She likes to be home at night to tend to her 14-year-old son and her farm animals, but first-term state senator Cecilia Tkaczyk says she enjoys traveling around her sprawling five-county district “meeting people and talking about their problems.” Democrat Tkaczyk, elected by only 18 votes in 2012, faces no announced opponent so far in a newly created district that favors Democrats by about 10,000 registrants.
Democrats hold a 32-31 majority in the senate, but a coalition of five New York City Democrats joined Republicans last year to share power, retaining decades-long Republican control of the chamber.
“It’s a rather unique arrangement,” Tkaczyk said during a visit to Kingston this week. “I do what I need to do to get the work done.”
Tkaczyk, whose narrow election over assemblyman George Amedore wasn’t certified until weeks after that arrangement was consummated, said there was no vote in the senate last month on continuing the arrangement. Legislative houses typically elect leaders on an annual basis.
Tkaczyk, a former school board president in her hometown of Duanesberg, spoke to a number of issues during her visit.
School aid: She reiterated that rural school districts and small school city districts are being hurt by a five-year decline in state aid. The Regents recommended an increase of $1.4 billion (about seven percent) in state aid to education this year. Governor Andrew Cuomo penciled in $500 million in his proposed budget. The legislature typically splits the difference.
Primaries: She supports a single June primary, but senate leadership is opposed. She recommends a $50-million special appropriation to help counties pay for dual primaries, estimated at about $70,000 in Ulster County.
Common Core: She agrees that standards and evaluation of teachers needs to be improved, but says there should be a two or three year moritorium on applying data.
College for convicts: She doesn’t think paying college tuition for convicts is sound, but says adequate funding of education is a better idea.
Medical marijuana: She supports the legalization of medical marijuana but not its general use. “It sends a message that’s it’s okay to smoke pot,” she says. “I don’t think young people should be smoking marijuana, or drinking alcohol either.”
Reduced funding for food stamps: “People who need food assistance should get food assistance,” she said. “It’s just unconscionable that we have kids going hungry in this country, in this state. Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry.”
Safe Act: She sees good and bad in this control-of-guns legislation. She doesn’t like the way the bill was passed via the governor’ message of necessity, but she would have voted for it. The seven-round limit on ten-round clips doesn’t make sense to the senator. She doubts the law will be repealed, but says changes can be made. “It happens all the time,” she said.
Fracking: Tkaczyk doesn’t quibble with the decision to put off an administration decision on fracking until at least March of next year. “We have to make sure any possibility of harm is null,” she said. The study is now in its fifth year. “We have an opportunity to see how things are playing out in other states. I think that’s smart.”
On representing Ulster County: Tkaczyk said she logs close to 70,000 miles a year in her five-county district, and that it’s a 90 minute drive from her home at the northern end in Duanesberg to Ulster County, where she represents eight towns, including Saugerties, Woodstock, Ulster and the City of Kingston. She said her records show she has visited Ulster “22 percent of the time” during her 13 months in office. “I’m here a lot,” she said. Ulster County provided her edge in the 2012 election. Tkaczyk maintains a part-time district office in uptown Kingston.