State reps prep for session
Stec, Simpson want more broadband, oppose legalizing pot
A new state Legislature will convene for the first time on Wednesday, marking the beginning of a challenging six-month legislative session that will see lawmakers address the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and debate whether to legalize recreational marijuana and increase taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents.
But local lawmakers are still planning to push agendas that would cut wasteful spending, better fund schools and expand broadband and cellular service in rural areas.
Still, addressing the state’s estimated $15 billion budget deficit and dealing with the continued fallout from the pandemic, which has shuttered businesses and stunted the economy, will likely consume much of lawmakers’ time, said Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury.
“I know from having been in the Legislature for eight years, the biggest thing we take on in any given year is the budget,” Stec said. “Certainly because of COVID, this budget will be even more difficult and challenging than in years past.”
Prior to being elected to the state’s 45th Senate District in November, Stec served the 114th Assembly District for eight years. He succeeds longtime Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who retired last month after more than 30 years of public service.
Stec said his top priority is expanding broadband and cellular service throughout the sprawling district, which covers all of Warren, Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties and parts of Washington and St. Lawrence counties.
He’s pushing lawmakers to reduce regulations and taxes facing businesses, which he said prevents small businesses from starting and keeps larger ones from expanding, including those that provide internet service, which has become increasingly necessary since the pandemic hit.
Stec said he’s against increasing taxes as a way of addressing the state’s budget deficit, which is expected to balloon to an estimated $60 billion in the next four years.
Instead, he believes the state’s $179 billion budget should be reexamined and wasteful spending should be cut. He pointed to the state’s Hollywood tax credit and $100 million set aside for public campaign financing as programs that should be slashed immediately.
He also pointed to the state’s $75 billion Medicaid program, which he believes is riddled with fraud and waste. New York’s Medicaid program is larger than Texas and Florida combined, Stec said.
“That would be the place to go look: the fraud, waste and abuse,” he said.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon, has been busy transitioning from his role as the Horicon supervisor to his new responsibilities as representative of the 114th Assembly District.
Still, he’s been examining the state’s budget, talking with those in his district on how he can best serve them in his new role and getting to know his colleagues in the minority conference.
Simpson said he’s against marijuana legalization — a position shared by Stec — but noted he’s open to the discussion.
He’s focused on protecting education and public safety funding, and is looking into ways to reduce the state’s regulatory environment, which he said harms small businesses.
Broadband is also a key issue for Simpson, who said that significant progress has been made but there is plenty left to do. The state, he added, must start by rolling back a recently approved tax on fiber optic wires, which has discouraged expansion.
“The people that don’t have broadband are traditionally in the more rural areas where it’s so costly per mile for the infrastructure that there isn’t enough support for a for-profit company to build that infrastructure,” he said. “We need to figure out how to partner with them (broadband providers) to make that happen.”
Simpson also said lawmakers should cut economic development programs that have failed to produce and slash other wasteful spending when it comes time to approve a budget.
Still, Simpson believes that state will need some type of funding from the federal government, which has so far provided no aid to state and local governments.
But federal taxpayers, he added, should not be on the hook for New York’s previous budget woes.
“That’s New York state’s responsibility; that’s not the federal government’s responsibility,” Simpson said.