New York state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones of the 115th district represents Clinton and Franklin counties and the St. Lawrence county towns of Piercefield, Lawrence, Hopkinton, and Brasher. First elected in 2016, the Democrat tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley that along with the COVID pandemic, the state budget must be the overriding priority during the new legislative session.
“The governor is proposing several revenue enhancers on that. I agree with some I don't agree with others. And we'll have to see you know where it lands and how we get there through the budget process. But my issues, besides obviously the pandemic, have not changed here for the North Country. We need broadband, cell phone coverage, now more than ever we have seen that. Even some of my colleagues across the state have seen that, you know, with distance learning, you know, businesses having to go online, people having to go online working from home. We've always felt that here in the North Country. We need this to be connected to the rest of the world. That certainly is a priority. Infrastructure. Our infrastructure needs some TLC, major overhauls in some areas, roads, bridges, drinking water, you know, our sewer systems. Those are the kinds of bread and butter issues, so to speak, that affect my residents the most. And education, health care, obviously, comes into that.”
Pat Bradley: “You mentioned that there were some quote-unquote revenue enhancements that the governor might have in his budget that you might support. Which ones are you thinking you might support?”
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones: “Online sports gambling. I'm coming around on and I do support it. I feel that we have let a lot of that revenue go to other states around us. New Jersey is making millions and millions and tens of millions of dollars off from this. I think we can get a share of that. People are doing it here anyway. I realize there are issues with people that have gambling issues. But certainly I think that's something to look forward or look to. There's also several other little things that we can look at. I've had a bill out there for a couple of years. We see these UTV vehicles. These vehicles are over 1000 pounds, over 1100 pounds. There is a fee out there that New York state could put on. It's a drop in the bucket. Yeah. But you know what? It adds up. So there's certain other things like that that we can be looking at as well. Revenue raisers does not automatically mean raising taxes and I will say that I will not be for raising the taxes on our middle class and low income earners.”
Pat Bradley: “Recreational marijuana. What's your thoughts on that?”
Jones: “Well I was for decriminalizing marijuana and small amounts. I voted for that. We have done that. I still have issues with full out recreational use. I'm very close to the recovery community here locally. Most are adamantly against it. Law enforcement still not for it. As far as revenue there's been so many numbers thrown around about marijuana and the amount of money that it would bring in. So I don't know what we what we know what that would bring in. But certainly this year more than any I think it does, regardless of my personal opinions, it does stand a chance of passing. I certainly still have some apprehension towards it.”
Bradley: “As we start the session do you have any pieces of legislation ready to go? Do you have any that you're planning at this point?”
Assemblyman Jones: “Sure and I just talked about spoke on one of them, UTV, let's register these vehicles. EMS recovery bill that will help our volunteer fire departments out. Small communities and these small volunteer fire departments are suffering getting ambulances out the door because simply they don't have the volunteers anymore. We're hoping to get some traction behind that bill. And certainly, once we get on with the budget, the areas that have always been of concern to me: helping our seniors out, veterans, our infrastructure, economic development here in the North Country. Hopefully we can get that back on track because I am a bit more optimistic that we will get state and local aid in another federal stimulus package. I think my colleagues and I are more confident that something will come out of this to get us that much needed federal stimulus aid for our state and local governments.”
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones was unchallenged and re-elected to a third term in November.