Local officials back governor’s mental health commitment

While Gov. Kathy Hochul is outlining some of her goals for 2024, local officials like some of her points, but are weary about topics that weren’t addressed.

On Tuesday, Hochul gave her annual State of the State speech in Albany, which kicks off the new year. Among those in attendance was Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel.

Wendel noted that he appreciated how Hochul emphasized the need for mental health treatment and is also looking to address retail theft. “The punishment needs to fit the crimes as far as who needs to be remanded on bail. Those are critical and the governor is very well aware of those. I think the biggest piece that anyone across New York state and across our country will tell you is our increased issues with mental health,” he said.

County Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon, who watched the governor’s address online, agrees with Wendel. “I was pleased to hear her focus on reforms to the judicial system in terms of behavioral health. I think she has a very good focus on the mental health system,” he said.

Chagnon also was pleased to hear Hochul address the state’s spending. “I thought it was very positive that she was reminding everyone that the state cannot spend money that they don’t have and that that’s going to lead to some very hard decisions. I was delighted to hear her point that out,” he said.

In her speech, Hochul noted how people are moving out of New York, which hurts the state on a number of levels. She blamed some of that population loss on the lack of affordable housing.

Wendel agreed that New York’s housing stock is old and outdated, but he believes the population loss is more to do with the business climate in the state. “There are multiple levels of taxing jurisdictions. You have towns, villages, the county, our cities, our school districts,” he said.

State Sen. George Borrello also believes that the population loss is not simply due to housing. “The worst-in-the-nation outmigration of our residents is a problem that threatens our future. It requires more than new affordable housing units, as the governor suggests. New York state’s combined state and local tax rates are the highest in the nation.

Numerous polls have found that this crushing tax burden is the primary reason people are leaving New York. We heard no plans to tackle that issue,” he said.

Borrello was also highly critical of the problem regarding resettled migrants from the southern border to New York. “The most glaring omission was any plan for dealing with Democrats’ self-created migrant crisis, which is draining billions of taxpayer dollars and shows no signs of slowing down. Simply throwing more money at this problem isn’t an answer,” he said.

Wendel, too, said he believes the migration problem needs to be addressed immediately, saying Hochul should “put a halt – a one-year pause on sanctuary state status and I’m sure (New York City) Mayor (Eric) Adams would gladly support – a sanctuary city status pause in New York City.”

Chagnon said he wished Hochul would have addressed the growing fentanyl problem in the state. He noted the only time she addressed substance abuse was a crackdown of businesses who sell marijuana illegally.

State Assemblyman Joe Giglio, whose district includes all of Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, said he was disappointed the governor did not address the gaming compact between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the state. “Negotiating a new gaming compact with the Seneca Nation is critical to our regional economy. I’m disappointed that Gov. Hochul chose to ignore the biggest issue facing the economic well-being of Western New York in her State of the State address,” he said.

Wendel said during his visit in Albany, there was no discussion regarding the future of Brooks Hospital, either. “We’re all in support and they need to release that funding. … Make the decision, get that funding out, so that process can begin,” he said.


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