Interview with NY Senator Joseph Griffo on 2018 Priorities By Luke Perry
I recently spoke with New York State Senator Joseph Griffo (R-47) at his Utica office regarding the new legislative session.
Griffo began by emphasizing how the “budget is critical” facing a potential $4.4 billion deficit. “The governor to his credit,” Griffo explained, “has agreed upon a spending cap,” but the “details matter.” If the cap is adhered to, the deficit would be reduced to $1.7 billion. At the same time, federal changes in healthcare could result in “potentially another $2 billion hit.”
When asked about the source of the deficit, Griffo believes “some of it is structural.” The legislature has “done a pretty job holding the line on spending,” though “there are shortages from federal actions.” Griffo takes issue with not putting past surpluses in a “rainy day fund.”
Griffo believes in a “comprehensive review of the tax code,” but is concerned about Governor’s Cuomo’s proposed payroll tax because he is “always leery of adding another tax without taking one away.” Griffo understands the rationale, controversy surrounding the The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and he “doesn’t want New York to be at a disadvantage.”
When asked about the national agenda of the Republican Party, Griffo agrees with the focus on healthcare and infrastructure. He disagreed with the “methods” of The Tax Cut and Jobs Act and urged the Republican Congressional delegation to phase in the limits on state and local tax deductions. “Changing overnight,” Griffo stated, “is unreasonable and unrealistic.” If states had time to adjust and failed to, then the result would have been “you’re hurting your people because we warned you.”
Current circumstances are an “opportunity to rethink state funding.” One example is education. Griffo wants to consider: “How do we fund education? Should this be linked to property taxes or a different tax? What do we need right now?”
The Senator does not think the state should “give out right free tuition” and would have done things differently (in regards to the Excelsior Scholarship). Two priorities are making higher education more affordable and not pitting private institutions against public institutions.
Senator Griffo identified several priorities this session. One priority is affordability. Griffo believes that New York state has “so much to offer but is experiencing outward migration” because of taxes, regulation, and energy costs.
The second priority is opportunity. Evaluating economic development programs is key to creating opportunity so necessary changes can be made. The “governor is not happy with this,” Griffo contends, because his approach is “everything is fine.”
A third priority is ethics. “The workplace should be a safe place,” Griffo explained, “no one should suffer abuse or harassment.” Griffo’s focus surrounding competing bills is to “do it right.”
The “culture of Albany” is not the only problem, Griffo explained, “it’s the personalities and people too.” Campaign finance is a related concern. Griffo does not support public financing, citing New York City, who “has it but that hasn’t stopped problems.”
The Senator supports term limits (twelve years in the legislature and two terms for governors) and limits on committee chairpersonships. The “structure and format should be changed,” though Griffo does not see this happening because “members don’t support it.” Thus, “little things are the focus now,” including examining and modifying the current seniority and majority systems and the way they operate.
Governor Cuomo releases his budget plan today. This is the next major step of agenda setting within New York's legislative process following the State of the State earlier this month.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.