PLATTSBURGH — State legislators representing the North Country predict that this year’s budget will pass on time.
“If you can do it three years in a row, there’s no reason you can’t do it a fourth year,” State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) told the crowd at the recent Northeast Central Labor Council Legislative Breakfast.
She acknowledged that difficult decisions need to be made but said that would be the case regardless of timing.
“You can make difficult decisions now or you can drag it out.”
If the State Legislature delays, she added, “nobody’s really better off.”
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said legislators will make adjustments to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal.
“The governor’s budget is not the one we will pass,” she said.
Like Little, she believes a budget will be passed on time, even though “this is the middle of the crazy season in Albany.”
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), who was elected in 2012, added a touch of humor to the budget predictions.
“I’m pleased to tell you that every budget I’ve been involved in has passed on time,” he said.
Congressman Bill Owens was unable to attend the breakfast, it was announced, because his mother-in-law on Long Island had suffered a stroke.
Legislators answered questions from the audience during the event, one of which concerned the possibility of directing contracts to local labor.
Little expressed concern that this would lead to other states using a similar approach and thereby put New York contractors at a disadvantage when they are bidding for out-of-state contracts.
However, she mentioned a “best value” element, wherein the value of a company to a community can be considered.
She also discussed applying in-state preference to situations where one or more bidders are from another state that uses in-state preference, thereby treating them the same way New York bidders would be treated in their state.
Stec said that idea would help “level the playing field.”
Concern was expressed regarding the pending closure of Chateaugay Correctional Facility.
Little spoke of a plan to save the prison by combining it administratively with Altona Correctional Facility, resulting in “two prisons with one set of administrators.”
However, she said, “no one has given me any assurance that that’s going to happen.”
Duprey said, “I think everyone knows how hard we’ve been working with the Save Chateaugay Task Force.”
“It’s a battle,” Little said. “I’m trying, hoping somebody will wake up.”
The legislators discussed the economic ripple effect from prison closure.
Stec cited an example in his district where the closure of Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility affected the Ulysses S. Grant Historic Cottage. Prisoners in a work-release program had maintained the grounds of the cottage, which is where Grant spent his final days.
Questions arose about how the property would be maintained when the prison closed down.
“You have to think a few moves down on the chessboard, and that doesn’t always happen,” Stec said.
Little also expressed disappointment at the lack of work-release programs for inmates.
“The governor spoke of the high recidivism rate, but that should come as no surprise.”
Work-release programs, she said, can help inmates learn to hold jobs, and, perhaps, to view themselves differently.
Because of the relative dearth of such programs in the prison system, she said, “we’re just warehousing at this point — maybe not totally, but heading in that direction.”
The legislators also spoke about the funding gap for education.
“The whole education system” faces problems, Duprey said. “We kind of need to shake it all up and say what we’re doing isn’t right.”
The legislators said the cost of technology, along with its rapidly changing nature, challenges schools.
“If it takes 20 years to pay for new technology, it’s old technology by the time you pay for it,” Little said.
She told a story that she felt illustrated some of the issues with funding education. She said she once knew a constituent who was very vocal about keeping taxes down — and who then railed at a School Board meeting about a proposition to cut the music program.
Guess what extracurricular program that person’s daughter was involved in? Little asked.
“I saw him afterward and said, ‘I thought it was all about keeping taxes down.’”