Local officials' reaction to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address was positive Wednesday afternoon.
State lawmakers from the North Country say Cuomo laid out an ambitious agenda for 2012, much like he did last year.
"It certainly was energizing," Assemblywoman Janet Duprey told the Enterprise. "He laid out an aggressive agenda again, and last year when we walked out we didn't think it would happen, and it did. So this year I'm feeling pretty optimistic."
Duprey said she was pleased that Cuomo emphasized job creation, specifically a planned investment in public infrastructure and $200 million in additional funding for the state's new Regional Economic Development Councils.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said Cuomo's pledge to bring a mandate relief package to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote is a big step for the state, one that could ease fiscal woes for local governments. She said the governor's plan to hold statewide public hearings will give lawmakers a better sense of which mandates need to go.
"I think we'll hear more from the counties, and I think there will be a better change of putting together a package that will get passed this year so we can offer the relief we need to to local governments," Sayward said.
State Sen. Betty Little agreed. She said that having a 2 percent tax cap gives the Legislature a sense of urgency.
"We need to give counties and towns and school districts flexibility," she said.
Essex County, for example, struggled to meet the tax cap, eventually overriding it and adopting a budget with a 10.54 percent tax levy increase. Nearly $7 million of the county's $16.3 million tax levy goes toward mandated Medicaid payments.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay, was in Albany for Cuomo's speech Wednesday. He said he will lobby for Essex County to host a public hearing on mandate relief.
"It's needed for us to survive," Douglas said.
Douglas said he welcomes Cuomo's planned investment in roads and bridges. He said public infrastructure was already deteriorating before several floods hammered the North Country.
"Anything like that that improves infrastructure through grants, and not loans, is greatly appreciated," Douglas said.
North Country officials also liked Cuomo's focus on making New York more of a global tourism destination. Jim McKenna, president of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Cuomo looks at tourism as a $50 billion industry for the state.
"There's a clear indication that he has a lot of things that he wants to talk about," McKenna said.
McKenna said the attention on tourism could bode well for North Country Regional Economic Development Council as the next round of funding nears. Tourism played a major role in the first strategic plan, which netted $103.2 million for the region.
Clarkson University President Tony Collins, who co-chaired the North Country council, said in an emailed statement that Cuomo's grassroots, bottom-up approach to economic development will continue to pay dividends this year.
"We are already seeing that planning process pay off through a better collaboration between public and private sector efforts," Collins said. "Regional Councils provided the North Country with the support to advance our vision for economic growth through the development of innovative partnerships in agriculture, energy, small business development and tourism that will benefit our communities for years to come."
Cuomo made numerous references in his speech to the unity displayed by lawmakers last year. Little said that may have been an attempt to continue that bipartisan momentum.
"I think it's important to keep it rolling," she said. "It certainly makes you want to continue to do it that way."
Little said Cuomo's speech was "very New Yorker."
"It was all about what we have done and what we can do, and about making us number one again," she said.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.