New York’s Lieutenant Governor met virtually with members of the North Country Chamber on Wednesday afternoon. She discussed economic issues and bypassed any mention of scandals swirling in Albany political circles.
The North Country Chamber Is holding a series of conversations with legislative leaders to discuss the budget and economic issues including cross border concerns and the vaccine rollout. Chamber President Garry Douglas moderates the sessions and selects pre-submitted questions.
Hochul did not hold any open q-and-a, and didn’t address the sexual harassment allegations that have roiled Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Douglas noted that the regional chamber has partnered with New York’s Lieutenant Governor since she took office.
“We maybe got a little sidetracked with the pandemic, actually a lot sidetracked, on some things and maybe haven’t been able to do some of the classic economic development things," Douglas said. "But the interest is there. The positivity is there and over the next few years we are going to do together I know some great economic development things. But first we have to finish getting through this pandemic. We’re all starting to see that we’re making real progress, starting to be hopeful and optimistic particularly in the business community.”
Lieutenant Governor Hochul, a Democrat, discussed the state budget and the impact of the pandemic. She said funding from Washington in the American Rescue Act would help tremendously and was pleased that in the midst of the conversation with Douglas it was confirmed that the U.S. House had given final approval to the $1.9 trillion package.
“If that did not happen my friends I’d be telling you everything we’re going to have to cut," Hochul said.
Douglas: “A lot of good news in that bill that is going to help business here in the North Country. Let me ask with regard to the state budget, we’re coming up on April 1st, do you anticipate an on-time budget and a budget that when passed will put New York kind of on an even keel?”
Hochul: “I do because I know now we have that lifeline from the federal government. This pandemic we all of a sudden found ourselves in a $15 billion hole. If it had ended up that we did not get the assistance we needed that would have thwarted a lot of our other economic development projects. So I feel like we should be on time. I’m not making any guarantees.”
The North Country region abuts the Canadian border, which has been closed to non-essential travelers for nearly a year. Chamber officials have been calling for interim steps to reopen the border. Hochul, who lives near the border in the Buffalo region, says some ideas are being floated to reinstate the normal cross border relationship.
“We are launching a passport of sorts to show that you’ve either been recently tested negative in the last 72 hours which is what we tested when people came into the Buffalo Bills game," Hochul said. "We were able to allow 7,000 spectators with no problems at all. So you could have a passport and app that shows that you’ve been vaccinated or that you’ve had a test. That’s being worked on right now. And we can get that and let our Canadian friends know that would you be willing to accept this at border crossings. I think there’s going to be enormous pent up demand.”
Douglas: “Yeah there is.”
Hochul: “I miss going over to Canada all time. We want them to come and visit us as well. I think they may be a month behind us in terms of vaccination only because of supply.”
The North Country Chamber has scheduled a virtual conversation with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on March 17th.