Cuomo, Albany address some issues but not all
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 8/31/2011, 5:41 p.m.
Gay marriage? Check. Rent control? Check. Pensions? Not so much.
The New York State Senate, in a 33-29 vote, passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage Friday night. Crowds gathered in Greenwich Village shouting with joy after hearing of the vote. Proponents of gay marriage in New York at the state capital shouted, "USA! USA!" and "Thank you, [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo."
With no residency restrictions included in the Marriage Equality Act of 2011, gay couples from all over the country are expected to come to New York to tie the knot, which could bring millions or tens of millions of dollars to New York City and state. The bill does include a provision protecting religious groups from discrimination lawsuits if they choose not to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples.
Elected officials and advocates were quick to sing Albany's praises after the news.
"Governor Cuomo has shown New York and the nation what leadership looks like," said Brian Ellner, New York State Senior Strategist for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. "The bipartisan nature of the vote is compelling proof that marriage equality is increasingly an issue that unites, not divides. Legislators listened to the constituents and did the right thing."
"Today we made history by granting countless committed couples the right to marry," said State Sen. Jose Serrano. "The communities I represent have long been recognized as thriving hubs of social progress, and have a strong commitment to equal rights."
There was tension during the testimony portion of last Friday night's session. State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx went past his allotted two minutes to denounce gay marriage. When he was told to wrap it up by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Diaz shouted that Duffy was violating his free speech. Duffy allegedly wanted to cut the speeches short so he could get straight to the vote.
But while gay marriage got most of the attention, Cuomo and the rest of New York State's lawmakers were busy passing several other important laws.
For the first time in the state's history, there is now a property tax cap that will allegedly protect homeowners and businesses from high property tax increases. Property tax increases will now be capped at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The property tax cap has been a source of debate in Albany for over a decade. Not everyone is in favor of the newly passed cap. NYSUT, a statewide teachers union representing 1,200 Locals, including the United Federation of Teachers, pointed out some of the potential problems with the cap.
"NYSUT has long supported tax relief, but fought the cap because of its devastating impact on public education, especially in the neediest districts," read a statement on the organization's website. "The cap makes it virtually impossible for districts to accommodate local needs or changes in enrollment, or establish economies based on multiyear contracts. The undemocratic new law requires a 60 percent supermajority vote to exceed a 2 percent levy increase and establishes an automatic zero if a budget fails to pass.