The North Country Chamber recently held its annual Legislative Breakfast, bringing in the region’s New York state representatives in Albany to report on actions taken over the past year and forecasts for the region as this session continues. WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was there.
More than 200 business and regional officials from Clinton, Franklin, Essex and St. Lawrence counties packed in to hear from 45th District Republican Senator Betty Little, Republican 114th District Assemblyman Dan Stec — who is now running to replace the retiring Little — and 115th District Democratic Assemblyman D. Billy Jones.
Chamber President and CEO Garry Douglas provided an overview of the chamber’s annual issues survey and confidence index and then presented Little with a bouquet of roses.
“Thank you Betty."
Sneator Little: "It’s been a great time, a great job, I’ve loved every second of it and I have to keep telling people I’m still working until December 31st! There’s still more we can get done and the top on my list is the cellphone coverage. We’ve got to cover the gaps. It’s all about our health, safety and our economy.”
The two assemblymen echoed the need to expand rural broadband into areas of their districts as the primary focus of their comments. Jones said almost half of all constituent calls and emails to his office are due to cellular and broadband access concerns. “Nobody want to move to a place that doesn’t have that kind of connectivity and we really need to work on it. We’re working on it day in and day out. It’s a little frustrating.”
Assemblyman Stec expressed a number of concerns about the proposed budget and said non-fiscal items should not be included. “In New York state we have this awful, awful history of including things that have nothing to do with revenues and expenses in what is a $176 billion budget. We put things in the budget that would never pass on their own two legs because they’re using the leverage of the spending plan to get controversial items through. It’s poor planning. It’s not transparent government. It’s poor policy. But as far as dollars and cents in the budget $6.1 billion deficit, largely Medicaid. I’m concerned with the governor’s idea of fixing Medicaid is going to be putting more pressure and frankly costs back on the counties.”
Changing the newly implemented bail reforms has been part of the budget negotiations and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently told WAMC it must be part of the budget. “We have to improve the bail reform bill. I won’t sign a budget without it.”
But the three North Country legislators agreed the bail reform bill is not a fiscal item and should be considered separately. Assemblyman Jones added there’s been no public input on the reforms. “It’s not the right way to do it. We should take it out have hearings on it. Even Leader Heastie said we need more data. Why don’t we have hearings on this? Why didn’t we have hearings on this”
Senator Little: “It needs to be reformed. There needs to be hearings. There needs to be meetings. There needs to be input from every facet of it.”
Assemblyman Stec: “We fundamentally changed the criminal justice system without involving the sheriff’s association and the district attorneys’ association. That’s irresponsible. That’s reckless.”
Democratic Senate candidate Kimberly Davis attended the event. No comments were made about the campaign during the legislative breakfast.