January 2019 will be a significant month in the history of New York State.
It marks the first time since 2010 that the Democratic party will control both houses of the state legislature. The new Senate will be populated by more new faces than at any time in the past 25 years.
New faces bring fresh ideas but a very aggressive and sophisticated governor who plans to move swiftly on his agenda, could overwhelm them and the people of our state.
It is no secret that the state needs a ton of new dollars. Once upon a time, the state was flush with cash from many consumer settlements with major corporations.
Although there are a few hundred million available, the state no longer has the rainy day moneys that it once had.
That means quick fixes to raise big dollars may do more harm than good. The two items that will be literally thrown at the new legislature are legalization of marijuana and congestion pricing.
The idea that New York state is on track to join 10 other states in the legalization of marijuana is almost impossible to believe.
Two years ago, the suggestion that the state allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use would have produced laughs and more laughs. Yielding to the progressive wing of the party, Gov. Cuomo has decided to move ahead to make marijuana legal and if he moves too quickly on this dramatic turn of events too many mistakes could be made.
I have no problem with the state joining many other states in making this drug commercially available.
There are thousands of young people sitting in jails all over this state who were convicted and sent to prison for the possession of small amounts of pot.
In some cases, they admitted to the crime of possession for lack of counsel to represent them. How will they be treated if the new law decriminalizes pot possession in the future but leaves them behind bars? Must they carry the burden of a conviction out into the real world while other future users get away scot-free?
How will marijuana distribution be handled commercially? Will the few existing companies that now dispense medical marijuana be given an undue preference? Will large national companies that can make big political contributions be given the inside track?
How aggressive will the New York State Health Department be in monitoring the quality of plants being processed before a commercial sale? A rush to pass a law without serious consideration could result in unnecessary deaths.
Yes, the revenues for the state could be impressive but any attempt to pass a new pot law at the same time, as the state budget is due on April 1 could be a major disaster.
The next danger zone for state legislators is the issue of congestion pricing. There is no question that Manhattan is a war zone.
When you attempt to drive into midtown, you will have to deal with an army of for-hire vehicles, taxis, construction projects and product delivery trucks as well as emergency repair services.
This traffic headache has to be balanced with a rational plan that will raise millions of dollars to improve mass transit. The MTA desperately needs hard dollars but the solution has to be openly discussed in Albany and all of downstate.
Some state legislators believe that there are not that many Long Island drivers who would be affected by congestion pricing.
That is totally incorrect. A 2015 study by the Long Island Association found that 29 percent of Long Island daily work trips to Manhattan are by car or motorcycle.
Twenty percent of Nassau County work trips are by car. Ten percent of Suffolk County work trips to Manhattan are by car. Without paying a premium for congestion pricing in mid-Manhattan, island drivers currently pay $5,000 per year.
Yes, the state Legislature should consider legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana with proper adjustments for real life. The passage of a well-crafted congestion-pricing plan is a must. But the legislature should not be stampeded into doing anything without careful thought.