Max & Murphy: Rookie State Sen. Says Life in Albany Has Been a Lesson on How Power Works

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State Senate

Freshman State Senator Jessica Ramos

The state budget process that ended earlier this month was about crafting a $176 billion spending plan and addressing a slew of big-ticket policy issues like congestion pricing, bail reform and campaign financing. But for Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who is one of 15 rookie members of the state Senate, it was also a lesson in how power works.

“The budget process was quite eye-opening for me. I wasn’t foreign to the process but it’s much different being in the sauce. One of biggest lessons I’ve learned is just how much power the executive branch has in this process,” Ramos told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday. “As a public school mom, I was particularly hurt when it came to foundation aid. To me, when both leaders of both houses have allocated funding for foundation aid … I don’t understand how the executive branch gets to pick up their ball and go home, essentially, so nobody else can play.”

When they took full control of state government in January after decades during which Republicans ran the Senate, Democrats in Albany faced questions about whether they could tackle the lengthy to-do list that confronted them. One unknown was how Andrew Cuomo, a centrist who for years had benefitted from the GOP-controlled Senate’s check on progressive policies coming out of the Assembly, would navigate the new power dynamics.

According to Ramos, the gov still has plenty of juice—for better or worse. “Essentially he does hold a lot of bargaining chips and he’s mastered how to leverage one policy idea vs. another,” she said. “We need a lot of reform when it comes to budget process in general that hopefully will lend itself to more transparency and hopefully a lot more uplifting of legislators’ voices.”

As Albany turns its attention from the budget to the other issues on its plate for this session—which ends June 15–the governor obviously will continue to be a major player. But the internal dynamics of the legislature might become more important as well. On the issues of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, marijuana legalization and farmworker’s rights, there are likely to be significant differences of opinion even among Democratic legislators. And on rent regulations—which tenant advocates hope to tighten and expand—there will be lawmakers in the mix who have tens of thousands of regulated renters in their districts, and many who have none.

On marijuana legalization, Ramos said, “We’re all clear that needs to be done in way that there’s an expungement of records. What we’re doing is creating a brand new industry so I want to make sure we’re allowing for points of entry for people who have been hardest hit by the war on drugs. We need to do it right.”

And on her bill to extend labor protections to farmworkers, she says the lobbying continues.

“I have been in Wayne County, I was in Genesee County last week visiting my colleague Senator Ranzenhofer. Senator Metzger who chairs Agriculture Committee” and will be be co-chairing upcoming listening sessions with Ramos. She acknowledges the complexities: “There’s a lot of concern about overtime pay because outside work ends up being affected by inclement weather. There are time constraints because it’s largely seasonal work.”

But she is confident those can be overcome, and soon.”I wasn’t able to secure a 32nd co-sponsor. I’m sure there are more of my colleagues who will vote for the bill. So this is a real priority for me and I want to make sure it gets done this session.”

Listen to Ben Max and I interview Ramos below, or hear the full show, which includes a conversation with Councilmember Costa Constantinides on the carbon-reduction legislation moving toward the mayor’s desk this week.

State Sen. Jessica Ramos

Max & Murphy, April 17, 2019

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