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Avella plans Albany shakeup

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State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) said they were focusing on the state budget and ethics reform after being sworn into office last week.

“I’m worried about how the budget cuts will impact everybody — in the state, in New York City, in Queens and in my district,” said Avella, who holds the 11th Senate District seat previously occupied by former Sen. Frank Padavan for nearly four decades. “Will the discretionary funds, which the nonprofits depend upon, be cut like they were last year?”

Braunstein, who represents the 26th Assembly District, also said he was concerned about the $10 billion budget deficit the state now faces and how it will affect Queens.

“We have to make sure there are acceptable cuts,” said Braunstein, who sits in the seat once held by former Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza. “I don’t want to see cuts to senior citizens.”

The two lawmakers from northeast Queens also said ethics reform would be a major issue alongside the budget, and Avella said he and other state senators were sponsoring a package of reform bills that would form an independent redistricting commission and strengthen laws that would mandate lawmakers to disclose sources of outside income.

“We’re calling upon the Legislature, including the Republican majority, to move ahead quickly with this,” Avella said.

Braunstein and Avella were officially sworn in Jan. 4, though they will hold their own inauguration ceremonies in their districts later this month. Braunstein will hold his at 12 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the Auburndale American Legion Hall at 198-09 33rd Ave., and Avella will hold his Jan. 30 at 1 p.m. at Queensborough Community College at 222-05 56th Ave. in Bayside. City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) will be the master of ceremonies at Avella’s event and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will perform the invocation.

Both legislators said they were pleased with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, and Braunstein threw his support behind the governor’s call to carve funds from Medicaid.

“I’m happy the governor is pushing cuts to Medicaid,” Braunstein said. “This is something I campaigned on. The goal is to cut $2 billion from Medicaid.”

Avella said he believed the state could gain revenues if New York legalized sports betting.

“I’m going to try to reinvigorate that issue,” Avella said.

The two lawmakers also agreed that they would fight for resources for schools in their districts during the budget process, and Braunstein said he was prioritizing curbing overcrowding in classrooms.

Avella said he planned to oppose the city’s plan to close Jamaica High School.

“I’m taking the lead against this,” said Avella, who noted the fight may include a lawsuit against the city.

“Jamaica High School neighborhood students are treated like second-class citizens,” Avella said. “Their class sizes are much bigger, they don’t have technology, they don’t have the resources the other students are given.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:42 am, October 12, 2011
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