Watching the end of the NY State Legislative session I had run last November to be part of has been an interesting experience … Maybe “it’s complicated” would be a more appropriate description, but “interesting” will have to suffice.
The good news was I got to spend the last two weeks on vacation in Europe with my husband instead of in Albany, and it was a wonderful trip. Between the blogs, email, Facebook and Twitter we kept pretty up to date on all the ups and downs and ins and outs of same sex marriage and the “big ugly” omnibus bill which delivered a 2 percent cap on local property taxes, a long-term rent control extension for New York City and some structure to review mandate relief for schools and municipalities. It’s hard to actually get a handle on this structure or process, but mandate relief is one of the huge concerns about a tax cap and justifiably so.
I should say, we stayed as up to date as anyone could be those last two weeks of the legislative session, since most of the important stuff was happening behind closed doors and between a handful of guys. But that’s the old Albany way. A lot got done in this legislative session but there wasn’t much transparency.
I am thrilled with the passage of the marriage equality bill in New York State. Passing marriage equality was something I spoke of often during the 2010 Campaign. I’m very pleased that those handful of Republican and Democratic senators still in office who voted “no” in 2009 changed their votes to “yes” on Friday night during prime time and before the 11 o’clock news. It is good to know that politicians can evolve.
So about Europe. It’s critical to see other parts of world, if you can, to keep what goes on here in perspective. Alas, it’s a reminder that, as wonderful as our country is, many other parts of the world are way ahead of us in some meaningful ways.
For example, in Europe alone, same sex marriage is already legal in Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Spain and Sweden. French lawmakers this month agreed to ban hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a highly risky method for extracting natural gas, which is, alarmingly, still an open issue in the New York State Legislature. And Smart Cars, those adorable, economical, fuel efficient vehicles that fit perpendicularly into a parallel parking spot are everywhere present. Much of the rest of the world is way ahead of us in other transportation, too, like high speed and conventional railway. Everywhere we went the toilets — public and private — were equipped with double flushers (small for liquid and large for solid waste), a simple way to conserve water and money.
Major European cities like Rome and Barcelona have large recycling bins right on the boulevards that separate paper, plastics and rubbish. And people use them. Folks understand that recycling makes economic as well as environmental sense. A report released last fall shows that recycling creates ten times more jobs per ton than burning or landfills and that a half million new jobs would be created in Europe if countries recycled 70 percent of their waste.
Finally, no part of the world appreciates and lives with history like Europe. It’s embraced, it’s accessible and it’s alive. Tourists from around the world pose in front of that history. We, here in the Hudson Valley, can take a page from that book. We don’t need ancient forums and gladiators, as in Rome, to value a rich legacy like the remarkably innovative Shaker communities that thrived right here in New Lebanon. We don’t need confections by Gaudi, like Barcelona has, to protect and reuse really wonderful buildings in the cities of Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson — or the historic 19th century infirmary buildings in Millbrook. And we have a storied river — the Hudson — which rivals the Thames, Seine or any other European river for beauty and thoughtful economic potential.
As we begin our Fourth of July celebrations it’s not a bad time to take another look at our own American history in the Hudson Valley. This is hallowed ground just like Verdun or Normandy. Major battles of the American Revolution were fought in the Hudson Valley. Young soldiers in the War of Independence trained, fought and died on the same soil where we drive, shop and go about our lives every day.