ALBANY — Three emergency-services workers from Essex County were among the 128 statewide honored at Wednesday’s State of the State address.
When Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy asked the first-responders to stand, among them were Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish, Deputy Director Michael Blaise and Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Patty Bashaw.
“The state has suffered nine major disasters in the last few years,” Duffy said. “Thank you for your bravery and courage and all you have done for us ...
“You make New York state proud.”
Duffy was the moderator for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, and afterward, Jaquish said by phone that he, Blaise and Bashaw appreciated the recognition.
“We were proud to represent all first-responders: fire, EMS, police. It was an honor to be selected.
“In the North Country, we’ve had one disaster after another — floods, ice storms, blackouts — and we came through them all stronger.”
Bashaw said via phone that it was good to see emergency-services workers recognized.
“We represented all the first-responders in Essex County. It takes a team to do what we do, and we were here representing the team.”
During his address, Cuomo offered special remarks for the region.
“The North Country was long ignored by Albany,” he said. “The Bombardier rail-car facility in Plattsburgh is going great guns. They have a bright future.”
Bombardier had laid off workers when it lost contracts, but it recently won a $640 million order from Bay Area Rapid Transit in California for 365 new rail cars.
“That news was certainly good news,” City of Plattsburgh Mayor James Calnon agreed, in reaction to the governor’s mention of Bombardier. “We are going in the right direction, and hopefully that will continue.”
Cuomo also mentioned Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake for its expansion plans and touted a new hotel being constructed in Lake Placid.
“One thing that didn’t get as much applause as it might have is the governor’s move to global marketing for startup businesses here,” said Jim McKenna, president of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in Lake Placid.
“It’s a really important prospect that is going to benefit all of the state, including our region.
“His initiative with tourism has elevated our industry to an economic engine. He has put it right up there with manufacturing. And that is really important for our region: We have the most to gain by using tourism as an economic tool.”
Does this mean Cuomo might put more money into tourism in 2014?
“He seems keenly interested in the idea of destination marketing and planning with the infrastructure component,” McKenna said. “I’m hoping to see some of that stuff in the budget.”
WOMEN’S EQUALITY ACT
The governor urged lawmakers gathered in Albany on Wednesday to “stop playing games and pass the Women’s Equality Act this year,” which would create better working and living conditions for women in the state.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) agrees with that idea.
“It’s about fairness, equality, justice and protection, and that hasn’t always been there,” she said.
Nine of the 10 items in the bill were approved by the Senate previously, minus changes to abortion laws, which State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) has staunchly opposed.
She said Wednesday that state lawmakers don’t need to address the abortion debate in the larger context.
“We need to see that there are fewer abortions, and we need to improve health care for women in this state,” she said.
“I think that we should focus on what we can agree on — and there is agreement on nine measures.
“The rest should not be held up because of one part we don’t agree on.”
Little was also very pleased with Cuomo’s plan to move forward with Circuit Breaker legislation, a measure she has championed for years.
The bill would provide tax credits to homeowners whose property taxes have become an increasing and burdensome percentage of their income.
“It really looks at a person’s ability to pay and their ability to stay in their home,” Little said.
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) was encouraged by the governor’s pledge to repair or replace more than 100 bridges in the state.
“I think 12 of those bridges are in my district,” he said.
“Roads and bridges have been neglected, not only in this state but around the country, for years because it’s an easy place to cut out of the budget, so I am pleased he was talking about that.”
Stec said that while the governor made a lot of promises, he wished Cuomo would have recognized the burden that unfunded state mandates put on municipalities.
“There was no mention of unfunded state mandates at all, and I was disappointed by that,” he said.
‘IGNORED TOO LONG’
The governor reiterated his proposal to eliminate corporate taxes for manufacturing companies all across upstate New York.
“Why?” he posited in his address. “Because you can’t beat zero, my friends, and it is a competition.”
Local economies in upstate New York grow at half the rate of the rest of the country, he said.
“This is a problem, frankly, my friends, that we ignored for too long.”
Local lawmakers liked the emphasis on the Upstate economy.
“The governor has paid attention and seen we certainly need economic development in the North Country,” Little said. “Zero corporate tax for manufacturing companies is a great idea.”
“That’s got to be good for the North Country, with Bombardier, Nova Bus and places like Georgia-Pacific,” Duprey said.
“If we can attract new jobs, that’s great, but we need something to maintain the jobs we already have because that is just as important.”
The nuts and bolts of how cutting corporate taxes would work will be spelled out more clearly in Cuomo’s executive budget, Little said.
Stec said he was glad to hear the governor spend a fair amount of time talking about tax relief.
“That’s been a big part of the problem because it hurts the business climate,” he said. “We’ve made some improvements, but we are still not where we need to be.”
4TH FUNDING ROUND
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the governor’s pledge to continue to work on tax relief, as well as provide another round of Regional Economic Development Council funding, will help the area.
“Our top priorities on the economic front in Albany have been, and continue to be, tax relief and targeted support for Upstate economic development,” he said in a statement.
“This latter action will be a powerful tool in attracting new investment and jobs, particularly from Canada.
“And we also welcome the commitment to a fourth year of the new Regional Economic Development process, which has clearly worked so well for the North Country, bringing special recognition from the governor in his speech.”
Duprey said Cuomo’s desire to add another round of funding will be key.
“We’ve done very well with that because we do it the right way,” she said.
She also liked the governor’s plan to implement full-day pre-kindergarten classes and to invest significantly in education infrastructure.
“That is so important for all of us,” she said.
Cuomo even talked about the proposed interstate “Rooftop Highway,” also known as Route 98, between Plattsburgh and Watertown.
The road, which would connect Interstate 87 to I-81, has been proposed and studied for decades.
Cuomo said a Route 98 feasibility study will be done this year.
Route 98 would essentially follow the same path as U.S. Route 11.
Lack of funding for construction of the highway and some local and environmental-group opposition have been the chief obstacles to the Rooftop Highway in the past.
Overall, Little was optimistic about Cuomo’s view of the coming year.
“Just a few years ago, we were talking about deficits and where we were going to cut. Now (that) we’re talking about surplus, believe it or not, that’s actually harder.
“Working together, I feel very optimistic that we can do some good things this year.”