QUESTION: What are the issues impacting the 56th Senate District and issues that you will address at the state level?
DOLLINGER: Lack of job development. We have lost 30 percent of our manufacturing jobs since 2000. It is an attrition of jobs. The Empire Zones and IDAs have failed to deliver, are poorly designed and have done little to stem the flow of jobs to other places. We need to be building jobs, not demolishing them.
The high cost of government is another issue. The ballooning state spending and property taxes and the Senate Republicans have made New York a difficult place to live and prosper.
I was the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Committee. The cost of health care is reaching crisis levels. I am the only employer in this race. I have a small law firm with eight to ten people. I pay for their benefits out of pocket. The premiums are ballooning by double digits. Health care is a very expensive commodity. We need to increase accessibility [to health care] and find ways to lower costs. People are choosing between paying for [their] health care, buying gas or buying food. They really have little or no choice. Working families face those kinds of dilemmas daily. Families look to the government to help them out but they haven't seen any help.
These were all issues on the table in 2002. The Senate Republicans have done nothing [to address these issues] in six years.
Q: What would you do to reform the Empire Zones and IDAs?
DOLLINGER: We need to go back to square one. We need to abolish the Empire Zones. The poor parts of New York were transformed into tax dodges that could benefit contributors and favored parties. We should abolish the Empire Zones and replace them with a direct investment bank for Western New York. (Note: When Dollinger says bank, he means a bank strictly for financing projects that the Empire Zones normally would give tax breaks for. Instead of handouts though, this bank would provide accountability to the process.)
IDAs haven't provided enough high quality jobs. We need to reexamine the IDAs and look at the wage structure.
Q: On the issue of property taxes, do you see yourself more in line with a tax cap or a "circuit breaker" being supported by the Working Families Party?
DOLLINGER: I like the concept of the circuit breaker better. I'm not opposed to some kind of cap, but the better solution is a circuit breaker geared toward middle income families.
The Senate Republicans, in a Rip Van Winkle-like way, have awaken to the fact that property taxes are too high. Where have they been in the last 20 years? There has to be some accountability.
(Author's note: It was at this point in the interview where Dollinger told me to take a look at the Drum Major Institute's Legislative Scorecard. Not the whole scorecard per se, just the individual scores for Sen. Robach (see here and here). Robach's score is abysmal. His 27 percent score was tied for the worst among all state senators.)
Q: You mentioned state spending. How do you plan on reining in state spending?
DOLLINGER: From 1996 to 2002, I sponsored legislation that would have created a constitutional amendment that would require a super-majority of votes from the Legislature to approve any increase in taxes and spending. The co-sponsor of that legislation was then-Assemblyman Joseph E. Robach. When I left the Senate, the bill never reemerged. At the time, both of us agreed on a spending cap for the state of New York. I still agree with it. I don't know if he does.
Q: Where do you stand on marriage equality?
DOLLINGER: I will vote for a marriage equality bill. The time has come.
Q: How do we address the problem of health care costs?
DOLLINGER: We need more children covered through Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus. There needs to be a change in D.C. which would allow New York to go farther. Instead of investing so much into critical care, those resources should be invested into preventive care. The best way to save money is to put money into preventive care rather than critical care. An ounce of prevention is worth, in the case of health care, several tons of care.
Q: What are your thoughts on Joe Robach?
DOLLINGER: [Robach] is in lockstep with the Senate Republicans. He broke with colleagues in favor of the Senate Republicans' stance on the pay equity bill. The Senate GOP squelched it. Robach is a conservative Republican - a George Bush/George Pataki Republican. He has voted like a conservative Republican in Albany and is out of touch and out of step with people in the district.
This is the home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. He is inconsistent with that tradition. I will put people before politics. His record is putting politics before the people. He has supported the NRA and is in opposition to choice (a woman's right to choose). He flip-flopped on pay equity and on middle-class family initiatives, Robach has been on the wrong side for too long.
Q: What will you do regarding ethics reform and creating open government when elected to Albany?
For four years I served as chair of the Task Force on Legislative Reform. In 60 days, we will implement the Brennan Center recommendations and within six months, we will produce a bill regarding campaign finance reform. The Senate will do that. We will pass a campaign finance bill.
(Note: When Dollinger gave me that answer, I asked him what kind of campaign finance reform he was talking about. His answer follows.)
I would like to see a clean money, clean elections bill. But I think there would be more support for this if the bill is modeled after the New York City system. The point of view is needed for passing a bill. (Most of the legislators in the state hail from New York City.) All have seen the New York City financing model. The Legislature could pass the New York City model.
There will be substantial improvement on the "Wild West" rules we have for campaign finance. We will do it in six months. It will be done.
Rules changes will change the Senate forever. It will function like a democracy again. The Republicans like the "cracy." The Democrats like the "demo."
(Explanation: I looked up democracy to remind myself of what the two different parts of the word meant. "Demo" or "demos" means common people, while "cracy" or "kratos" means "rule, strength.")
Q: What will you during your first month in office?
DOLLINGER: (1) We will change the rules, open up the government and have bills debated in full with canvasses in agreement. Muzzled debate will be over.
(2) You will see bills passed by both houses in 2009. Bills like pay equity, protecting choice, budget and move resources targeted for Western New York job development through.
(3) There will be a complete transformation. New York was where some of the cornerstones of the New Deal lie abolishing child labor, putting in regulations like fire and safety codes began. You will see the same transformation in the Democratic Senate. It will be fairly, justly and efficiently.
Dollinger also mentioned his endorsement from the Working Families Party and the importance of that support. As you can see from this interview, Dollinger is ready to lead. He is ready to represent the 56th Senate District in a much better way. He is ready to lead and he will lead in Albany beginning in January 2009.
I'll be voting for Rick Dollinger.