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Local reps discuss state government at NCCC

January 15, 2010
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - Gov. David Paterson will unveil his 2010-11 state budget next Tuesday, and it is being reported that it will contain a $2 billion spending increase.

Although this is much less than the $11 billion increase, including $8 billion in new taxes and fees, that led to the current $133 billion state budget last year, three North Country legislators said they would prefer a budget that doesn't increase spending at all.

"In a budget as big as New York state's, that is not a huge increase, but I think the taxpayers deserve a spending decrease," state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, told the Enterprise after a legislative breakfast at North Country Community College Thursday. Also at the event were Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and Sen. Betty Little.

Little, R-Queensbury, said the state needs to prioritize what it should be doing, citing health care, safety and infrastructure as priorities.

"Everything else should be on the table," Duprey said.

Little said buying more land is one thing the state should not be doing, drawing applause.

The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the breakfast, and about 70 people registered to attend, said chamber Executive Director Sylvie Nelson. This is about as many people as have registered for similar breakfasts in the past, she said.

This breakfast had a more hopeful feel than one in June 2009, not long after the 2009-10 budget was passed. Little said Thursday that the 2009-10 budget was "the most frustrating budget in 14 years." Despite promises beforehand by Gov. David Paterson, it was negotiated in secret by Paterson, then-Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver, and legislators didn't get much chance to read it before voting on it.

However, Paterson, a Democrat, talked about many ideas the three Republicans support - such as a spending cap, consolidating state agencies, term limits and a "circuit breaker" bill to limit property taxes based on income - in his State of the State address last week. The circuit breaker and consolidation, especially, are causes these three lawmakers have publicly advocated for years.

As at the breakfast six months ago, state regulations and unfunded mandates were a major concern of the audience, with several local businesspeople in attendance bringing up these issues.

Sayward said that if funding for schools and health care are cut, then the state mandates on them should be made optional.

"A lot of mandates are great ideas, but they should be options," Little said. She gave the example of a law requiring new teachers to be mentored and said a teacher she knew of who had taught for about 20 years in another state had to be mentored to teach here. She also criticized the state for passing costs down to localities in other ways - for example, by paroling prisoners early, then not paying when they are in county jails after violating their probation.

The state Government Office of Regulatory Reform is supposed to review the cost impact of new regulations, but "it's a total stamp of approval," Little said. She said she is drafting a bill that would require a thorough review of new regulations' cost impact.

The three legislators said they have been meeting with area school superintendents and health care providers, and have been impressed by the steps they've taken so far to save money. Nelson said this area's good schools and health care and low crime rate are some of its major draws, but schools and health care are being "targeted" now by having state aid withheld. She said these are assets that need to be preserved. Paterson announced later Thursday that the withheld school aid would be released today.

Little also said she is concerned about the impact of the health care reform that's being debated on Medicaid costs. It would expand eligibility for Medicaid, but about 32 percent of the non-federal share of the program is borne by the counties in New York, and "the only place counties have to go is the property tax."

As of last year, Franklin County was using 80 percent of its property tax revenue, or $9.3 million, to meet its Medicaid obligations, and Essex County was using 46 percent, or $6.2 million.



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