By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The most important accomplishment of the recently completed legislative session in Albany is something lawmakers didn’t do, Assemblyman Peter Abbate said. The State Legislature didn’t raise taxes, he said. “There were no new taxes added on,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Abbate (D-Bensonhurst-Sunset Park), who was first elected to the assembly in 1986, is one of the legislative body’s more senior members. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle asked him to assess the recent session. “Well, hopefully we’re not finished yet,” he said, adding that while the assembly and senate are in adjournment until January of 2014, it is possible for the legislature to be called back into session. “I think there’s a 70 to 75 percent chance we’ll be called back in September,” he said.
The fact that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 10 point plan for women’s equality didn’t pass means that lawmakers left important issues on the table, according to Abbate. “I think the equal pay and domestic violence bills should be voted on,” he said, referring to two of the 10 parts of the governor’s proposed legislation. One bill would require state workers doing the same job to be paid equally regardless of gender. The other bill would offer added protections for domestic violence victims.
The package also contained a pro-choice bill on abortion, something many lawmakers balked at. GOP lawmakers in particular pushed to have the 10 parts of Cuomo’s agenda voted on separately, rather than as a package.
Abbate, who has been in the State Legislature since Ronald Regan was president of the United States, said the political maneuvering was a waste of time. “You hear a lot Republicans say that we should have voted on the 10 things as separate bills, instead of as a whole package. But we have taken up those bills individually in the past. The Republicans in the assembly voted against them and the senate never voted at all,” Abbate said.
The veteran lawmaker was also critical of Cuomo’s timing in introducing the plan, however. “The governor sent down the proposal too late,” he said.
Still, Abbate said he judged the session to be a relatively successful one. “The state budget turned out OK. We increased funding for education, not just at the local school level, but at the state and city university levels. It’s a major part of my legislative agenda – making sure we have enough money for education,” he said. “Also a good portion of the session was about getting money to rebuild from Sandy. We got money not only to rebuild from Sandy but Hurricane Irene, which hit the Catskill region very hard,” he said. The federal government provides the money but the state has to decide how it is spent.
Abbate also voted in favor of a bill to tighten the rules banks must follow in foreclosure proceedings. “The banks were getting away with murder,” he said.
He expressed mixed feelings about a job creation bill in which entrepreneurs who start businesses on college campuses and who hire 25 people or more employees will get huge tax breaks. “I love the idea of job creation, but I don’t know if this will work. In the past, companies have done all sorts of things to get out of the commitment to hire people. They pay reduced taxes and they don’t live up to their end of the bargain,” he said.
Abbate represents the 49th Assembly District, which includes parts of Bensonhurst, Borough Park, and the largely Asian-American community centered on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park. When the district was re-mapped under redistricting in 2012, Bath Beach, which Abbate had represented for years, was cut out of the district. Bath Beach now falls into the 47th A.D., represented by Democrat Bill Colton.
Despite the political partisanship in recent months, the Democratic-controlled assembly and the Republican-controlled senate do try to work together to get things done, according to Abbate, a 37-year veteran of the legislature. “We’re a lot better than congress!” he said.