We Must Work Together to Forge a New York That Reflects the Greatness of Its People

By Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins | January 3, 2024

This session marks an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to the principles that have defined the Democratic Majority and our mission: We are here to fight for the middle and working class, and we proudly represent the incredible diversity within our ranks, a diversity that mirrors the rich tapestry of New York.

As we embark on this legislative journey, we must remember why we are here. We are here to serve the people, to address their needs, and to make their lives better. We are here to build an economy that helps all New Yorkers.

It is our responsibility to prioritize the issues that matter most to working families across the state.

Over the past few years, we have made significant strides in tackling the most pressing concerns facing our constituents, and have fought to make our state a more equitable place where everyone can prosper.  We always knew that the key to New York’s success lay in the advancement of our working and middle-class families.

From the very beginning, we recognized the importance of paid family leave, ensuring that New Yorkers can take care of their loved ones without jeopardizing their financial stability.

We made a steadfast commitment to fully fund our schools, understanding that education is the cornerstone of opportunity and social mobility, and we expanded access to child care, helping parents better juggle the demands of work and family.

Our investment in universal pre-kindergarten brought us one step closer to leveling the playing field for every child in this state, and our historic funding of free school meals helps ensure that more children’s most basic needs are met during the school day.

We also increased the earned income tax credit to provide a much-needed boost to low-income families, and raised the minimum wage so that our workers can now make a living wage.

We also made it clear that public safety and justice are not mutually exclusive.  And we will continue to make that very important point.

Our Conference has always looked to ease daily burdens and strengthen our fundamental support systems. However, despite these accomplishments, we must acknowledge that many New Yorkers are still struggling, and they feel the pinch in their wallets.

The most significant cost burden facing our constituents today is housing.

The soaring cost of living in New York threatens the very essence of our state’s identity.

It’s time for us to develop a comprehensive plan that not only protects tenants including the principles of good cause, but also paves the way for the construction of new, affordable housing.

And while every New Yorker deserves a safe, affordable place to live, we also believe that the location of your home should not dictate the quality of your child’s education. Our conference has fought tirelessly to invest in public education and ensure every school, regardless of zip code, receives adequate funding.

We cannot ignore the crucial role that education plays in creating pathways to the middle class. Our commitment to childcare and afterschool programs is essential for working parents who need support to provide for their families.

We must continue to fully fund our schools while also keeping higher education within reach for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s imperative that we continue investing in our public colleges and universities because an advanced degree shouldn’t have to be a financial burden, but rather a stepping stone towards a brighter future for all.

Central to our state’s brighter future is our commitment to fighting climate change and promoting energy affordability so that our necessary green transition will not be at the expense of working-class households and small businesses. For too long, too many big utility companies have wasted ratepayer dollars through unjust billing practices and exploitative rate increases. It’s time to keep that money where it belongs–in people’s pockets–by holding these corporations accountable.  As a conference, we have made great strides towards helping all New Yorkers get access to low-cost renewable energy, with the expansion of tax credits for solar and geothermal, and with our landmark legislation last year to allow New York to build its own publicly-owned renewables.

We also know that our clean energy future comes in partnership with our brothers and sisters in Labor, who have been, and will continue to be a key part of these solutions. Their tireless efforts have been the bedrock of our state’s progress and prosperity. We will remain staunch advocates for fair wages, safe working conditions, and workers’ rights. Through this ongoing partnership, New York will meet its climate goals while generating the economic growth and prosperity that our working-class families deserve.

We must continue to build a strong economy and support small businesses. Under our leadership, New York will continue to lead the nation in supporting new and expanding industries like we did with the groundbreaking green chips legislation, that will lead to up to 100 billion dollars in investments by MICRON in central New York. This will be transformative for the economy of Upstate New York, and this session we will again push forward strong economic policies that attract growing industries.

We also provided increased funding for transportation systems across New York including our roads and transit systems. We understand, for our economy to continue to grow, we need real investments in infrastructure and will continue that commitment this year.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the difficult years we have faced. The events of the past years have tested our democracy and challenged our fundamental rights, but we have emerged stronger than ever.

We face a refugee crisis that is not of our making, but one we certainly will have to continue to confront. We have provided over $2 billion in state aid to deal with this crisis but we cannot do this alone. New York has always been a place where we welcome our neighbors and help them to find jobs and prosperity. However, we need help from our federal partners to ensure the American dream remains alive.

We stand resolute in protecting the reproductive rights of our constituents. It is our duty to ensure that New York remains a safe haven for individuals to make their own choices about their reproductive health.

We will continue to champion policies that safeguard a person’s right to choose, and we will resist any attempts to roll back the progress we have made. Every person in New York should have access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare without fear or interference, and we will fiercely defend these rights from national attacks that seek to undermine the autonomy and dignity of our residents.

And as always, we believe that the core of all personal freedom lies in robust democratic institutions. We have all seen threats to our very democracy and freedom gain unsettling traction over the past few years, jeopardizing the precious progress we have made. Therefore, as the Senate Majority has done every year, we will prioritize ensuring the right to vote is protected across New York. We must safeguard our democracy at all costs, by guaranteeing that every citizen’s voice is heard and that their vote counts.

Together, we will continue to build a New York where everyone can afford a decent home, where energy is affordable and sustainable, and where education is a gateway to opportunity. We will uphold the principles of democracy and ensure that the voices of all New Yorkers are heard.

We will continue our commitment to building a stronger economy that uplifts us all.

All of us in the Senate must work together, across party lines, to forge a New York that reflects and respects the greatness of its people.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins is President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader of the New York State Senate. She represents Greenburgh, Scarsdale, and parts of White Plains, New Rochelle, and Yonkers.