank goodness the federal government finally came through. And thank goodness the legislature and our governor said, Okay, we’re going to take this federal money. And we’re going to make good on all the commitments that we failed our communities in in the last couple of years, and put that money to work for them right away. And we did prioritize, I think, any number of crucial issues, that we’re still really on the cusp of seeing the outcomes of because the budget started April 1, the federal money has certain requirements attached that you then have to tie into your laws of the local at the state level, and operationalize. So we’re still just at the beginning of moving a lot of the federal money out. But there’s real money for important issue. So childcare services are going to be seeing a significant increase in numbers. Oh, New York City asked for support for expanding pre-K to 3-K city wide. And we supported them in that. We all know about the MTA crisis.
And so there’s a significant new amount of capital money to support what the MTA needs to fix and get itself moving again. There’s real investments in supporting helping businesses come back. Because we need businesses to come back for all kinds of reasons. But we also need tourists to come back.
we passed the Reproductive Health Act, which actually was my legislation, and that I had been fighting for for a decade. And in an oversimplified way, all this bill did was to establish that the constitutional decision of Roe v Wade 45 years earlier, was in fact the law in New York State. It put into statute, that all the rights and protections people thought they had in New York for 45 years would in fact, be some actual legal protections, because for 45 years we were just counting on. It was a U.S. Supreme Court decision. Everybody knew it, everybody must be following it. First of all, it was never true. There were real problems in various parts of New York State, because we didn’t have the correct law. But what was becoming clearer and clearer and clearer, and then crystal clear during the Donald Trump administration, was that there was a plan to undo Roe v. Wade, from a Supreme Court perspective. You know, in every single judge being put on the court by Donald Trump was basically promising to overturn these reproductive rights decisions. There were states purposely passing laws that violate violated Roe v. Wade, with the intention of pushing more cases into the courts to try to get these decisions overturned by newer, more conservative judges. And so there was, I’d like to describe it as a tsunami aimed at every state like ours, that had a proud history and public support for women’s reproductive rights. But we didn’t have the right laws, because the Republicans in the State Senate had blocked any establishing of reproductive rights laws, literally since 1970. So the first week, we were in the majority, my bill came to the floor, and we passed it, passed it in the assembly, and the governor signed it that night. And, and looking now back just really three years at what’s happened with decisions moving through the Supreme Court, and laws moving through our neighboring states. You couldn’t have had a better time in history, to have modernized our laws to assure New Yorkers, that even if the Supreme Court is making bad decisions coming up, and even if neighboring states are passing crazy laws to reverse women’s rights to do anything. Here in New York State, we have established those protections in our law.
we passed all these voter rights expansions. And that was another thing that people never believed us on. What do you mean, New York state would have really bad voter rights? This is New York State? Well, again, the Senate Republicans had no interest in expanding voter rights, or protecting your right to vote. And so they hadn’t passed one bill, like in 30-40 years to expand or support the right to vote. So we passed a whole slew of voter rights bills, I think the very first day, we were the senate majority. And it just felt so empowering on behalf of the people of New York to be doing that.
So we really ducked a serious bullet, thanks to the infrastructure funds committed and the stimulus funds committed by Washington. So, you know, seriously, if anyone ever says, What difference does it make who’s in the White House? Trust me, like, just go look, a big difference who’s in the White House. So the Joe Biden packages passed by our Congress and our U.S. Senate really poured money into the wounds we desperately needed help with? We did do some tax increases. We did about $4 billion of tax increases on the wealthiest New Yorkers, and corporations that were doing well. There were businesses that were still doing well. And so we did do a corporate income tax increase. But again, if your business is not doing well, you’re not falling in the category that’s going to have a problem. And unless you’re making a move billion or more as a single person, or 2 million or more, as a couple, you’re not going to face a personal income tax increase either. And it’s about 50,000 households in New York State, that will face a couple of percent increase in PIT [Personal Income Tax]. The research shows that people don’t pick up and leave for a couple of percent increases in PIT [Personal Income Tax].
So I’m not saying that New York State won’t face hard times, again, everybody goes through good times and bad times. And we don’t ever know, you know, how the federal government will approach these issues for themselves. I think the next turn will be potential increased taxes at the federal level. For wealthier Americans, I could be wrong. But that looks like that’s, you know, on the table for serious discussion. You know, we try not to impact the New York City tax system, but rather let it be the mayor and city council come to us and ask us to do things for them.
We are still waiting and hoping that before the Blasio administration is done, he will make good on his commitment to come to Albany with a plan to reform the New York City property tax system, which is complex, unfair. Everybody knows it. Everybody’s been talking about it, since you worked for the City Council. And this was a discussion then. And so there, there is a commission, they had held hearings, they had done a draft report, I’m told that they’re going to reopen two hearings, or more public comment. I really hope that that is one thing that can get done before December. I don’t expect that that means somebody will come to Albany and try to get it done. But it could be something on the desk of the new mayor and the New City Council come January 1. And I think New Yorkers who live in the city are really crying out for somebody to finally reform the city’s property taxes. So Albany will need to vote on some package. And some people say we should just go ahead and act without the city, because they’ve been promising us this information forever. And they don’t give it to us. I still am of the belief that Albany is not the level of government that should be evaluating and making this decision for the city because property taxes is literally the only tax controlled at the local level. So I’m hoping, sincerely, that this administration, one of their outgoing changes will be here’s our proposal.
So I’ll start with the Kathryn Garcia part, I actually think, just because of what you’ve just described, is why we need a woman like Kathryn Garcia, to be the mayor. She understands how government has been working, how you get it to do things, how you get it to change. And I say that because people who have been following city government have noticed, when there were really tough issues to confront, and new problems, City Hall was always pulling Kathryn Garcia out of wherever she was, and giving her the new tougher assignment. That was because they saw her as someone who could figure things out when they hadn’t even been issues before. And even last night, when some of us watched the first debate, several of the other candidates for mayor, when asked who would be your number 2, answered Kathryn Garcia, because clearly she understands how all these things get done and need to get done. And it was like, Oh, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying. We should actually elect the person who’s the most competent, to do what we think needs to get done. And the truth is, we don’t know what all those things are. Because they’re not going to be the same as in the past. Now, which is always true, government is dynamic. We live in a world that’s dynamic. But I think particularly right now, the issues you were referencing, of the changes of technology, on every part of our economy. It’s never been moving this fast, ever. And so government likes to imagine. It’s proactive, and all these great aspirational ideas will come to pass. But the truth is, we are reactive. And the challenges, can we keep up with the changes we need to make as government because the world is changing so quickly.
So, were we ready for Covid? No, apparently we weren’t. Okay. Now, the question is, what did we learn from this? And how we’re going to make sure we’re more prepared for the next pandemic? And no, I don’t think it’s 100 years from now, I actually think you could be very quickly. Why? Because the pandemic was correlated to climate change issues, and climate change issues are not moving at 100 year pace. They’re moving at literally an every day pace, requiring government and the world to change its approach to climate impacts, our water level, our cleanliness of our water, air impacts, there’s nothing that climate isn’t impacting, which means government has to be so much more ready to meet the sustainability challenges that controlling not letting the temperature go up challenges.
Now, the good news and the bad news there is the bad news is this is all really happening. And we need to move really fast. The good news is because of technology, some amazing potential changes could happen really fast. I will just cite offshore wind as this amazing opportunity to address our energy crises quickly. Because we have a lot of shoreline here in New York and offshore wind has proved itself throughout Europe and other parts of the world as being something that you can get up and running extremely quickly, you have to tie it into your grid, you have to negotiate with all utilities who are hysterical that they would have to switch to this, you have to have discussions with some towns along the shoreline that the world really won’t end if there’s a giant cable running underneath their ocean, up onto some section of the town to be plugged into the electric grid. There’s lots of things you have to do. But we’ve already seen it can be done incredibly cost effectively. And that’s just one just one example I pulled out. But that the technology is moving so much more quickly.
But we have an obligation as government to make sure that we are doing what’s in the best interest of the majority of people, not in the best interest of one or two, or any specific industry.
So we need to confront that as the models for business change. Our models of regulation are in cap aren’t catching up yet. So people think regulating businesses, what more boring or dry thing could she have imagined saying out loud. But it is crucial, so that you aren’t interrupting us out of affordable housing, or interrupting us out of huge numbers of living wage jobs, so that you can figure out how to do it, you know, with people getting paid half of living wage instead, I’m sure you can do it. I’m just not really convinced it’s a good idea for anybody, but you are the one paying. So there are so many things we need to get better at.
I mean, the pipeline hacking that we’ve all been reading about all week. I was I was like, why is this so ubiquitous, that people can figure out how to hack everything, and then basically blackmail them and get paid. And I came across this one story. Because all the really good people in programming aren’t going to work for government salaries. So they’re working for the other guys, or they’re going to become hackers. And we don’t have anybody to catch them, or to know how to reverse what they’re doing. And I’m like, well, something’s wrong here. Go hire the hackers and pay them whatever, to un-hack the world.
So there’s just so many pieces that we’re not ready for, but we’re gonna have to learn to be ready for, and a lot of this is going to need to be at the federal level, because you can’t have 50 different states try to come up with 50 different answers to these global questions.