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What kind of senator does Stec want to be?

Senator speaks on budget, vaccines, his new position

State Sen. Dan Stec speaks Monday at the Enterprise office. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — Stopping into the Enterprise offices on Monday, state Sen. Dan Stec shared his thoughts on the type of senator he’d like to be, the recently passed state budget and COVID-19 vaccinations.

After eight years in the state Assembly, the Republican from Queensbury moved to the Senate when he won election last November, replacing the longtime Republican legislator Betty Little as she retired. He said he would like to emulate Little’s hard work, to be everywhere in his district and accessible to his constituents.

The GOP’s role in the state Senate changed as the house flipped from Republican to Democratic control in the 2018 election.

“My job now is to debate bills,” he said. “When you’re in the majority you loathe that. You’re like ‘Ugh, I’ve got to go debate this bill because people are going to nit-pick my bills.’ Now that those roles are reversed, you need someone that’s going to question and push.”

Stec said he’s comfortable debating. As there are only 20 Republicans in the 63-seat Senate and since senators have to debate in person, he’s been chosen several times as the one to challenge bills.

It’s been hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, because the opportunities to get to know his new Senate colleagues have been limited.

“COVID has really slowed down the chance to build that relationship,” he said.

Stec said he likes to get to know senators across the aisle so they can disagree in debate and still see each other as good people.

He said he wants to avoid something he’s seen become common in politics: name calling. It’s one thing to challenge ideas from opposing political parties and hold other members accountable, he said, but name calling is not productive.

He believes social media makes this worse. He sees it from citizen trolls and elected officials alike, and hopes he doesn’t fall into it in his online statements.

“I’m more than my Facebook page. I’m more than my press releases. I’m more than my floor debate,” Stec said. “I mean, that’s important and I own that. I embrace all of it. … but that’s not all I am. I’m a parent. I’m a husband.”

Cuomo and the budget

Still, there’s a time to be aggressive, he said. He has become more aggressive with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling for the governor’s resignation and working to limit his powers as Cuomo has been embroiled in two scandals — one over undercounting of COVID-related nursing home deaths, and another because of sexual harassment allegations from multiple women.

Stec said he thinks he’d do the same thing for a Republican governor.

“I didn’t wake up January 1 and say, ‘I’m the senator now. Let’s go out there, put the gloves on and smack the governor around,” he said.

On the other hand, there is a downside to criticizing Cuomo.

Stec believes these gubernatorial controversies led to Cuomo agreeing to a lot of spending in the state budget passed last week that he never would have approved in the past.

“He got steamrolled in this budget by the progressives,” Stec said. “He was the check on the Legislature when it came to spending. He was the fiscally cautious one.”

The state budget has grown $40 billion in last two years, he said, calling this “reckless and unsustainable.”

Stec believes increased taxes on New York’s wealthiest residents in this budget will drive out business owners who provide jobs and tax revenue.

To bring these people back, or convince them to stay, he said New York must lower taxes and correct what he sees as several criminal justice mistakes the state has made in recent years. He believes bail reform, among other changes, has led to higher crime rates. He believes the state can improve law and order by “not bashing the police.”

Lowering taxes, Stec said, will take a long time. To do so, he said the state must spend wisely while also investing in infrastructure, such as water and wastewater projects.

Asked where the state will get this money, he suggested Medicaid. The benefit is so generous in New York Stec said people leave other states and move here for Medicaid benefits.

Stec said if the state can eliminate its estimated $5 billion in Medicaid fraud a year, that’s $5 billion more the state has without cutting anyone’s benefits.

He also said the state should cut tax credits for movie making and public campaign finances.

COVID vaccine

Stec said New Yorkers should get vaccinated against COVID-19, but he also said he understands why people don’t want to get it and would not want the state to mandate it.

“I’m getting it,” Stec said. “I think people should get the vaccine.

“This vaccine issue has been an issue before COVID,” he added. “I guess the question is, ‘Do you believe the messaging you’re getting from the government on its safety and its efficacy?’ I do. Could I be wrong? I suppose I could be wrong. Has the government never lied before?”

He said there are many checks and balances on the safety of this vaccine, and he personally believes it is safe and effective. He said some medical professionals have said it’s not, but, “They’re in the minority.” He compared this to climate change, in which the majority of scientists believe humans are increasing the global tempature, with a few critics.

He said getting to herd immunity is a public health issue but should not infringe on personal freedoms.

“I get really nervous about telling anybody, ‘You will take this injection in your arm,'” Stec said. “If you’re convinced for any reason — even if you’re wrong — that this is a government cover-up or that this is bad, or that this goes against the fiber of your belief system, I can’t think of anything more invasive.”

Prison closures

Stec has opposed state closures of prisons, including the April 1 closure of the Clinton Annex and Watertown prisons in the North Country. He fears closed prisons will stay abandoned and become blights.

He said the state’s track record of reusing closed prisons is not good, adding that he is still pursuing Little’s amendment allowing the former Camp Gabriels to be bought. The prison closed in 2009, but environmentalists say a constitutional amendment is needed for it not to be considered part of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve.

The state’s prison inmate population is shrinking, and Stec said the state is planning to close more prisons in the future.

DEC

On the topic of hiking in the High Peaks, Stec prefers to say there is “high use” on the trails rather than “overuse.” He said if the state wants more people to hike and recreate in the Adirondacks, it should fund the staff needed to do so.

Stec’s father was a state Department of Environmental Conservation forest ranger. He said writing parking tickets is a poor use of forest rangers’ time and that they should be in the backcountry instead.

He also said a lawsuit over timber cutting has held up several parking lot expansion projects.

He suggested the state use inmates at Moriah Shock Correctional Facility for trail work.

Broadband

Stec had some advice for the federal government as the Biden administration attempts to get involved in spending on broadband expansion as part of an infrastructure bill: Get new maps before the money starts flowing. He said “granular” planning will make money spent on infrastructure more targeted and effective.

He also said small providers should be involved in the planning, adding that big corporations have been the only consultants for the state when it’s drafted broadband language before.

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