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Voter guide: Janet Duprey
September 10, 2012 - Chris Morris
As part of our coverage of the Republican primary election in New York's new 115th Assembly District, I put the same questions to all three of the candidates: incumbent Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, Plattsburgh educator Karen Bisso and Cadyville businessman David Kimmel. Some required longer answers, others were quick-hitters.
There's not enough room in the newspaper itself to include the responses in their entirety, so I'm posting the full versions here, starting with Duprey. I'll post responses from Bisso and Kimmel this afternoon as well.
Consolidate into one sentence why you feel voters should elect you to another term?
I have a proven record of strong and effective constituent service, an ability to work on a bi-partisan level to accomplish goals for the North Country, and my many years of county and state experience provide me with the ability to understand a wide variety of issues and work successfully with all people.
As a lawmaker, what are you most proud of in recent years? If elected to another term, what would your top priorities be looking forward?
Over the past two years we have eliminated a $13.5 billion state budget deficit, passed two on-time state budgets with no new taxes, fees or gimmicks, held spending below the rate of inflation, and reduced the middle-income tax rate to the lowest level in 58 years.
My support of pro-business legislation has resulted in Unshackle Upstate issuing a rating of 93 and The NYS Business Council a score of 85%, both ratings among the highest given to state legislators.
Locally we have seen some great success for our business community such as: $103.2 million award to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council; APA permit approval of the Adirondack Club and Resort in Tupper Lake by a 10-1 vote with a potential of 500 jobs; awarding of the MTA $600 million contract to Bombardier to build 300 subway cars in Plattsburgh; construction of $41 million St. Lawrence Natural Gas line that will save over $1 million annually in fuel costs at state correction facilities and provide much-needed lower energy costs for McCadam Cheese.
In this year’s budget we also passed the New York Works Program which is providing millions of dollars for bridge and road construction and repairs throughout the North Country.
I am pleased that after negotiations and amendments, we passed the Autism Insurance Bill which guarantees adults on the autism spectrum can obtain health insurance while providing some funding for the diagnosis and treatment of autism in children.
We have taken tremendous steps to assure the safety and to protect our children with passage of the Dignity for All Students Act (effective July 1, 2012); Cyberbully Bill (effective July 1, 2013) and an Anti-Pornography bill. All three of these bills add much-needed protection for our children as we protect the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions.
Going forward I will continue to work with federal, state and local officials, businesses and organizations to create and retain jobs. We need to restore funding at all levels of education to assure each student receives a quality education to achieve all he/she is capable of. I feel we need to revise the formula for school Foundation Aid to provide more equitable funding for our rural school districts, particularly those with large tracts of state land. Government has an obligation to assure people receive high-quality, affordable health care from birth to death, and we are fortunate in this District to have 3 excellent medical centers. I’ll continue to work with our health care facilities to recruit an retain qualified physicians, nurses and support staff, and the state must meet its obligation to provide adequate funding to assure people receive proper health care in the right setting at the right time.
We must continue the process of requiring state agencies to examine their policies and procedures to eliminate unnecessary and duplicative regulations that burden our businesses and local governments. Too often agencies have conflicting requirements that are confusing and costly. Perhaps one of the worst examples of recent state government mandates is the Wage and Theft Prevention Act which is a terrible burden on all businesses, large and small, and must be revoked. I am a sponsor of legislation to eliminate this mandate.
Of course we continue to hear the plea of local business, municipalities, school districts and non-profit organizations for mandate relief. The Governor has appointed the Mandate Relief Team that continues to meet and hopefully significant recommendations will be presented next session.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in numerous recent visits to the North Country, has said he believes exciting things are happening in this region. He often cites the Regional Economic Development Council and other regional initiatives as evidence that the North Country has strong economic prospects. Do you agree? How do you view the state of the North Country?
I commend Governor Cuomo for his innovative program of establishing the economic development councils across the state. Lt. Governor Duffy has attended almost all of the meetings held in each region across the state which is a tremendous commitment by this administration.
I was pleased to be at the presentation of the state’s 2nd highest grant award to our own North Country Regional Economic Development Council and had the opportunity to stand on the stage to accept the $103.2 million award with co-chairs Garry Douglas and Dr. Tony Collins as well as other legislators. The volunteers on this Council spent untold hours reviewing dozens of grant applications and prioritizing them to provide funding for the best of the excellent requests and to assure all areas of the North Country, large and small, received a share of the money.
The money awarded to a wide variety of outstanding projects is a direct job stimulus as the companies must create new jobs/retain current jobs in order to receive their funding. This is a great boost to our North Country economy, and I am cautiously optimistic that the Council will once again submit a proposal worthy of top funding for this second round of grants.
I believe the North Country economy is improving, and many business people have told me this year will be the best financial year they have experienced in the past few years.
Although we have more to do, as I tour companies speaking with owners, supervisors and employees, there is an optimistic attitude about the future.
The unemployment rate in many North Country counties is still in the double-digits. What do you see as the biggest barriers to getting more people working, and how would you, if re-elected, work to fix the problem?
There are many jobs across the North Country that are not filled – some reports list as many as 3,000 unfilled positions. At some level we have made it too easy for people to collect social service benefits instead of earning a wage, and that issue that has gone on for generations should be addressed more aggressively.
We must continue to work with our schools, BOCES, community colleges to provide the skills needed for unemployed people to learn the skills needed to fill the jobs that are available. Not every student will get a college education and, in fact, we need to have qualified, well-trained skilled workers for many positions.
One of the biggest barriers to some people getting jobs will be the terrible decision of the State Education Department to eliminate the local diploma for students who cannot pass Regents exams. Without a diploma, most jobs will not be available for students, and the cost of obtaining a GED will be increased next year making the exam unaffordable for many. I have an ongoing dialogue with the State Education Department, and hopefully at some point they will recognize how badly thousands of students will be hurt by these actions as they attempt to enter the workforce.
I’ll continue to work aggressively with our Development Corporations, the Chamber, local government officials and other community leaders to recruit a variety of businesses to our region. We have a skilled workforce and a second-to-none quality of life in this area, and we need to continue to market our many attributes to prospective companies.
Lawmakers have been talking for many years about easing state mandates on local governments, but so far, not much has been done to shift some of those burdens from local property taxes to state income and sales taxes. What can you do about it?
Most counties in the state currently have a 4% sales tax that must be extended every two years by vote of the State Legislature. This is a cumbersome process and there have been years when counties have worried about the loss of the additional 1% sales tax revenue that could be lost if the Senate and/or Assembly failed to act on the legislation. Used appropriately by local government to reduce real property taxes, the sales tax revenue is a direct benefit to the taxpayers. I have always felt the sales tax is the most equitable tax levied by government in that those who spend more, pay more. I’m not sure what the threshold would be for tolerance on the part of the public to increase the sales tax above the current 8% (4% each state and county).
I don’t believe there is any interest on behalf of the state to increase income tax rates, and, in fact, during the current budget the middle income tax rate was reduced to its lowest rate in 58 years. On the other hand, we must address and eliminate loopholes that allow taxpayers and corporations to circumvent the payment of income taxes.
All of the years I served in county government I called for state mandate relief, and although I am now on the other side of that equation, I still think one of the most important matters we must undertake is to enact meaningful mandate relief. This is particularly important since the onset of the 2% property tax cap which restricts the amount of real property taxes a municipality and school district can raise.
We all agree and understand that taxpayers cannot afford further large increases in real property taxes. However, not everyone recognizes that for each mandate on the books there is a vocal and determined ‘lobby’ effort to keep that particular mandate. All mandates were established in response to a real or perceived need of a particular special interest. It is incredibly difficult to eliminate mandates as for each recommendation there are loud and convincing reasons to keep the mandates.
When we passed the tax cap legislation, Governor Cuomo promised mandate relief but he has not been able to follow through on much of that promise. There will be some, but not enough, Medicaid relief to counties over the next few years. We must do much more to eliminate mandates including, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, the annual requirements under the Wage and Theft Prevention Act which is an unnecessary burden on every employer – small and large.
Talk about how you, as a lawmaker, interact with your constituents. Do you think you're doing a good job when it comes to communicating with taxpayers, businesses and local officials?
My staff and I spend the majority of our time, particularly in the Plattsburgh District Office, meeting with constituents and working on their behalf. We receive dozens of emails every day, and during the weeks around budget and the end of session the number of emails every day is in the hundreds. We make every possible effort to answer them all although sometimes not as quickly as we would like during the busiest times. I read every email and letter that comes to my office so I am fully aware of the issues which concern constituents.
Traveling thousands of miles across the more than 3,000 square mile district, I meet regularly with local officials, school districts, businesses and a wide variety of taxpayers – individuals and groups. In fact my favorite part of this position is clearly the opportunity to work directly with constituents and assist them with problems they have.
The problems we deal with are varied and touch every aspect of people’s lives. An inordinate amount of our time is spent working with health insurance providers on behalf of constituents who have been denied coverage, denied referral or simply don’t know where to turn to get help with a claim. I think it is safe to say that I have contacted every state agency and department at least once on behalf of some constituent and/or business owner who needs assistance.
The most visible part of the Assembly position takes place in Albany. The most rewarding part of the position takes place in the District while assisting individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations and local government entities as we all work together to improve the quality of life in the North Country.
According to recent polls by Siena and Quinnipiac, the state Legislature has improved its image with the public significantly in the last two years. How do you view the state Legislature?
There is no doubt the past two years with the Cuomo administration have been much more productive and congenial that the prior four years with the Spitzer and Paterson administrations. Passing two on-time state budgets, eliminating a $13.5 billion deficit as we kept spending below the rate of inflation without passing any new taxes, fees or gimmicks certainly improved the image of the Legislature. I also believe the public as a whole has more confidence in the ability of both parties to work together in most instances to reach a consensus in the best interest of the residents of our state. It is certainly more pleasant to serve in the Legislature at this time than it was during my first four years.
The Assembly is likely to retain its Democratic majority. As a Republican from a rural area, how do you bring attention to the issues that matter most to you and build relationships with people from across the political aisle?
I have worked very well with Assembly members on both sides of the aisle in Albany. I have established a working relationship with state agencies, departments and the administration. I certainly don’t always agree with legislation on the floor and speak my mind on many issues; however doing so with respect, sticking to the issues and not making the discussions personal have served me well.
I am proud of the many friendships I have developed in the Assembly and find that I can speak to Democrat committee chairs at any time on any issue. Working with Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, we have finally reached the point where almost every other member of the Assembly refers to our districts as ‘the North Country’ not ‘upstate’.
In fact last summer Teresa and I joined together to invite Democrat Assembly members to visit our North Country to spend a night in Newcomb meeting with officials from Paul Smiths College, Syracuse University, and DEC to learn about sustainable forestry – and to discover that indeed there is no cell phone service in parts of the Adirondacks! The next day we visited the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake where we met with local government officials before traveling to Tupper Lake to visit the Wild Center. Our time at the venues and while we were traveling between them was spent providing education about the Adirondacks, the Champlain Valley and our unique issues both in and out of the Adirondack Park. As a result of these two days, downstate Assembly members joined us this past session in supporting legislation critical to the North Country.
Between new teacher evaluation systems and the Dignity for All Students Act, New York has passed big education laws this year. Is the state heading down the right path when it comes to reforming the education system? If not, what do you think the state is getting wrong and what are the best solutions?
I am concerned about the time and cost each teacher evaluation is apparently going to take for administrators and will be following the process carefully. I’m also worried about reliance on test scores as a template for teacher evaluations as exemptions should be in place for special needs students and for those students who simply don’t test well. I opposed efforts to make teacher evaluations available to the public through the media and on-line. I feel that evaluations should be done to benefit the employee and employers and should be maintained in confidential files as all other employee evaluations are.
I was a co-sponsor and strong supporter of the Dignity for All Students Act. As a member of the Clinton and Essex Counties Task Force Against Bullying for the past two years, I was pleased to participate in several discussions about the changes needed in our schools, many of which are now law under DASA which took effect on July 1, 2012. It is the responsibility of school administrators, boards of education, teachers, parents, grandparents, and guardians to protect every single child in our school systems from bullying on and off the school grounds. In today’s world of 24 hour electronic communications, we must all be vigilant to protect our youth.
As I stated in answers to earlier questions, I believe we must change the Foundation aid formula to better serve the needs of our rural school districts. I am very concerned with the elimination of the local diploma and lack of understanding by the State Education Department on the affect that action will have on students who do not have a high school diploma as they attempt to further their education and/or obtain employment.
Quick hitters; where do you stand on the following issues?
DEC is finalizing its review of more than 15,000 responses to public hearings and will be issuing a recommendation soon to the Governor and Legislature. I support the good-paying jobs and increased state revenue created by the hydrofracking industry that will lead to reduced cost for fuel but we must be assured the watershed areas will be kept safe. I’m waiting to see a printed bill and the recommendation of the experts to make a final decision, but I am leaning in favor of hydraulic fracturing.
I voted for marriage equality to provide equal protection for all people who are in love and want to marry the person of his/her choice. There are over 1,200 civil rights such as tax equity, end of life decisions, adoption rights, etc that are provided only for couples married under the laws of the state. I believe that all couples have the right to equal legal protection and happiness.
Casino gambling (should it be expanded as Cuomo wishes)
I voted for the first phase of the Constitutional amendment during the last session, and the newly elected Legislature must vote for the same legislation again during the next two years. If that happens, the proposal to allow casino gambling in the state will be placed on a November ballot for the voters to decide. I support the revenue to be generated by the state sharing in gambling revenue and I am waiting for more detail on the location of proposed casinos. In the end, it will be the voters of New York who decide whether or not to expand casino gambling.
Minimum wage (should it be raised as Democrats have suggested)
I did not support the bill proposed during the past session that was not presented on the floor of the Assembly for a vote. I was particularly opposed to linking the minimum wage to the CPI which would mandate regular increases without any further vote of the Legislature. It is my understanding negotiations among the Governor, Senate and Assembly are continuing, and I will carefully review any new proposed legislation prior to deciding on a vote. On a bill which will necessarily have many provisions some good/some not so good, it is important to study the legislation, review what will certainly be many emails/letters/phone calls from constituents and determine the impact on our region prior to making a decision.
Lawmaker pay (should legislators get a higher salary as some have proposed)
Medical marijuana (should New York legalize it)
Some of your more conservative critics have labeled you as being too moderate (or liberal in their words) because of your support for same-sex marriage, and for your endorsement of Dede Scozzafava over Doug Hoffman. Does you feel like you still fit with the modern mode of the GOP? Are you worried about how people view you politically?
I heard many of these same criticisms during my campaign in 2010 when I won every election district throughout the Assembly District. My support for the candidacy of Dede Scozzafava was four years ago and it is time to move on.
Marriage equality is now a law in New York State and thousands of couples have married during the past year. I respect the fact that some people feel their religious beliefs do not allow them to support marriage for all people, but I have shared in the joy of same-sex couples who have been able to legalize their relationship. As stated above, it is the declaration and issuing of a state marriage license that makes all marriages legal, and I think most people understand the difference between the legal right to marry and the religious ceremony chosen by many.
I have an indisputable record as a strong fiscal conservative elected official over the entire time of my political career. I have been a strong, unrelenting advocate for the taxpayers. I consider myself a moderate social advocate as I strive to protect equality for all people under all circumstances.
‘Worried’ is an interesting word and not sure I would describe myself as worried. On the other hand, there can only be one winner at the end of the day, and I am always anxious until the votes are counted. Only about 5% of eligible Republican voters went to the polls to vote in the first two primary elections this year, and that is shameful. I would hope there will be a large turnout of interested voters to assure the majority have a voice in who will represent them in Albany. It has been an honor for me to serve the North Country for the past six years, and I look forward to continuing to do so.
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