Schenectady County

Jasiewicz, Steck take opposite side of issues in race for 110th Assembly District

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said his re-election race against Republican challenger Tom Jasie

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said his re-election race against Republican challenger Tom Jasiewicz for the 110th Assembly District seat is nearly identical to the campaign two years ago, with “incredibly negative campaigns” against him.

Steck has served one term in the state Assembly after defeating Republican Jennifer Whalen in 2012. Now he’s facing Jasiewicz, a fellow Colonie resident who knocks Steck for his positions on Common Core, the SAFE Act and the Women’s Equality Act.

“Phil Steck votes with [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver 99.48 percent of the time,” Jasiewicz said. “Constituents, they don’t like Phil Steck. I am resonating door-to-door. People are agreeing with me. They take issue with the Common Core, corruption and incumbency. I am saying we need to stop the taxing and the spending.”

Jasiewicz said the Common Core learning standards were the catalyst for his Assembly run. As a father of two daughters, he said his children come home from school with math homework that he sometimes can’t help them with.

Raising standards is not the answer, Jasiewicz said. He is looking to see more local control with districts in the state creating curriculums crafted around students and teachers. He recommends rolling back the standards for two years to allow a panel of experts to propose a better alternative.

“These word problems are killing her,” he said of his daughter, who attends Niskayuna schools. “She doesn’t have the skills yet to do that. These are complicated questions with multiple ways to solve them. Can’t we just teach kids how to do math?”

Steck said his position on the Common Core has been the same since the first day he ran for office. He supports higher standards, but doesn’t agree with how the standards were implemented or the Common Core-based testing.

Testing has been “a tremendous waste of resources,” he said, adding that he believes student performance cannot be judged based on the Common Core testing and funding that was provided to create the exams should have gone to classroom resources.

“I don’t see anything wrong with the Common Core standards themselves,” Steck said. “But the state Education Department did not provide the schools with the curriculum, only guidelines. I’m totally opposed to the testing component, which does not promote a love of learning. We voted to put a moratorium on Common Core testing and we have been really strong on that.”

The candidates have opposite opinions about the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which bans some assault weapons, creates a registry of gun owners, requires background checks on gun sales along with other regulations.

Steck was the only freshman member of the Assembly to be a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act last year. He said in the district, which consists of parts of Albany County and Schenectady County, a majority of voters support the SAFE Act.

“I have worked on gun control for a long time,” he said. “I also voted to make crossbow hunting legal in the state. I think we do have to protect people’s rights to have weapons in their homes for self defense and to protect their rights to hunt, but I also have a duty to our constituents and families to make sure they are as safe as possible from people, especially those with mental illnesses, using assault weapons.”

Jasiewicz labeled the SAFE Act “a two-headed monster.” He said rushing the measure into law through a message of necessity, in the middle of the night, was a “bogus” process. He also believes the law violates people’s rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

“The Second Amendment is being trampled,” Jasiewicz said. “I’m all for gun control if you keep the guns out of the hands of criminals. This doesn’t do that. I have no problem seeing the law fully repealed so then we could discuss it and revisit the law again.”

Like most Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature, Jasiewicz and Steck are also split on the Women’s Equality Act. The 10-point legislation includes measures addressing equal pay, domestic violence and human trafficking. But the Reproductive Health Act, codifying abortion rights, is the one part keeping Republicans from passing the 10-point package.

Jasiewicz said he’s “all for the nine points” but would not approve the abortion plank, which Democrats argue would simply codify Roe v. Wade. Jasiewicz said it would expand abortion and allow non-doctors to perform operations, which he stressed is not safe.

“I am a father of two girls, and a husband,” he said. “There are protections for my family and other women in New York. But we’re not getting this passed because Sheldon Silver and the Democrats are sitting on it and not moving forward. Women are being held hostage over the 10th point. If it were not passed, women in the state would lose nothing.”

Steck, an attorney, said he has represented women in equal pay cases. He supports all 10 points of the Women’s Equality Act and doesn’t believe Jasiewicz’s argument against the abortion measure is accurate.

“It’s a matter of personal preference and decision between a woman and her doctor,” he said. “It’s not my business to decide the best medical treatment.”

Jasiewicz slammed Steck for voting with Silver and Gov. Andrew Cuomo “a majority of the time.” In response, Steck pointed to his no vote on Cuomo’s tax-free program, START-UP NY, which Jasiewicz, founder of Tri-Lateral Technologies, also opposes.

START-UP NY allows qualified new, expanding and out-of-state businesses to locate in New York, in partnership with a state college or university, and pay no taxes for 10 years. Jasiewicz said that’s unfair for existing businesses.

“That’s a way to pick and choose businesses and it’s unfair to existing businesses that are now shouldering the burden for their competitors,” he said. “I would like to see taxes lowered across the board for all businesses.”

Tax-free programs have not been successful long-term, Steck said. He said it’s unfair for employees at a company in a tax-free zone to not pay state income taxes, while employees at businesses nearby are required to do so.

“This program discriminates against people in my district who already have a business,” Steck said. “If you have a business that has worked hard and developed itself in the region and is paying taxes, why should someone out of state start a business here and not pay any taxes?”

If re-elected, Steck said he would continue to push legislation he introduced in March, the Municipal Health Insurance Savings Act, which would allow municipalities to join county self-insured health plans to cut costs.

“The health plan would provide better benefits for employees and would be better for the taxpayers,” he said. “I have only been here one term, and it is a learning process. I am optimistic that we can overcome opposition and push this bill even more next session. That’s what being a legislator is all about. We don’t give up easily.”

Jasiewicz said the first thing he would do if elected would be to sign on to the Public Officers Accountability Act, unveiled last May by Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, and the Assembly Minority Conference. The act includes a package of anti-corruption measures that would boost efforts to crack down on corrupt public officials.

“I would not vote for Sheldon Silver as speaker, like my opponent has, even after Silver paid to cover up [former Brooklyn Assemblyman] Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal,” Jasiewicz said. “We need to hold politicians accountable for their actions.”

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