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NYS Assemblywoman Fahy previews 2022 legislative session

"Multiple cultures, multiple flags, are what have built this country." -Assemblywoman Pat Fahy
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Assemblywoman Pat Fahy

With the new legislative session days away in Albany, we’re speaking with members of the Senate and Assembly about their expectations for 2022. It will be Governor Kathy Hochul’s first budget process, and it comes just ahead of an election. Capital Region state Assemblywoman Pat Fahy is a Democrat from the 109th district, who chairs the Banking Committee.

What's highest on your list?

COVID, I think, is dominating everything right now. And we've got to help small businesses, we've got to keep our hospitals functioning. And so we've got to get past this this latest variant. So I think that's on everybody's mind right now. But short of that I have a number of bills that that I will be moving. But I also want to make sure with COVID that we are helping small businesses and restaurants. As you know, I carried the alcohol to go bill trying to give a lifeline to restaurants. But we also have housing that's going to continue to be an issue. Crime, I’ve carried major gun legislation, and we are going to continue to do more, I think we are going to have to discuss bail reform, and maybe some very minor improvements there. Climate is a huge one.

FI carry a number of electric vehicle bills, I carry the 30 by 30, I carry infrastructure bills. On a local level, though, I also want to make sure that we are reimagining 787, and moving full speed ahead on Wadsworth. And a redo of Harriman. And then I also want to continue to help the families that I've been helping that still have family in Afghanistan. So we have a number of local Afghanistan families who are desperately still trying to get their loved ones out of Afghanistan. And that's a pretty desperate situation there. And then a whole host of issues on thanks, we want to make sure that with all these FinTech, or financial technology, all these new apps, all these new services, we want to make sure we are protecting the consumer. And that's going to be one of my major focuses.

Before we get back to some of those issues that you just mentioned, are you satisfied with the way Governor Hochul is dealing with the pandemic, because it's a little different of a dynamic than where we were a year ago when Governor Cuomo then was operating with a variety of emergency powers and so on.

Yes, I am satisfied. I think she's been aggressive. I've appreciated her mask mandates, I am pleased that she is now going to release testing kits, we need to test, test, test, we know that this newest variant is even more contagious. So I don't think we can be aggressive enough. And I will look forward to her continuing to be as aggressive as possible.

And a key priority for me, I should add, will be keeping the schools open, doing all we can to test and keep people safe. But keeping those schools open, the mental health and the academic losses, cannot be sustained again, especially by our students in elementary and secondary school, let alone colleges. So that's going to be a priority for me. And yes, all of us need to be as aggressive as possible in tackling this. And we can't let the economy shut down again, either. So we have to keep a laser beam focused on this.

In addition to the whole host of other issues I mentioned, you know, there's that little thing called the budget that's going hit us as soon as the new year starts as well. Thankfully, thankfully, we have a lot of federal monies coming down to take a little pressure off of New York on that.

Yeah, I was talking to your colleague, John McDonald of the neighboring district. And he said that he thought the legislature would be in a slightly different position this time around. You've got a new governor, but also, New York is flush for change.

New York is rather flush although we have more needs than ever, but it's a good place to be that at least we are not going in with a multi-billion dollar deficit. And I credit our former governor and others for really trying to hold the line such that we are in a better place this year.

And very grateful that Congress was able to at least get the infrastructure package through still hoping they get the Build Back Better in.

You saw the Times Union, we've got 1000s of dams, let alone roads and bridges. We’re a northeastern state, we have old infrastructure with some serious needs. But again, the top priority is keeping our hospitals functioning, getting on top of this latest variant, keeping our schools open. So the investments we need are going to have to still prioritize health and housing, as well as the infrastructure to keep our keep our economy functioning, especially small businesses and restaurants.

Just one more political question about Governor Hochul. You have endorsed her for a full term. It seemed for a time that there would be a spirited Democratic primary but then the Attorney General has decided not to run for governor. Why do you want to see Governor Hochul win a full term?

I endorsed Governor Hochul early even though I have tremendous respect for the AG. But I think she brought in a wealth of experience, she knows every corner, every nook and cranny of this state, she's already demonstrated that and there's a lot of different needs just based on geography. So I think the governor even within her first 60 days showed she was willing to take the reins, not miss a beat, and keep us moving.

So I'm pleased actually, or relieved, if you will, that we are not going to see an intense campaign such that the current governor, I hope will be able to keep a focus on governing on getting this budget through on keeping us healthy and safe, addressing crime and climate issues without having to campaign round the clock as well. So I think this has been a big relief. By the way, fully supportive of the AG getting a second term as well, that I think Tish James has more than demonstrated her effectiveness as AG.

So let's talk about alcohol to go people will remember this was something you were beating the drum for, during the first pandemic year. Restaurants were struggling to keep their doors open. And this was seen as one way that they could, you know, sell a product without making people unsafe. But people might not know that that was a temporary allowance in the law that allowed the restaurants to sell alcohol to go. So you've got to re-address that this year, right?

Yes, we've got to redress that. And now that we are seeing people staying home again, and we and we recognize we've got to put health and safety first. But we do need that financial lifeline to the restaurants and every restaurant to a person will tell you, it is the alcohol to go that helped them keep their doors open. And remember, thousands of restaurants did not make it, shuttered their doors during COVID. Thousands of those have not come back.

The ones that got through it, they got through it with many of the small business relief programs that the feds had passed with a part of the Recovery Act. So we don't want to see a redo of that. Alcohol to go, it keeps people employed and allows people to enjoy a cocktail safely. It is not competing with liquor stores, because these are often mixed drinks. And, by the way, it's a limit of two anyway. And it's not bottles of alcohol going out the door. It is a financial lifeline. It's one of the few but very important things we can do such that our economy does not take another beating. The economy can only take so much we are still coming out of the first pandemic or the first wave. This is this is something very important and we are really going to prioritize.

Let me go to another area that you mentioned. You know, we have a federal infrastructure bill that's been passed, money will be coming out to states and localities for a long list of projects. You mentioned reimagining Interstate 787. For people who might not be familiar with it. This is an interstate multi lane highway that sits between the city of Albany and the Hudson River waterfront. So it's made access to the waterfront more difficult since the interstate system. What would you like to see it look like in the future? And how feasible is it to get something like that, that giant project, changed?

It could be giant, but there's phases that we can do. First of all, I've had a bill in for about two years now to pay for a feasibility study an engineering study which would include an economic analysis, what we are trying to do is just reclaim that waterfront you're seeing that in Buffalo as well. You're seeing it across the country, some are calling it highways to boulevards, but some of this could include just a land bridge over a part of the highway. While we figure out different pieces of it. As you know, we'll see an early phase of that, we'll see the Skyway being launched in the next month or so, that takes one very underutilized ramp and is turning it into a pedestrian park. So it's those types of things that will help us reclaim the waterfront. And by the way, we're doing this because we know it's good for our health. We know Millennials want walkable communities. We know retirees want walkable communities.. And we know there's a huge economic impact. Philadelphia, with reclaiming their waterfront, has seen massive investment as a result of it.

So we think study after study showed that it can have a multibillion dollar impact in some cities. So there's multiple ways to do this. It's not going to happen overnight. But the first thing you need is a serious engineering study, and an economic analysis of different plans. And then some short term pieces, others have talked about canals through part of the city. So there's many ways to approach this. But that's why we need some serious engineering and cost estimates.

This is a parochial question, perhaps. But where would the highway go?

If you put a land bridge over it, the highway stays there while we look at possibly converting some of that into a boulevard. We’re putting multi-millions of dollars into our port, we're doing all kinds of wind technology, and we're going to be doing the lack of investment there, we want to make sure that we still have access to the port. So nobody's trying to shut down a highway, but it never met at the projection. So it's not as utilized as most. And there may be pieces of it that we can reclaim and convert the use of some of the ramps.

We want to make sure that it doesn't impede traffic, but uses alternative methods. And that's why we think some studies, but we need a serious cost one. And in the meantime, again, what you're seeing many cities do is just do a land bridge over the highway, while they're figuring out other parts. And that's what they're looking at now in Buffalo to connect their downtown and disadvantaged neighborhoods with their waterfront. And those are some short-term things that can be done in a couple of years while the highway right now has a 15-year shelf life. This is going to take a while to seriously reimagine and make sure it's done in a in an appropriate way. So it's not to impede access to the port, for instance. And we have those railroad tracks there that are probably immovable. So we have to be very creative. But there's many proposals out there that have showed some wonderful creativity and that regain us of dozens of acres of land for development. And park space, of course, that's the top priority.

Earlier you mentioned your efforts for Afghans to be resettled within New York state in and the Capital Region, after the U.S. pulled out over the summer. What's the latest on those efforts? And what can people who are listening and might be interested in helping in some way, what can they do?

Please keep talking about it. And please call your senators or congressmen and say there are thousands of U.S. allies who are in Afghanistan, who assisted our country for 20 years. And they are still trapped in Afghanistan. They want to reunite with families here. We need to do more, really at this point, it is veterans and veterans groups, a lot of retired military who have chartered private planes. I know of one former local military veteran who got 10 planes out in the month of October, almost nothing is coming out these days. And the New York Times recently wrote how a million children are at risk of starvation just this winter in Afghanistan. We may not be able to help the million. We certainly we can't bring a million children. But what we can do is bring thousands that are still trapped there who have family here in the U.S. who were our allies over 20 years. And we need to do right. The country shut down practically overnight. And we've left a lot of strong allies still there who assisted our military for years and I think we still need to do right by them. So still working, still really hoping that the State Department will reopen and continue to process more of these allies who carry what they call an SIV type of paperwork.

Do you think we'll have an on time budget this year?

Oh I'm sure the new governor and our leaders will make every effort. I think we've had an exceptional track record maybe a day or two delayed. But I don't think anyone wants to go back to the days of weeks of delay. So I think there will be every effort and there's a huge commitment toward that.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.