SARANAC LAKE — State budget cuts should come with a hitch: Remove unfunded mandates.
This was the key message North Country lawmakers delivered early Thursday at a Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.
Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) and Janet Duprey (R-Peru) discussed dire budget concerns in unison with area business, civic and political leaders here.
"We all voted against the budget last year," Little said. "Talk about funny math. In this year's budget, we have to come in with a plan that spends less, prioritizing what state government should be doing for you."
Little referred to the newly released Empire Center Report, which spells out the cost of unfunded mandates.
"We need to take back state mandates and make them an option for health care and schools," Sayward said.
Duprey said unfunded mandates have been a nemesis since her days as Clinton County treasurer.
"I've been on a mission for three years. I can't say I've reached epiphany yet, but we're working on it."
Lawmakers responded to voices of concern.
Tracy Schrader, a member of Saranac Lake School Board, said they have made cut after cut already and are not sure where state-aid reductions will leave the district.
"It's going to be really scary for us. We don't know where we are going to come up with the money."
Gov. David Paterson announced later Thursday that school aid that had been held would be released.
Sayward said all three North Country legislators have told Paterson "if you're going to take away the money, you are going to have to make these mandates optional."
Harrietstown Supervisor Larry Miller described bare bones rattling in the frozen town budget with the $400,000 loss from fuel sales out of a total $5 million spending plan.