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Cuomo Proposes Major Trail, Plan For Property Tax Relief

Courtesy of the office of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered the third of his six regional State of the State addresses today in the Hudson Valley. One of his proposals got positive feedback while another is facing some criticism, as he predicted.

Under the umbrella of a proposed Middle Class Recovery Act, the Democratic governor unveiled a number of proposals at SUNY Purchase, including one he believes would be a legacy project.

“We want to build the largest state multi-use trail in the nation, the Empire State Trail,” Cuomo says. “It would go from New York City to the North Country, from Albany to Buffalo.”

He says to achieve the 750-mile trail, the state would build 350 miles of new trail in three phases for a pathway for hiking and biking along scenic vistas and through historic communities. The plan includes completing the Hudson River Valley Greenway and Erie Canalway trails by 2020 to realize the Empire State Trail. Cuomo says the project’s total cost would be $200 million, and proposed $53 million of this for phase one. The proposal was met positively by Scenic Hudson and Democratic Ulster County Executive Mike Hein.

“The governor’s commitment to doing this will just expedite the speed at which we are working,” says Hein. “We are committed to making the greatest trail network really in all of the United States of America but we’re excited about creating a world-class trail network right in Ulster County. This clearly will help in that process.”

Cuomo then proposed a Property Tax Relief Plan, saying that, apart from the 2 percent property tax cap, he has done what he can do. He used Westchester County, with 425 local governments and the highest property taxes in the nation, as an example where such a plan would help.

“I believe if you put these 425 local governments in the room and the county executive stood here and said, we’re going to stay in this room until we figure out how to save money, because not everybody needs to buy a new road tractor every two years. We can share,” Cuomo says.

Cuomo, a Westchester resident, says the plan calls for the county executive to bring together the local governments and other stakeholders to create a plan to share services, find efficiencies and reduce costs. Cuomo says to then put the plan on a November ballot.

“And I’ve tried every way that I can do it. I am telling you unless the citizens get into the game it’s not going to change,” Cuomo says. “And the opposition to this is going to be fierce because it’s going to be the entire political class is going to oppose it. So I’m going to need the people of this state to stand up and speak loudly and say, we’re tired of paying these high property taxes.”

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro believes the plan is politically motivated.

“You cannot merely lecture local governments and say, ‘it is your fault’. Seventy cents of every dollar that I have to charge to Dutchess County taxpayers goes to pay for a New York state program, a New York state policy,” says Molinaro. “I would ask that the governor brings all of us together so that we can truly education and get to solutions that drive down property taxes. And the way to do that is to reduce the state spending and the state imposition of costs onto local property taxpayers.”

Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress President and CEO Jonathan Drapkin commends the governor for including the proposal, but believes he faces an uphill battle and is missing a component.

“It’s tough, it is very hard. And to single the county executives out it also sort of makes the conversation that they are responsible for the cost of local government and property taxes but it ignores that there’s another bigger piece of that puzzle which is 65 percent of your real property taxes going to schools.”

Ulster County Executive Hein weighs in.

“It’s something that we do already. And we look forward to working with local governments And there’s a reality In Ulster County, property taxes at the county level are less than they were back in 2010 when I did my first county executive budget. That’s what we’re doing. We embrace this on a regular basis at the local level.”

Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus is willing to give it a try.

“He is right. You have all these cliquey areas that are saying no, I’m not interested,” Neuhuas says. “If they’re not interested, they’re going to have to pay the bill. If they’re interested in saving money, let’s consolidate.”

Neuhaus welcomed Cuomo’s plan in Orange County to accelerate a $150 million reconstruction project to build the Town of Woodbury Transit and Economic Development Hub. The project would improve access to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, expand the Route 32 corridor and reconfigure the Route 17, Exit 131 eastbound ramp leading to the state Thruway.

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