State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, played an active role in Monday's Republican takeover of the state Senate and says the new majority will change the course in Albany and stop legislation she believes would have hurt the Upstate economy.
According to Sen. Young, the sudden and unexpected change in leadership was orchestrated behind the scenes with the help of Tom Golisano, the billionaire who owns the Buffalo Sabres. She believes Senate leaders were on firm legal footing when they voted Monday to reinstate state Sen. Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican, as majority leader.
"It was in the works for a while," Sen. Young said Tuesday. "It started to come together and people agreed this is the direction that had to be taken before the state was hurt even further."
It happened fast.
It was a little after 3 p.m. Monday amidst routine Senate procedures when state Sen. Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, read a resolution calling for a reorganization of Senate leadership. Republicans knew the two Democratic defectors - Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, both from New York City - would back Skelos. At that point, according to Sen. Young, Democrats tried everything to stall, including shutting off the lights, microphones and video feed.
Republicans were ready for a long, drawn-out fight, according to Sen. Young.
"We were ready to go as long as it would take," she said. "It was a very interesting process, but it was an action that absolutely had to be taken."
It's too early to tell whether Sen. Young will be reinstated as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. One thing she hopes will happen, though, is that the Senate's new majority will put a stop to legislation she believes could have severely weakened the Upstate economy.
"They have a very radical agenda that is extremely anti-Upstate. It's anti-job growth. It's hurt the taxpayers. It's promoted out-of-control spending. And we've been able to stop their agenda in its tracks," Sen. Young said. "Now, we can turn the state around and really focus ... on reform and making New York state an affordable place to live and work.
"This ends three men in a room from New York City controlling the entire agenda behind closed doors," Sen. Young added, referring to state Sen. Malcolm Smith, D-Queens and former majority leader; Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan; and Gov. David Paterson, a Harlem native.
Until Monday, Smith presided over the senate's six-month-old Democratic majority with 32 votes behind him. With the defection of two New York City Democrats who are siding with Skelos, though, the GOP now maintains a 32-30 edge over the Democrats.
Sen. Young expects additional Democrats to defect and join what she described as a bipartisan coalition rejecting the policies of Smith and other Democratic leaders.
"We formed a bipartisan coalition government based on reform and it's a major step forward for openness and transparency and it will empower individual senators and the public to take back their government from political bosses," Sen. Young said. "There are two so far, but I believe there will be more. There was a real failure of leadership from Malcolm Smith and his conference, and a lot of people recognize that fact, so I believe we will have others joining our bipartisan caucus."
Immediately after taking control over the state Senate, Republicans enacted reforms to improve the political process. Among them are six-year term limits for Senate leaders, eight-year term limits for committee chairs, more equitable policies governing the distribution of legislative resources and procedures making it easier for legislation to come directly to the floor, according to Sen. Young.
One of the most controversial laws state legislators seemed poised to enact was a labor reform bill that would have implemented costly protections for farm workers. Sen. Young opposed the measure since she believed it would drive Upstate farms out of business, though she is hopeful it will be more difficult to pass with the Senate's new Republican majority.
"I think it would destroy farms and severely wound the Upstate economy," Sen. Young said.
One thing Sen. Young would like to see enacted is a cap on spending to control taxes and fees she believes are destroying the Upstate economy.
"I'd like to see a cap on spending," Sen. Young said. "We need to reign that in. I'd also like to see tax relief, especially property tax relief, and also initiatives that are going to grow more jobs and strengthen the economy. That's what we need to be focused on in addition to reform."