Simpson runs to reduce spending but fund DEC, infrastructure
Matt Simpson is running to represent New York state’s 114th Assembly District on a platform of funding environmental conservation, reevaluating grant programs and keeping young people in the North Country.
He is a Republican, looking to take over the seat current Republican Assemblyman Dan Stec is vacating to run for state Senate.
Simpson is running against Evelyn Wood on the Serve America Movement party line, whose Enterprise editorial board interview was published Thursday, as well as Claudia Braymer, a Democrat whose interview will be published Saturday.
The state is currently in a multi-billion-dollar deficit, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and faces the possibility of large, sweeping budget cuts. In April, when the state Legislature passed the 2020-21 budget, it also gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his state Division of Budget sweeping powers over a “rolling state budget,” with the discretion to make cuts during the budget year if funds fall short.
Simpson said he believes the Legislature should have limited these powers to 30-day segments, meeting every month to decide if they would approve the continuation of his powers. He did not want to “second-guess” the decisions Cuomo has made during the pandemic but said he believes the two chambers should be involved in decision-making now.
“We need all three branches of our government working right now,” Simpson said. “We’ve got to have a plan coming out. We’ve got to start thinking about how we’re going to recover.”
He said “nothing is off the table” as far as possible cuts go, adding that he “would look at everything.”
He has priorities, like infrastructure and protecting the Adirondacks, but he said those areas might face reduced funding, too.
To reduce spending, Simpson said the state should look at all its grant programs and make sure its investments are realizing a benefit.
“We need to eliminate any grant program that does not provide the intended return and improvement to the communities,” Simpson said.
He believes there are grants for things the state should not be involved in, believing them to have questionable returns, but he did not cite any specific examples.
Simpson also said the state should consider contracting with private companies to maintain its infrastructure.
“If we can provide the same level of service … and we can do it and save money, then I think that should be looked at,” he said.
Simpson said funding the state Department of Environmental Conservation is a priority for him, even in a year when the budget is strained.
He said the state needs to take the financial success of its tourism campaigns and apply it back to the natural resource.
Simpson also said when the state adds land to the Forest Preserve, it also need to add forest rangers and infrastructure upgrades.
“Sadly, that’s where the state has not appropriated sufficient resources,” he said.
He said rangers “have done a great job under terrible circumstances.”
Simpson said the videos and reports of unarmed Black people being killed by police this summer, which sparked nationwide protests, were each single instances, adding that there are bad members of any profession.
He said the individual officers involved in these killings should be held accountable for their crimes but that the rest of the “good officers” should not be held responsible.
“But that doesn’t mean that you don’t look back … and look for ways to improve so you can prevent any of that ever happening again,” Simpson said. “There should always be a process whereby any police agency looks back at their policies for whether there can be improvements.”
He said growing up in the southeast U.S., he saw “significant racism” as a child and said he would like to prevent it.
He was asked about a bill that aims to prohibit police officers from racial profiling, which passed the Assembly but not the Senate this summer. It would require officers to self-record their on-duty actions, as well as the races of the individuals stopped. Stec voted against this bill, saying it would create an undue amount of paperwork for officers.
Simpson said he hasn’t read the bill, so he would not say how he would vote on it, but he said he is willing to learn more and find a resolution.
“I think we’ve got to do the right thing,” Simpson said. “We can’t have racial profiling.”
Simpson said he has personally experienced the burden of private health care insurance, from multiple positions.
In the first 25 years of his career, being self-employed, he had to purchase it on his own.
“It was very expensive,” Simpson said. “I think I paid about $1,600 to $1,800 a month.”
He said the root of the problem is the rising cost of health care, which he also said places a burden on businesses that offer coverage to employees.
He does not believe the single-payer New York Health Act is the way to fix the problem, because he said the state has no way to afford it.
“I think there needs to be certain level of security for people,” Simpson said. “I just don’t know, financially, what we can accomplish.”
He said the state should figure out a way to lower insurance costs for providers. He also said the state should find a more efficient way to use Medicaid funds.
He said telehealth can be used to reduce health care costs, but that it relies on strong broadband high-speed internet infrastructure.
Simpson said Cuomo has done a good job of expanding broadband, but that it needs to be more of a priority this year. He called broadband an “essential service.”
He said a new tax on laying fiber-optic cable along state highways is “counter-intuitive” and that he would work to eliminate it.
Keeping young population
Simpson cited a lack of reliable broadband as a major reason for young families not staying or moving to the North Country.
He lamented that young people do not often make their home in this area. He also cited a lack of job opportunities in certain fields as a reason.
His son graduated from Paul Smith’s College with a biology degree last year, and Simpson said he had to move because he couldn’t find work in his field here.
“We’re training, we’re educating our families, and then they’re leaving for lack of work,” Simpson said.
He also said he sees some areas doing it right.
“I really think Saranac Lake is onto something,” Simpson said. “I think something special is happening in that area. There seems to be a lot of younger people moving into Saranac Lake.”
He hypothesized that this is because of the village’s downtown area, which he believes brings a sense of community.
He said the state, which is in charge of infrastructure, could support other areas like this in the North Country.