PLATTSBURGH — North Country officials both praised components of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Fiscal Year 2021 Budget and stated that they would like to learn more as the budget process plays out.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said the $6 billion budget deficit presents a big problem, and is especially concerning because the economy is doing well.
"If the economy, particularly Wall Street, took a hit, this big problem could quickly become a crisis for us," she said in a statement.
Little said the governor proposed a larger increase to school funding than she expected, given the deficit.
"I need to know more about the governor’s push to overhaul the school aid formula, which could dramatically change the amount some schools get next year."
Little does not know what impact changes to the formula will have on rural schools, adding that she is concerned because many area schools have seen declining enrollment.
A member of the Upstate Cellular Coverage Task Force, Little was pleased to hear Cuomo propose more investment in broadband and cellular service.
She plans to support Cuomo's environmental bond act, though she would like more details, and said she liked the sound of proposed tax cuts for small businesses and lower-income families with children.
The senator noted that there is a lot of public policy in the budget proposal.
"Given the problem we’ve seen with bail reform, I think the legislature should learn from last year and push legislation that doesn’t have a fiscal impact outside of the budget."
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Plattsburgh) said the governor's proposed budget "presents some clear concerns," pointing specifically to the proposal for more prison closures.
"As a former correction officer, I know the serious impact this could have on the wellbeing of the employees and will do everything in my power to ensure our North Country prisons are not affected by this."
Jones was pleased that the governor's proposed budget included $29 million in funding for agricultural programs.
"I will continue to be a strong advocate for northern New York agriculture programs and will work with my colleagues to ensure these programs are adequately funded and regulations are modified to help our farms succeed."
The assemblyman also plans to investigate the governor's proposal to make changes to the education funding formula to make sure schools get their fair share.
Jones said he was troubled by the indication that the governor's commitment to land-based renewable energy programs would come at the cost of local control.
"Our local officials and residents know what works best for their communities, and we must continue to give them the authority to make these decisions."
Jones plans to push for the governor's proposal for funding a state veterans cemetery, similar to legislation he and Little have introduced.
Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) said in a statement that he was pleased to see Cuomo continue to pursue funding for cell service in rural areas, but added that he has major concerns regarding changes to the school aid and Medicaid formulas.
"In the coming months, it will be important to monitor what that will mean for schools and local governments in the North Country."
Stec told the Press-Republican that the school aid formula is the most political part of the budget.
"From Rouses Point to Montauk Point, schools all say the formula needs to be more fair. The problem is they greatly differ on how it's not fair."
The assemblyman said he was alarmed by the governor's lack of urgency regarding bail reform.
"This legislation should never have passed as a work in progress. I remain a firm believer that the bail reform changes need to be repealed immediately.”
Stec said, in fairness, there are two months of negotiations ahead of the state government.
"It’s too early to hit the panic button, but people should be concerned by what was put out today. Our legislators will be sensitive to those issues."
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the chamber welcomes three major initiatives proposed in the budget that it has been advocating for, including a major commitment to electric buses.
"Under the governor's plan, the MTA will be purchasing only electric buses starting in 2029 and the major upstate transit authorities are to be 25 percent electric by 2025 and 100 percent by 2035," Douglas said.
"Nova Bus is ready and this sort of in-state investment could really help jump-start competitive production for the whole country."
The chamber also supports the $134.5 million earmarked for investment in the Olympic sports venues around Lake Placid in preparation for the 2023 World University Games and other events, Douglas said.
"Other pluses include substantial new investment in upstate infrastructure, including broadband and cell phone service which continue to be a strategic imperative for our region's future."
The chamber plans to analyze the budget with its upstate partners in the coming days and begin discussions with state legislators next week.
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said a number of the proposed state-level initiatives would complement pending ones in the Lake City, like the governor’s 2020 investment in affordable housing and expansion of the Child Tax Credit.
Cuomo announced his $33 billion five-year plan to combat climate change and one component was the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act.
Among other things, that act, which has support from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Fund, would invest funds for better infrastructure, restored fish habitats, overall outdoor conservation and upped renewable energy.
That would support the city’s pursuits to secure drinking water, protect Lake Champlain, return rivers to their natural state and achieve self-sufficient sustainable energy, Read said.
Though on a smaller scale, the mayor was also excited to see the governor push for comprehensive e-bike and e-scooter legislation — legalizing and expanding the electric bike and scooter network.
“His green initiatives are also very consistent with the future we envision for our city,” the mayor added.
“Governor Cuomo also continues to invest in transportation and in the Empire State Trail, at the same time as the city is finally investing in improving our roads and playing a significant part in the trail from Canada to Albany and New York City."
Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman looks forward to traveling to Albany to speak with Jones and Little about the budget.
In the weeks to come, though, Cashman said he and other local leaders would need to stay tuned to see just how the state’s 2020 budget would unfold.
“When both the State of the State and the State of the Budget are first put out, it tends to be at that 500,000-foot level,” he said.
“We need some time to really dig deep into the proposals and, more importantly, the impact that it will have on the state level, regionally and locally.”
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