Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C-Lockport) renewed calls for state budget surpluses to be spent toward improving infrastructure and improving access to broadband internet service for communities across upstate New York. He said that between the one-shot federal stimulus investment and increased tax revenues coming into the state, there was no need for any tax hikes.
“Everyone has agreed that despite the pandemic we now have more money coming into our state than we originally anticipated. While this is welcome news, this is not the time to increase spending that we cannot sustain year after year. A smart use of this funding would be to make much-needed capital improvements to our local roads, which have not seen a funding increase in nearly a decade, and to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to broadband internet, a service that is more necessary than ever before and will certainly continue to be essential to the daily life of every person moving forward,” said Norris, who has long worked for both of these measures.
In addition to serving as a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, overseeing the budget process, Norris has also been appointed as a member of the Joint Budget Conference Committee on Transportation. He said he welcomes the opportunity because it gives him another platform to advocate for increased funding for local road programs, like the Consolidated Local Street and Highway (CHIPS) Program and Extreme Winter Recovery program. While the governor’s proposed cuts to these programs were restored in the Assembly’s one-house budget, Norris said more must be done as CHIPS, the program responsible for the maintenance projects of local roads, bridges, sewers and culverts, has not had a funding increase since 2013.
Norris has been a leading proponent for expanding broadband internet across the state, particularly in rural communities where it can be particularly challenging for distance learning, remote work and even emergency services. In 2020, he helped pass bipartisan legislation known as the Comprehensive Broadband Connectivity Act, of which he was a sponsor. However, the governor failed to sign the bill into law, effectively vetoing it. Despite this, Norris has been working with his colleagues in government to encourage a final budget agreement on this essential priority which he says can be funded using the one-time stimulus from the federal government, which totaled more than $50 billion, $12.6 billion of which is deemed discretionary in this year’s budget.
He continued, “Without access to high-speed broadband service schoolchildren will not be able to do their homework even after full-time, in-school instruction returns. Businesses will not be able to compete. These services are essential and have been for some time. The pandemic only highlighted how far behind too many communities in our state still are. We must correct this, especially since we have the opportunity and funding now to do so.”
Norris is also calling for the reimagining of the state’s existing economic development programs to fund an initiative he created, known as the New York Business Emergency Relief Act of 2021 (A.4692). This legislation offers grants to reimburse small employers for revenues lost during the pandemic shutdown. He said he was encouraged to see that his idea has gained traction in the state Legislature and a similar proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget. He said, “Small business relief is crucial in our path forward. New Yorkers need jobs and without our small employers, our local economies cannot recover. This measure is essential. These businesses were shut down by no fault of their own. The state has an obligation to help them get back on their feet before more jobs are lost and more New Yorkers have to move out of state.”
Coupled with increased revenues that came in from tax receipts, state leaders agreed they have more funding than originally projected this year. Both minority legislative conferences as well as the governor’s Division of the Budget have stated that tax hikes are not needed. Norris said he also hopes to see funding restorations to essential constituent programs that fund libraries, support veterans, including the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Counseling Program, and to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are protected from COVID and have greater educational and long-term care options.