When Governor George E. Pataki took office in January 1995, he did so with a mandate to transform state government from a self-serving institution into an agent of the people, an entity he now proudly describes as “effective,” “efficient” and “responsive.”
Despite his inheriting from the previous administration crippling debt, a bloated bureaucracy and a lenient criminal justice system, Governor Pataki made good on his promise to spearhead the Empire State's return to greatness.
“New York stands at the dawn of its greatest day,” the Governor said during his 1998 State of the State, but some of New York's greatest days ever are already forthcoming.
It can be said that the celebrated quality of life enjoyed right here in Middle Village is a testimony to the labor of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Senator Serf Maltese, Assemblyman Tony Seminerio and Council Minority Leader Tom Ognibene.
But Governor Pataki merits our appreciation for his outstanding service as it relates to creating and retaining jobs, preserving and protecting the environment, improving education and health care for children, reducing bureaucratic red tape and making neighborhoods safer from crime.
Perhaps most symbolic and most effective of the Governor's earliest initiatives is his signing into law of the death penalty.
After years of government's refusal to acknowledge that the most serious crimes call for the gravest of punishments, Governor Pataki, during his fight to enact the law, gained national recognition as a major proponent of justice and victims' rights.
The subsequent change in the law shifted attitudes toward crime as well, and set a precedent for more sweeping changes in policy and how we view criminals.
The Governor's “ZERO tolerance” approach to crime came into being not just in words, but in reforms aimed at curtailing a broad array of offenses.
The results are staggering. Since 1995, all crime is down 25 percent. Violent crime is down 31 percent. Homicide is down 48 percent. Robbery, too, is down dramatically: 39 percent.
The federal government says New York is reducing violent crime at twice the national average and New York is outperforming every large state.
Those statistics are worth touting, and as the Governor now says of a state once known for its poor showing in those areas, “New York is now number one in all the right categories.”
The largest tax cuts in history — income, corporate, property, sales, all kinds — are Pataki tax cuts. The Governor has cut taxes 31 times, saving taxpayers and businesses $7.4 billion.
Income taxes are down 25 percent, the result of the first state income tax cut in a decade. The Governor's STAR plan cuts property taxes for senior citizen homeowners by an average of 45 percent, and 27 percent for all other homeowners. The state sales tax on clothing purchases under $110 will soon be eliminated entirely.
For New York City, the tax cuts enacted in Albany have virtually undone, in terms of dollars, all the tax increases imposed there during the early 1990s.
The Governor also championed the state's nationally-recognized battle to reform our failed welfare system.
Because of sweeping, fundamental reforms enacted by Governor Pataki and the Legislature, New York State's welfare rolls have been reduced by more than 537,000 — or 32 percent — from January 1995 through April 1998.
In New York, workfare has replaced welfare. All able-bodied recipients must earn their benefits or lose them. There is a five-year limit on benefits, and a new safety net program that focuses on non-cash benefits for basic needs.
The Governor has said that “When government starts taking responsibility for people, people stop taking responsibility for themselves.” We think he's right.
Many members of the Juniper Park Civic Association — including Richard Schick and Bob Holden — and many residents of Middle Village, Maspeth and Elmhurst agree that these developments have paid off considerably for their community and the state as a whole.
No longer must we look back with derision upon the days when state government failed its people and fell short of its obligations.
No longer must we lament over the apathy or cavalier attitude of a government that cultivated dependency instead of ingenuity.
No longer must we witness the decline of a state and people so deserving of their motto “Ever Upward.”
George Pataki continues to govern using the same energy he brought with him to Queens — just outside his 1994 campaign headquarters at the intersection of Eliot Avenue and Fresh Pond Road. The enthusiasm and optimism of that day peaked when he shook hands with our elected officials and predicted that New York would again be the envy of the nation.
Since then Governor Pataki has risen from relative obscurity to be one of our nation's most accomplished and respected executives — hammering out reforms vital to us, our children and our grandchildren.
Today we, the members of the Juniper Park Civic Association, proudly acknowledge the hard work, responsiveness and advocacy of our great Governor. We recognize that more needs be done, but applaud his vision and the gains made thus far.
We are therefore pleased and proud to select the Hon. George E. Pataki as our organization's 1998 Man of the Year, and offer best wishes to him for continued success and the swift completion of his mission.