JOE LoTEMPLIO and LOHR McKINSTRY
PLATTSBURGH — Local government leaders are liking what they heard in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015-15 budget address Tuesday.
“I think the most important parts are the (tax cut) packages he presented,” City of Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon said. “That’s marvelous for all of Upstate, particularly us.”
The governor outlined a proposal that would keep spending increases in the $137.2 billion budget under the state tax-levy cap of 2 percent but would also increase funding for Medicaid and education.
As he mentioned in his State of the State address two weeks ago, Cuomo is proposing to reduce the state corporate tax from 7.1 to 6.5 percent, establish a 20 percent property-tax credit for manufacturers and eliminate the net income tax on Upstate manufacturers.
“Anything like that, that can strengthen that sector, is a boon to our economy,” Calnon said.
‘GET TO THE ROOT’
Aid to municipalities would remain about the same, at $715 million, if the governor’s budget passes.
Calnon said that getting more money from the state might help, but in the end, it all comes from the same place.
“The money comes from the taxpayer, whether it’s a state tax or local tax,” he said.
“We need to get at the root of the cause of expenditures if we want to help local governments.”
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said the governor’s plan looks like it would provide a boost.
“I think those tax cuts he proposed will help the economy, families and businesses,” she said.
CAUTION OVER PRE-K
Little was also encouraged to see the governor propose an increase in education funding but said it needs to be used wisely.
“I think full-day pre-K is laudable, but we have to make sure it is affordable,” she said.
“We still have schools that don’t even have full-day kindergarten.”
Assemblyman Daniel Stec (R-Queensbury) agreed with Little, saying the governor’s Universal Pre-kindergarten Program may need some tweaking.
“If you mandate everyone picks up pre-K, there’s going to be a gap in kindergarten funding. We have nine weeks (before the budget deadline) to negotiate these issues.”
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said she agreed with the governor’s position to end standardized testing in schools for students in kindergarten through second grade.
“I think that is critical,” she said. “Let our babies be babies for a little while.”
Duprey was also pleased to hear the governor say that the Board of Regents has poorly managed the Common Core education plan and that it needs to be reformed.
“I like that he said we need to take corrective measures to end all the anxiety that parents and students are feeling all across the state,” she said.
PARTIAL ROUTE 98 STUDY
The governor said he wants to spend $2.5 million for a Route 98 feasibility study.
Cuomo wasn’t talking about a study for the entire proposed 172-mile-long Interstate 98 — the “Rooftop Highway” concept — from Plattsburgh to Watertown, however, but a bypass to alleviate traffic on U.S. Route 11 in the Canton-Potsdam area.
The State Department of Transportation has studied the idea of a Rooftop Highway twice in the last 10 years and came to the conclusion that traffic on U.S. Route 11 is too light for a new interstate. The last study suggested smaller alterations, such as passing lanes and community bypasses.
Duprey said she has an open mind about the plan.
“I like what the governor said, though,” she said. “He said if it makes sense, then do it. If no, then put it to rest.”
The governor did include some specific plans in his proposed budget for North Country communities, including money to help Chateaugay deal with the pending closure of the state prison there.
“The budget contains the governor’s tax-reduction plan, including substantial relief in support of upstate manufacturing and business, but it also contains some other good news for the North Country,” North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said in a statement.
Douglas mentioned $24 million for transition projects in prison-closure communities such as Chateaugay; $9.4 million in capital funding for the Olympic Regional Development Authority, on top of the expected $12 million for the Whiteface Memorial Highway; the first $10 million for the new Trudeau-Clarkson Partnership; and a fourth round of funding for the Regional Economic Development competition.
“There are elements of the budget we definitely need to consider and know more about,” Douglas said.
“But we will actively support these components and the overall commitment to restrained growth.”
‘A LOT TO DIGEST’
Clinton County Administrator Michael Zurlo said the legislature and the New York State Association of Counties will be studying the budget proposal in the coming weeks to take a closer look at the details.
“There certainly is a lot to digest,” he said. “We’ve yet to fully digest it, and we will work closely with NYSAC to do a full analysis of the proposal.”
After watching the address, Wilmington Town Supervisor Randy Preston said the governor touched on many issues that will aid the North Country.
“The 2014 budget is further validation of why Governor Cuomo is the right governor at the time for the state of New York,” Preston said by email.
“This plan truly focuses on helping the everyday New Yorker through much-needed tax relief, a continued investment in education and a renewed focus on rebuilding the infrastructure that is so essential to the success of our state’s economy.”
Preston said state reconstruction of the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, which had been in poor condition, is just one part of the governor’s support for tourism in the region.
“Governor Cuomo gets it — he understands that tourism is the economic engine of the Adirondacks. The investment in the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway and the other ORDA facilities will be paid back many times over with increased tourism, which the entire region will benefit from.
“The North Country used to feel isolated and forgotten by Albany; we don’t anymore,” Preston concluded.
Cuomo also said he’s proposing an emergency-services program to detect and respond to severe storms and other disasters.
A state share of $26 million would get New York $16 billion in federal funding for the governor’s new program.
It would include state-of-the-art weather-detection stations, upgraded emergency management and response, a better sealed New York City subway system, replacement of 100 upstate bridges with flood-resistant spans, storm-secure water-treatment plants, a resiliency institute for response planning, a new State College of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security to train disaster workers and a citizen volunteer program for emergencies.
“We’ve had nine declared states of emergency since I became governor,” Cuomo said in his speech.
“We have to be prepared for these storms. If you’re not prepared, people will die. Investing in this technology is very important.”
After the speech, Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said that because of frequent storms, he now tells people they need to be prepared to go without power and water for a minimum of three days.
He would welcome a quick-response system for these events.
“The frequency of natural disasters has increased. There’s definitely a need to be better prepared.”
Stec said he was glad to hear the governor build off what he had said in his State of the State address.
“I continue to be encouraged we’re talking about tax relief and infrastructure improvements. The North Country will fare well in what he’s proposed.”
Stec also said he agrees with the governor that ethics reform in state government is needed.
“He (Cuomo) wants to address corruption issues down here. He’s decided to include this in his mix for the budget.
“That will force the legislative leaders to negotiate with him on it. It’s too bad he has to use that to leverage the legislative leaders on this.”
Email Joe LoTemplio: firstname.lastname@example.org