Sen. Andrew Lanza's 2016 focus: Low taxes, public safety
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Last year when Sen. Andrew Lanza gave up pursuing his dream job as Staten Island's district attorney, it was because he felt he was needed in the state Senate.
With a slim majority, the Republican feared a vacancy in his seat — should he run and win the DA slot — would mean the Senate GOP could lose its control, or keep only a "razor thin majority." If Republicans lost control of the Senate, that would mean Democrats would control that chamber, and continue its hold on the Assembly, as well as the governor's office.
One-party rule would be devastating, he argued at the time and repeated it recently.
"When one side knows they don't have to listen to the other side, they don't," he said last spring, explaining his last-minute decision not to go for the DA's office. "And that doesn't work out well for people."
Now, Lanza has some additional power and responsibility, being in the "inner circle" of Long Island Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan.
Albany lawmakers are in the midst of budget season, combing through the pages of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed spending plan, hearing testimony from state officials, deciding what to take out, what to add and how to pay for it all.
"I've been involved always, but you know, I'm maybe in a little better position than I have been," Lanza said during an interview in his Albany office recently. "This year we have a new leader and I was part of his inner circle, Senator Flanagan, and he has graciously delegated a lot of responsibility to me, which I welcome, because I want to be there at the table. I want to be able to talk about priorities, I want to be able to bring the priorities of my district to the process."
PRIORITY NO. 1: TAXES
Lanza emphasized both in this interview and in budget hearings that his first priority is taxes.
Two years ago, Cuomo and the state Legislature eliminated the corporate income tax on manufacturing companies for the first time since 1917, and cut corporate taxes to the lowest since 1968.
Those are facts that make Lanza proud.
They cut taxes and "we ended up with more and that's what we've been saying all along. ... We have more money this year to spend than we did when taxes were $16 billion more," he said.
His bill to impose a 2 percent cap on property tax increases in New York City, which passed the Senate a couple of weeks ago, like last year, may see an early death in the Assembly, where Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) is the sponsor and Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) are co-sponsors.
It would bring the city into the fold, joining the rest of the municipalities throughout the state that must keep tax increases below 2 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
"It sounds like a political argument but it's not a political argument, it's something that is real," Lanza said. "You talk to people in our district, you talk to people on Staten Island and they talk about the cost of living and a large chunk of the burden is government. And I know that because so many people I grew up with moved. There's a lot of reasons people move, but the thing I hear most is 'I get more for my money in these places and it's just too expensive to live here and I don't feel as if I'm getting something in return'."
Lanza also wants to see a permanent 2 percent state spending cap. While the governor has put forth budgets that stay at or below a 2 percent increase, there's nothing in the law preventing him, or any future governor, from changing his mind.
PUBLIC SAFETY, HEROIN, SCHOOLS
Last year, Lanza sponsored 250 bills, 41 of which were in the areas of crime and the penal code.
He plans to continue that emphasis this year.
"It all starts with public safety," he said. "If you can't be safe in your neighborhood then all the other lofty goals that we have as a society ... you'll never get there."
As a father of three, keeping his kids safe is always on his mind.
"You worry all the time about their well-being."
Included in that is fighting the heroin/opioid addiction crisis, he said.
He and Cusick got I-STOP passed into law in 2012, allowing doctors and pharmacists to check electronic databases to see whether a patient has been abusing opioids and prevent further abuse.
Beginning March 27, doctors will be required to write prescriptions electronically, eliminating fraudulent prescriptions on doctor's pads.
Lanza also wants to see more done to help people with disabilities and disorders.
The state "does a lot for the vulnerable population ... That being said, we don't do enough."
There's not enough spending for mental health services, Lanza argued, and there's a housing crisis for adults with developmental disabilities.
A fiscal conservative, Lanza said he could find plenty of other places to cut so there could be more funding for the vulnerable population.
There was a record increase for school aid last year and the state will do it again this year, he said.
"We put our money where our mouth is when it comes to education."
Education is one of the largest spending areas in the budget, and Lanza wants to see more go to charter schools too.
Educators and lawmakers always say they want parents to be engaged in their children's education.
That includes listening to them when they say they want charter schools, he said.
"We can't say we want parents to have a say in the education of their children and then all of a sudden when parents say, 'I want to send my kids to charter school,' say, 'Well we don't want to listen to those parents'."
He added, "Our policies have to be consistent with our rhetoric. Competition is good, a variety of ideas is a good thing. That applies to education too."