Stec outlines priorities ahead of 2022 session
SARANAC LAKE — State Sen. Dan Stec will have no shortage of issues to handle when the state Legislature returns to session in January, and he’s already spent some his time out of session learning about and talking about these topics.
Stec’s been in the Tri-Lakes area several times this month, each time with a list of events, tours and interviews planned.
“I like to hike in loops and I like to drive in loops,” said Stec, an avid hiker.
And when it comes to state issues, he tends to talk in loops. Many of the challenges the state faces are connected. Some affect each other, others have similar core issues.
Several times, during interviews with the Enterprise, Stec asked the question, “What kind of government do we want?” That’s a question he feels the state Legislature is asking itself a lot nowadays.
He said the state could move toward a more government-controlled economy or a more laissez-faire economy with less government involvement. Stec said most people want an economy somewhere in the middle, so it’s a constant balancing act. He said it’s hard for the government to choose the winners and losers.
But the state does choose winners and losers. The state has funded large Olympic venue renovations, but still lacks broadband connection around them. The state strictly regulates child care providers, but has declined to regulate short-term vacation rentals.
Stec said he doesn’t always agree with the state’s decisions, but he’ll be pushing to improve the lives of the people living in his district.
He was in town on Nov. 9 and had a lot on his mind.
Stec said the state does not always follow through well on the big issues. He said bureaucracy leads to people checking a box, getting a photo and moving on.
He said broadband is one of these unfinished issues that he feels the state has largely moved on from, and it’s one of his priorities going into the next legislative session.
He wants to remove the fiber optic tax on state highways and the state Department of Transportation’s survey fee.
The fiber optic tax is a fee the DOT charges to allow providers to run cables along its roads.
This survey fee was started by the DOT on its own three years ago, he said, and the governor could call them and end it at any time. With this fee, he said the money the state gives companies to expand broadband just ends up in the DOT’s pocket.
It leads to providers avoiding state highways, he said, creating pockets without access.
Stec said during the pandemic, many employers and employees realized they can work from home. He said this flexibility helps ease the child care crisis, but there’s still a huge gap between the demand for child care and the available supply.
“There are six times as many kids that need a child care slot than slots available,” Stec said.
There are lots of state and federal funds to subsidize child care, but he does not believe this is a sustainable long-term solution.
He thinks the system should be rearranged so subsidies are not needed. He also wants to make it easier for someone to become an in-home child care provider. There needs to be rules and regulations, he said, but he believes the state can remove some of the inspections and oversights — the “hoops” — and maintain safety.
“Lower the bars that can be lowered … to raise supply,” he said.
The state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Olympic Regional Development Authority-managed winter sports facilities in Lake Placid, North Creek and the Catskills ahead of the 2023 World University Games. Stec said it’s not sustainable to keep spending this much on ORDA facilities, but he said this level of funding won’t last forever — this is the first big improvement some of the facilities have gotten since the 1980 Olympics.
“Are we going to stay in the winter sports business or not?” he asked. If the answer is “yes,” he said these improvements needed to happen.
Hosting smaller winter games in Lake Placid is good for the area, he said. While he doubts the town will host an Olympics again, he added: “Never say never.”
“Do you believe in miracles?” Stec’s Communications Director Daniel Mac Entee said, quoting ABC sportscaster Al Michaels’ commentary after the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet team during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
Stec acknowledged that housing is a big issue in the Tri-Lakes.
He said when he was a town supervisor, he got grants for housing improvements. He said with just a little help to fund a roof or furnace replacement, people can say in their homes for years longer.
But when he was asked if the state should put more money into these grants, he wasn’t so sure. He already thinks the state spends too much money and one of his main goals is to keep expenses low, so taxes do not rise.
He said he’d rather reshuffle the money than add more to the budget. Stec was asked about frequent comparisons between state funding for things like ORDA and things like housing.
“I hear that,” he said.
But he added that the sizeable investment in ORDA is a once-in-40-years event. This work needed to be done on the state’s winter sports venues to keep them operating and bringing in money and tourism, he said, adding that large events like the World University Games are motivators for the state to get that work done.
Short-term vacation rentals
Stec said short-term vacation rentals may contribute to the local housing shortage. He also acknowledged that STRs can cause parking and septic overuse problems on some lakeside properties.
But he said that he believes regulation of short-term vacation rentals should be a local decision rather than a state one.
“I know that the local towns board and village board don’t relish that,” Stec said.
He said local governments should each pick what’s best for themselves — which is different from town to town.
Stec also said he believes in property rights, but acknowledged he got his start in government on a zoning board, which essentially tells people what to do with their properties.
Again, he asked: “What kind of government do we want?”
It’s hard to say the state should choose the “winners” and “losers,” he said.
There’s been a push in the past two years in Tupper Lake for the state to take over the long-defunct Big Tupper Ski Area, as the slope on Mount Morris may be sold at a Franklin County auction due to back taxes left unpaid by the developers who tried to reopen it in the 2010s.
A petition asking ORDA to manage Big Tupper, created last year by a Tupper Lake resident, newly elected town council member and former ski patrol member Rick Donah, now has over 10,000 signatures.
Stec was hesitant to support ORDA running Big Tupper. He said it would add more expenses to the state budget, and growing up with a friend whose father owned a private ski area, he said the state holds a monopoly on that industry. When private ski area owners pay taxes, they fund their competitors at state-run ski areas.
He said he’s not fully against ORDA running Big Tupper, but he’d need a compelling argument to agree to it.
“Is that the best use of taxpayers money right now? I don’t think so,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of other areas to spend money.”