Friday, September 7, 2007

Meeting with NY State Senator Joe Robach

"Is Albany in a lockdown because of the Troopergate scandal ?". Well, NO is the answer from Sen. Joe Robach whom I met on September 6 with other members of the Democrat and Chronicle editorial board. Both Democrats and Republicans are working together to progress important pending legislation and finalize key appointments. But one got the feeling that the hatchet is not totally buried yet between Gov. Spitzer and the Senate Majority Leader Bruno.

This was my first meeting with an elected state official and I will say that Sen. Robach brings a lot of passion and commitment to what he does. The recurrent theme during the conversation was the relative imbalance between upstate and downstate NY and the Senator's (as he termed it) "parochial" focus in correcting that imbalance in upstate's and more particularly Rochester's favor. I would term it as an excellent manifestation of "Think Globally, Act Locally". Contradictory ranking of Rochester in various surveys (e.g. "6th best place to live in US" was one of the better ones") came up for discussion. The senator rightly emphasized that irrespective of the rankings the focus needs to continue on improving the local economy , reducing inner city crime and enhancing school performance.

The senator was markedly passionate about a new initiative from his side to increase funding for initiatives for early detection of potential child abuse/mistreatment. He wants to enhance the statewide spend for such services and also to increase Monroe county's share. There was some skepticism around whether this should translate into more funding for county childcare services or private service providers and whether there was going to be duplication of efforts between government agencies. The program as outlined by the senator included early detection by hospitals based on criteria such as low birth weight and follow up visits by private agencies.

Budgetary reform was another area which Senator Robach dwelled upon. He mentioned about his efforts to bring about greater transparency regarding the various line items in the budget. He promised not to vote in support for a bill to raise the Senate' s pay though he supported a pay raise for the state judiciary.

The senator skirted the issue of mayoral or state control of the city school district. However, he did emphasize the need for better accountability and transparency of the spending for funding received by the city school district from the state. He expressed some frustration regarding the slow progress on several school up gradation/construction projects which he thought would not only improve the school environment but also add much needed jobs to the local economy.

The questions were many but the time was short. I left the meeting with a few unasked questions (viz. "Your thoughts on enhancing upstate competiveness to meet global challenges" ) and a better appreciation of what Albany does and the efforts it takes to make our tax dollars work for our benefit.

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