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Local legislators dissect State of the State

Local state legislators’ reactions to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address Monday were uniform across the Senate and Assembly, as well as party lines.

Assemblymen Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, and Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, said they felt the governor’s speech Monday lacked in detail, but that more is still to come. Cuomo said he is spreading the speech over several days this week and will focus on specifics in future addresses.

Simpson called Cuomo’s plan “ambitious” in a press release.

“I campaigned on my desire to take part in the legislative process and look forward to working alongside all members of the State Assembly on charting the best course forward,” Simpson wrote. “While ambitious, however, the outlined plan lacked some of the specifics we need to begin understanding what reconstruction will truly entail.”

State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, and Jones said they would like the state Legislature to begin meeting in person.

“Schools and businesses and many other organizations are ‘in-person’ and so, too, should our state government,” Stec said in a press release. “We have to meet. Working remotely had its time and place, but it isn’t an effective way to govern.”

Deficit

The state faces a $15 billion deficit, the largest in its history.

Jones said he hopes for more help from the federal government, mentioning that Sen. Chuck Schumer, who recently because the majority leader for the Democrats in the Senate, is a New Yorker from Brooklyn. He said he hopes New York will get “sorely needed federal aid.”

Cuomo spoke about this in his speech, too. He said the federal government needs to help the state through this hard time,

“We are a fiscally responsible state,” Cuomo said.

Asked about this statement, Jones said, “Obviously, we had a deficit before this.”

“I think it’s true sometimes, and sometimes I don’t think it’s true,” Jones said with a laugh. “I think there would be an argument that we are fiscally unresponsible when it comes to certain things.”

Jones said he would like to see a plan that does not raise taxes on already burdened residents.

He supports Cuomo’s plan to legalize mobile sports betting as a new revenue stream for the state.

Jones proposed that the state allow the registration of utility terrain vehicles weighing over 1,000 pounds as another revenue source.

He said he does not think legalizing marijuana should be “rushed for economic reasons.”

“We must consider the potential impact this decision could have on the safety and well-being of New Yorkers, especially those in recovery,” Jones wrote in a statement.

Vaccine

Stec said his constituents have vented to him their frustration with the “slow and confusing” rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. He said the state needs to get older people, the most vulnerable population to the virus, vaccinated soon.

“The state had months to get ready for this,” Stec said in a press release. “The state taking it over initially, instead of working with our counties, who prepare every year for this kind of exercise, has been a mistake.”

Jones agreed.

“Oh it’s been horrible,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of confusion. … It has not been a good rollout.”

He said the federal and state government need to coordinate better. Jones said he believes the rollout is going to get worse as the state starts vaccinating people in group 1b before vaccinating everyone in group 1a.

Jones, a former corrections officer, said state prison staff need to be vaccinated for community safety.

Simpson said he wants to see more “tangible logistics on the state’s vaccination distribution plan.”

Broadband

Jones said while the governor’s focus on expanding telehealth is good, it needs to be preceded by expanding high-speed internet access to all in the North Country where “last mile” coverage gaps are still prevalent. He said Cuomo touched on broadband expansion but that it needs to be a priority.

“The use of telehealth is very valuable, and improving it makes sense,” Stec said in a statement. “Along with the ideas the governor has, he has to recognize that we need better broadband to ensure that everyone can make use of this technology that can help keep them well.”

Simpson also said he would like the governor to focus on “the much needed broadband and infrastructure requirements updates for our upstate communities.”

COVID recovery

Jones said broadband also plays a role in restoring the North Country’s economy. He also said the state should provide direct small business aid, specifically for landlords.

“The struggles of North Country residents has not been fully realized, and while the governor’s eviction moratorium seeks to help those in vulnerable housing and employment situations, we have yet to provide direct support to small landlords leaving them without the rent income they need to pay their own bills and maintain housing,” Jones wrote.

Stec said the state’s focus needs to be on “resetting New York’s economy to create economic activity, jobs and revenue to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Simpson said he wants to learn more about Cuomo’s plan to lower taxes and extend urgent relief to small business, saying they are “on the brink of collapse” due to COVID-19.

Voting

Jones said he has always supported the no-excuse absentee voting for all New Yorkers, which was expanded last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes letting the state Board of Elections count votes earlier will improve the system.

“While I support the governor’s election reform initiatives, I don’t believe mandating extra hours for local (board of elections) workers is the answer and will work with my colleagues to find other solutions,” he wrote.

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