Lawmakers Back to Business with Start of 2016 Legislative Session

As lawmakers meet in Albany for the first day of this year’s legislative session, more about the priorities of the legislative leaders from both the Senate and Assembly has been unveiled. Nick Reisman reports.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The first day back in Albany for state lawmakers in 2016, brought pledges of cooperation in a new year.

"We have proven that when we work together on behalf of the people of this great state, things work out much more positively," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

But a cloud is hanging over the Legislature. In November, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was convicted of corruption. Less than two weeks later, another corruption conviction: ex- Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Lawmakers say ethics reform will be a topic of discussion.

"The discussions will take place. I know it's going to happen. I've spoken to the governor. Obviously it came up with each of the leaders today. Where it ends up I don't know," said Flanagan.

On the horizon are key policy debates, such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a move backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

"The last time it was done, it was done through a legislative process. It wasn't done by an executive order, it wasn't done by some board, that's why we have public hearings, that's why we have deliberations and that's the way it should be," said Flanagan.

Over in the Democratic-led Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie wants to raise taxes on the rich, while providing a tax cut to middle income earners.

"When we look at trying to having a fairer tax structure and building in middle class tax, that's one of the pieces of it," said Heastie.

The state's current tax rates expire in 2017, and Cuomo is seeking to cut taxes on small businesses by $300 million, so the speaker says a good time for changes.

"We know this is looming coming up next year. We'd like to see the rates go down for the middle class families and asking the wealthy New Yorkers who can give a little more give a little bit more," said Heastie.

Senate Republicans will need some convincing, however.  

"I think the wealthy pay a significant portion of the taxes in this state already. Approximately 45 percent of the residents of the state of New York don’t pay any income tax right now. We need to be competitive. We need to talk about economic development and job development," said Flanagan.

Not in Albany on Wednesday was Governor Andrew Cuomo. He delivers his 2016 agenda at the State of the State address on January 13.

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