The North Country Chamber recently held its annual legislative breakfast forum with the region’s three New York state representatives. Two are relatively new to their legislative positions, and all discussed the implications of the proposed state budget for the area.
In November, Republican Dan Stec was elected to represent the 45th state Senate district after Betty Little retired after nearly 25 years in the capitol. Senator Stec said the budget needs to weigh public health with a balanced and safe economy. He anticipates an unusual budget year ahead. “It looks like the federal government number is going to be closer to the $15 billion than the $6 billion. I think that’s good news. You know I have some philosophical and some very real concerns over you know is this sustainable? Is this a temporary fix to a systemic problem that we have in Albany? I mean that’s been my opinion since before COVID and then COVID just made matters worse and brought out the challenges that we face in New York. And so now we’re going to have that struggle as what to do with taxes. But we’re going to try to put together a budget that doesn’t break the bank for all of you, gets our state back up and running and something back to normal.”
Democrat D. Billy Jones was unchallenged in his race for a third term representing the 115th Assembly District. He agrees that this year in particular the state budget presents unique challenges for state legislators. “The budget doesn’t look great right now. The governor has proposed in his budget $6 billion coming from the federal government, $3 billion being put in this year, $3 billion next year. We’re seeing good signs out of Washington that we are going to get some substantial help in that area but we don’t have anything concrete yet so it can make it even harder for us. Education overall the governor’s proposal looks like an increase but we see foundation aid being kept flat which is not good for our school districts here in the North Country.”
Former Republican Warren County Town Supervisor Matt Simpson was elected to fill Stec’s former 114th Assembly seat representing Essex and Warren Counties and parts of Saratoga and Washington counties. He said his focus as he begins working in Albany is reviewing regulations. He said he will confront burdensome taxes that create an unfair business environment. “We have a plan for recovery, our conference, and we’re going to look at every one of those regulations and we’re going to look at every proposal to raise taxes that’s going to influence how business is done in the North Country.”
Jones says one of the key issues he hears about from constituents is broadband access. “This is an issue that we work on time and time again. Thirty to forty percent of my constituent services deal with broadband and cell service. It’s a huge issue here. The governor has proposed in his budget unfortunately not new money for a buildout, and that’s something we have been fighting for, but he has called for a plan for affordability. I still say we need accessibility along with affordability.”
Simpson agrees that broadband is among the top priorities for the region. “This has risen to a level that it’s important as having electric in your home. And we need to see this through and make it happen. We need to look at all those reasons why it’s so costly for those providers to provide that service. The DOT fees, there’s pole attachment fees. But it’s equally important that expand the cellular capabilities in the Adirondacks. So that’s one of my highest priorities along with trying to build a much better business climate in New York.”
Other issues discussed included the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in the North Country and reopening the U.S.-Canada border.