SARANAC LAKE — From the rural northeastern quarter of the state with the highest taxes in the United States and the most people leaving, a list of priorities for change is coming into focus.
Lawmakers from Albany asked for — and got — a barrage of questions during a Legislative Breakfast Friday morning.
The discussion critiqued an agenda for transformation issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his inaugural State of the State address this week.
But the engaging question-and-answer session was prefaced with a warning.
"Change is in the air and change is difficult," Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) told the nearly 80 business, civic and community leaders gathered early Friday.
"When you are on the bottom, there's only one way to go."
She suggested that the slim Republican majority in the state Senate would help balance government in Albany.
But the real question is where to start.
Little has been named to the Mandate Relief task force set up by newly sworn-in Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The import of that effort seemed to emerge as the top subject of discussion Friday.
Little asked the group of community leaders for input.
"If you have ideas (for removing unfunded mandates) be sure you get them to us."
Streamlining government will look a lot different in the North Country, Little said, than it will in the larger urban and suburban areas with a bigger population base and therefore more voices in Albany.
Making a case for how change might play differently here, she focused on Cuomo's stated intention to eliminate more prisons.
"We are dependent on government jobs," she said.
And if those positions move or go away — as many did with two recent prison closures at Camp Gabriels and Lyon Mountain — then we not only lose the jobs, we lose the (economic) activity.
Streamlining the prison system or even school districts here might mean something other than closing them down, she said.
It could mean sharing administrative services, she said, in effect condensing oversight of two or three or more facilities under one director or superintendant.
"Decisions have to be made based on the economic impact of a closure," Little said.
And in streamlining government here, the impact of job-loss or closure has to be measured against opportunity for economic development.
"If we can streamline government and get our economy more dependant on public sector jobs, we will see some growth," Little said.