SARANAC LAKE - Harrietstown town Supervisor Larry Miller told the area's three representatives in Albany at the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative breakfast Friday morning that he hoped "the woes of the state don't get passed down to towns and villages" through unfunded mandates, "because we're bleeding."
State Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury agreed and said at the breakfast in the North Country Community College Cafeteria that there are a number of new unfunded mandates this year. For example, the state will no longer reimburse county governments for the expense of holding parole violators in county jails unless they are there for 10 days or more. Additionally, changes in the state's drug laws, reducing sentences for certain drug crimes, mean that more drug felons will be serving sentences of a year or less in county jails instead of longer ones in state prisons.
The three legislators, all Republicans, also talked about the increased secretiveness of the state's decisionmaking now that Democrats control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature, making it difficult for Republicans to have their voices heard, a theme the three have spoken about frequently in the past year. Democrats voiced similar concerns when Republicans controlled the Senate.
State Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury, at the podium, answers an audience question at the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast Friday morning, as state Assemblywomen Janet Duprey of Peru, left, and Teresa Sayward of Willsboro look on.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
"The CIA would have been envious of the budget process that took place this year," Little said.
For example, Little said, the chairman of a committee wouldn't be around to answer lawmakers' questions about changes in his or her committee's part of the budget. The budget itself was crafted in secret by Gov. David Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. State spending increased about 9 percent, from $124 billion to $132 billion.
State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward of Willsboro said there also has been a lot of turnover in staff, making it difficult to know who to talk to about a particular issue.
"Every day we have a new face to deal with," Sayward said.
Although the legislators are done for the year on June 22, Little said she expects the Legislature to reconvene because "there's no agreement on so many things."
One of the chamber's legislative goals for the next year is to get funding for a second terminal at Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear for private airplanes, said chamber Executive Director Sylvie Nelson.
"There has been some comments that these are the rich and famous," Nelson said, "(but) the government of Harrietstown is looking at running the airport like a business."
The terminal's construction would be funded by private contributions and state grants, and the people who use it would be charged fees. The intention is to make money.
Another goal, Nelson said, is to find an alternate use for Camp Gabriels. All of the inmates have already left the minimum-security prison, and the remaining staff will be gone on July 1. Nelson said the chamber is working with St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center in Saranac Lake to turn the camp into a rehabilitation center for inmates with alcohol or drug problems.
State Assemblywoman Janet Duprey of Peru said she met with Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer and Jeff Aubry, chairman of the Assembly Corrections Committee, last week to discuss reuses for the camp.
"I'm not going to say they're committed," Duprey said, "but they're interested in what the soon-to-be former Gabriels has to offer."
Duprey said she would be meeting with several other people in the upcoming weeks to discuss the issue, including Denise O'Donnell, commissioner of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
"Be patient," Duprey said. "We're really trying. It's not going to be a quick fix, but it's one we certainly have on our front burner."
Duprey also said the state is considering partnering with community colleges to give inmates the opportunity to earn associate's degrees - something NCCC, which has several prisons near its Saranac Lake and Malone campuses, would likely be involved in. NCCC was once very involved in inmate education until the Pataki administration canceled that program in the 1990s, gutting the college's budget.
Nelson also said the chamber is working with Adirondack Medical Center and the Tri-Lakes Uninsured Task Force to raise child health insurance coverage from 97 percent to 100 percent.
Sayward said increased funding for medical home care is "the one good thing I could point out in the budget this year. Primary care done right will keep people out of emergency rooms."
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