In the latest from Albany and Washington … both Congress and the New York Legislature were on break last week, but battles are brewing in both bodies. Rep. Tom Reed and the House will vote on President Trump’s national emergency declaration. Albany gears up for budget season, which, could be contentious even with full Democratic control over all three negotiating bodies.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

The House will vote on a resolution which would rescind President Trump’s proposed national emergency under the National Emergency Act of 1976. Rep. Tom Reed, after initially indicating he might buck the President by voting to rescind his declaration, doubled back last weekend. He said at a town hall event in Groton on Saturday that while he doesn’t agree with President Trump’s decision to declare the national emergency, legally, he has the right to do so.

“I believe the President has the emergency authority to do what he’s done given the nature of the crisis and the concerns that we see at the border,” Reed said.

Reed more precisely disagrees with the National Emergency Act as it’s currently written and said he would like to see any action to amend that law as part of this whole situation.

“I would like to do is have a better resolution that pulls that authority, not only away from President Trump, but just like President Obama in certain areas went over executive overreach, executive action that I disagreed with. I would like to see if we rescind that authority under the National Emergency Act of 1976 and replace it with a more narrowly drafted piece of legislation so that we don’t have this open ended use of emergency authority by any president,” Reed said.


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Reed was also asked about the ongoing situation in Venezuela, where the U.S. has formally recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the interim president over Nicolas Maduro. Over the weekend, shipments of humanitarian aid were intercepted by the Maduro regime. One constituent asked at Reed’s town hall if he would support war in Venezuela.

“Generally, I’ve been hesitant to support any type of military engagement overseas,” Reed replied. “I believe we’ve had too many of these long-term entanglements and so anytime there’s a discussion of that, I’m very skeptical to support it.”

Reed then pivoted to criticize the socialist government of Venezuela under the Maduro regime. It’s also worth noting that Reed voted against removing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen a few weeks ago.

As people across the country have begun filing their tax returns, many finding a much smaller check from Uncle Sam, Reed has taken to defending the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which he helped write. He told Cheddar last week the savings from the tax cuts were up front, and weren’t meant to be reimbursed as part of tax returns.

“I haven’t heard any concern. I’ve spoken with the chair, Assemblyman Cusick, and he was very positive about the bill. He said he was eager to do it.”

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th Assembly District)

A bill that would permanently halt plans to build a highly controversial trash incinerator in the Seneca Army Depot facility between Seneca and Cayuga lakes in Romulus is going before the Assembly Energy Committee this week. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton helped craft the bill which she also cosponsors, but it is technically sponsored by chairman of the energy committee, Staten Island Assemblyman Michael Cusick. Republicans like state Senator Pamela Helming have also signaled support against the trash incinerator.

Despite some early confusion on who would draft the legislation and how it would be worded to be pushed through and signed into law, Lifton says the bill is making progress and she hasn’t heard of any major hurdles in its way.

“I haven’t heard any concern,” Lifton said in an interview last week. “I’ve spoken with the chair, Assemblyman Cusick, and he was very positive about the bill. He said he was eager to do it.”

The majority of the Legislature’s time over the next few weeks will be absorbed with negotiations surrounding the state budget. One of the ideas put forward by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his executive budget proposal would cut the Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) or state revenue sharing with local governments. He has since revised the idea to have counties disburse newly collected internet sales tax revenues to make up for the loss.

“This is not a restoration of AIM funding,” Lifton said, joining the growing voices on both sides of the aisle against the cut.

She believes that, since sales tax revenue is already collected by counties, the state suggesting that revenue be sent to other subsidiary governments is an overreach by the state trying to direct localities on how to spend their revenue. She said she believes the state should do more to fund local governments, as is technically legally required.

“I think that was an important principle that was enshrined in law. We all know that local governments do so much to help create the prosperity of our state,” she said.
Since the Assembly was on recess, Lifton hadn’t spoken directly with her colleagues on the matter, but thought that the chamber’s Democratic majority would oppose the proposal.

Senator Tom O’Mara (R-58th N.Y. Senate District)

State Senator Tom O’Mara has also strongly opposed the Governor’s proposed cuts to AIM.

“It’s an outrageous move to add another unfunded state mandate on counties when they are already struggling to get out from under one of America’s biggest piles of unfunded state mandates,” O’Mara said in a written statement last week.

O’Mara also added that he believes the governor is pushing the proposal as a way to work against local governments and Upstate New York.

Another legislative initiative has been floating around Albany for a few months now — the legalization of recreational marijuana. Gov. Cuomo pushed the initiative as part of his early proposals on criminal justice reform. Legalization efforts have since faced some pressure in the Legislature where some members, like O’Mara say they want to tread carefully on the issue.

“Let’s do this right, if it’s done at all,” O’Mara said. “A step as significant as this one cannot and should not be taken because of pure political expediency. It needs to be a more deliberative and careful legislative process that includes public hearings and a full public airing of the benefits and the dangers.”

Separate from recreational marijuana, the rollout of industrial hemp was already legalized in New York State, a move that has since been echoed on the national level with Congress removing hemp, which is in the cannabis family, from the federal schedule of controlled substances. While the move opens up a lot of opportunity, it also widens competition with other states across the country.

O’Mara worked on the rollout of the initial program, and is excited to see the sector developing.

“The response to the foundation we have put down over the past several years has been outstanding and exciting,” he said.

But, he also had criticism of Gov. Cuomo, who he claims has slowed development on hemp by lumping regulation of the crop in with medical marijuana, which is grown, processed and maintained on different standards.

“The Cuomo administration and the New York State bureaucracy is dragging its feet on decoupling industrial hemp from its marijuana regulatory framework and that, unfortunately, still is a significant roadblock in the way of progress for this industry in New York State,” O’Mara said. “That needs to change, the sooner the better.”

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand & U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer addressed the situation in Venezuela last week. They said they both oppose embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s blockage of humanitarian aid from being shipped into the country from the U.S..

Sen. Gillibrand took advantage of her week off to take another trip out to Iowa, touring the early caucus state in her bid for the presidency in 2020. However, Gillibrand’s trip didn’t enthrall one Iowa restaurant goer who was a little more interested in ranch dressing than New York’s junior senator.

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...