LAKE PLACID - The state's top environmental official was at the Conference Center here Wednesday afternoon to present Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed 2012-13 budget.
Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, spoke to a small crowd of local politicians, tourism officials, government employees and business owners. He said Cuomo sent out commissioners like him to communities statewide in an effort to help taxpayers understand the ins and outs of his spending plan. The goal is to hold at least 200 of these presentations.
"The theory there is very simple," Martens said. "If they're engaged, if they're involved, they will also, we hope, talk to their legislators, have a voice and let them know what they think. You may not agree with everything that's in this presentation, but you should know what's going on because it involves the state of New York."
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
The governor's budget would increase state spending by 2 percent and close a $2 billion budget gap. The $132.5 billion proposal comes in a fraction of a percent lower than last year.
Martens said the budget, through the New York Works program, finally addresses flood control structures that need improvement. That's good news for the DEC, he said.
"We have over 2,000 dams that are owned by the state, and over 20 of them are high and intermediate hazard," Martens said. "All of them need attention. Some of that money, the $102 million that's coming to DEC, is finally going to upgrade some of the dams that are in our system."
Martens said the budget itself is fairly straightforward. The key parts of the plan are the reform measures, he said.
"So as you might suspect, while the budget sounds pretty manageable this year given the relative size of the deficit, it's the reform proposals that are going to be much more challenging," Martens said.
Among those proposed reforms are efforts to tie state education aid to teacher evaluations, leverage more private investment to make New York businesses more competitive, and provide meaningful mandate relief for local government.
For local politicians in attendance Wednesday, the focus was on the promise of mandate relief.
"We're all concerned about mandate reform, obviously," said North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi, who is also vice chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors. "I've been very impressed with Gov. Cuomo and what he's accomplished."
Politi said he's hopeful that money will be available for upgrades to state Olympic Regional Development Authority venues and infrastructure.
"Which is absolutely necessary moving forward for this community, for Whiteface and Gore Mountain and so forth," he said. "I know that there is an avenue for that in the budget, and I'm very hopeful that's the case."
Politi said Cuomo's dedication to local outreach is unlike anything he's ever seen. Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall agreed, noting that budgets can be incredibly complicated.
"I think this is refreshing," Randall said. "It gives you a visual image of what all of his anticipated results are if those budgets are carried out the way they're designed."
Martens said the budget is a "pro-economic growth strategy based on fiscal discipline, real reform and entrepreneurial government to lead us to a new New York."
Martens is a former chairman of ORDA's Board of Directors. He referenced the unusual North Country winter when he wrapped up the presentation.
"It is always a pleasure to be in Lake Placid, even if it's raining in February," he said.