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Hudson Valley News

NYS Senator Discusses Budget Issues

NYS Senator Pete Harckham

With the New York state budget due April 1, it’s time to reconcile the legislature’s proposals with the governor’s spending plan. On Monday, one of the Hudson Valley’s Democratic state senators discussed aspects of the Senate’s budget, and weighed in on such topics as legalizing recreational marijuana and sports betting.

On a conference call with reporters, Senator Pete Harckham delivered what he said were some highlights of the budget from his house.

“For the town and municipalities, we restored AIM funding, that’s the Aid to Municipalities. We restored the CHIPS [Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program] program, which is a road maintenance and paving fund for municipalities and, further, we increased that by $150 million, first increase in many, many years,” Harckham says. “We restored the severe weather paving money that was also cut in the executive budget. We put in $10 million for early voting.”

And he says there is funding in relation to the scheduled shutdown of the Buchanan-based Indian Point nuclear power plant. Unit 2 is set to close by April 2020, and Unit 3, by 2021.

“We added $24 million to the Indian Point cessation fund so that when those power plants go offline and stop paying their PILOT [payment in lieu of taxes], the school district and the local municipalities will be able to draw on those funds for a period,” Harckham says.

Harckham, who chairs the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, has reservations about legalizing recreational marijauana, saying the issue needs more time and attention.

“I don’t think it needs to be rushed in the budget. We need time to address our residents’ concerns, chief among them, we need time for a public education campaign, at least a year in advance, because there’ve been very mixed messages here. To our young people we say, stay away from marijuana, it’s illegal, it’s bad for you, and now this talk of legalization. So our school districts and our parents are saying the public education piece is critical,” says Harckham. “And our police departments are saying that they need time to train drug recognition experts because there’s no field sobriety test the way there is for alcohol.”

Harckham represents the 40th District, which includes parts of Putnam County, northern Westchester and two towns in Dutchess County. The health committee of the Putnam County Legislature is set to discuss the legalization of recreational marijuana this evening. Republican Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell opposes legalization and could opt her county out of marijuana sales. Again, Harckham.

“The third thing that we’re discussing is beyond a city or a county opt-out would be a town and village opt-out,” says Harckham. “We’re hearing from municipalities in Westchester, like Pleasantville, that they would like the option to opt out as well.”

Harckham does support legalizing sports betting.

“The most revenue that will be derived for the state is online, but the way the state’s constitution is, is written, it seems like people will have to go to one of the New York state casinos to sign up to do online sports betting, but I do agree with it,” Harckham says. “It’s something the public seems to want, and we’re behind the curve on this one.”

Saying the business wouldn’t be that lucrative for New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking Monday on WAMC’s Roundtable, offered a different take.

“I am not a fan, pardon the pun, of the new mobile sports betting. You can bet any time from your cell phone,” says Cuomo.

Harckham expects a few areas to feature prominently in budget negotiations, one being education aid.

“We’ve managed to reallocate from within the budget lines — and, again, this also goes to Senator Flanagan’s point, this is not new spending, it’s just reallocation within the lines of the budget — a billion dollars for increased foundation aid, I think $1.2 billion,” says Harckham. “And we can’t keep going back to the property taxpayers for education funding. We have districts like Peekskill and Ossining that have been underfunded for years and years.”

State Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, in a statement March 15, said, “This Democrat one-house wish list, complete with high taxes, is a fiscal disaster that includes $3.5 billion in runaway spending.” Harckham disagrees.

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