It was good to be back in the State Capitol last week and embark on this legislative year. This week included the annual State of the State address by Gov. Cuomo. He talked about a variety of topics including creating the country's largest convention center in New York City, investing $1 billion in Buffalo for job creation, forming an energy superhighway, and reforming education. As a representative of this region, I wanted to share my thoughts on the most important aspects of his speech that will impact our area. I was glad to hear many of them mentioned, and hope we in Albany can build off the momentum of last year. Much, however, remains to be seen, as we await details on these proposals.
We need to finish the job we started last year by passing a property tax cap. Unfunded and underfunded mandates drive up costs for schools, municipalities, and, accordingly, increase property taxes that support them. I was glad to hear the Governor say the words "mandate relief." This is critical if we are to truly cut costs. We need to reduce the mandates associated with Medicaid by lowering the local cost share for counties. We need to take some of the requirements away from school districts. We need to give local cities, villages and towns a way to work within their means, without cutting basic services that residents need and demand. I sincerely hope, for all of our sakes, mandate relief is finally part of the 2012 legislative session.
School Aid Reform
As part of my duties as representative for this region, I meet and talk regularly with parents, taxpayers, school district representatives and teachers in both Oswego and Onondaga counties who are concerned about education. In virtually every one of those conversations, the school aid formula is mentioned. We need to reform the school aid formula so that funding is more equitable. State aid accounts for a large portion of low-wealth districts' total budgets, so when we talk about a 10% cut across the board for school districts in our region, this forces districts to cut staff and close schools but to somehow maintain state- and federally-mandated services. Cuomo said education reform will be a priority this year. I hope the school aid formula is reformed as part of his proposed plan, because this formula is unfair to those students who need help the most. I await more details.
The State of the State address talked about energy, and how we need to connect the dots from the energy creators to the energy consumers by creating an "Energy Superhighway." I couldn't agree more. This would particularly benefit our region, as we already have several power plants, both hydro and nuclear, that can and do provide energy to New York City. If the state were to create this Energy Superhighway, this would also create more high-paying jobs. Our region is already poised to capitalize on such a "highway."
Agency, government consolidation
According to the comptroller's office, New York has 1,000 state agencies, authorities and commissions. (Yes, you read that right: 1,000.) No state needs this much government. Last year, we saw some agency consolidation take place but not enough. We were able to consolidate the Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, State Commission of Correction, Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, and the Office of Victim Services within the Department of Criminal Justice Services, for example. A new Consolidated Funding Application was also instituted last year. This was done to allow organizations to apply for multiple funding sources for one project.
Job Creation, Tourism
I sponsor legislation that, if passed, would accomplish a goal similar to what the Governor said he wants to accomplish in making our Central and Upstate New York regions tourist destinations. By promoting our assets such as our lakes, mountains, streams, trails and wildlife, we have the potential to be a premiere destination for outdoor enthusiasts (Assembly bill A4178). A successful marketing campaign would draw more people to our towns, villages and cities who have the money to spend on lodging, food, fuel and licenses to hunt, fish or snowmobile. I look forward to working further with the Governor's office to make this happen.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (315) 598-5185. You also may find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.