ALBANY - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have big ideas for the state in the upcoming year, but he may be missing the mark when it comes to Western New York.
In his State of the State address Wednesday, Cuomo discussed plans for economic development, education, public safety, government reform, responding to crisis and his progressive agenda.
Despite all that was covered during the nearly two-hour address, some lawmakers believe there is still more that can be done in the upcoming year.
Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, each were encouraged by Cuomo's commitments to not raise taxes.
"Not raising taxes or fees is critical to making our state more competitive so more jobs can be created," Sen. Young said. "We need to get people back to work, create good-paying jobs to sustain our families, and have career opportunities for our young people so they can stay after they graduate."
Goodell agreed, but said the state needs to develop a friendlier business environment if it is to be successful in the national or international field.
"The importance of being competitive on a state level, closer to home, in Chautauqua County just last week, when we had the loss of jobs at Carriage House and Petri's Baking," he said. "So, that is absolutely critical for the future of our state."
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN
Cuomo also called for closing loopholes on a state ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets during his address. However, Sen. Young and Goodell believe that the ban is not enough.
According to Sen. Young, last year, nearly 90 percent of guns used in crimes in New York City, and 70 percent of guns used in crimes statewide were illegal guns that came from out of state. Both she and Goodell agreed that there needs to be additional focus on mental health.
"It's very easy and very politically popular to enact legislation posing tighter bans on assault weapons, even though New York state already has some of the toughest legislation anywhere in the nation on assault weapons," Goodell said. "The danger is, that with all the political fanfare about assault weapon legislation, we lose sight of the real issue, which is addressing the mental health issues that are clearly the driving factor in preventing this type of violence."
Both called for the strengthening of Kendra's Law, named after Fredonia native Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a New York City subway train in 1999 by a man with untreated schizophrenia.
"My Senate Conference has been negotiating with the governor and Assembly to make Kendra's Law stronger, and I believe we have a great deal of momentum to get my bill passed," Sen.Young said.
MARKETING NEW YORK
The governor also pointed out that currently there is no coordinated marketing plan for Upstate New York. He plans to create a marketing program, which will include duty-free stores intended to promote New York-grown and produced products, market regional attractions and special events, create an Adirondack whitewater rafting challenge and increase tourism through destination resorts and casino gaming.
Sen. Young said the emphasis on the wine and grape industry, agriculture and food-related business, and tourism will be beneficial to her region.
"These enterprises pump money into our local economy and provide jobs," Sen. Young said. "It is good that the governor specifically paid attention to revitalizing upstate during the first part of his speech. It shows that he shares that priority with me."
According to Goodell, the best way to market Upstate New York and create jobs is to point out to employers that they can locate and expand in Western New York, make money and do so successfully.
"Our worker's comp rates, utility rates, basic tax rates, our cost of doing business in New York state, they need to be competitive," he said. "If they are not competitive, no amount of slick advertising can make a difference."
Regarding the expanded casino gaming, however, Goodell pointed out that New York state already has a written agreement with the Seneca Nation as far as casino competition.
"I would not support any legislation that violates our treaty with the Indian Nation," Goodell said. "I think we have a responsibility to live up to our treaty obligations. The governor's constitutional amendment would allow multiple casinos, seven or eight casinos, to be constructed in New York state. His speech today suggested that the first three would be upstate, leaving it open as to where all the rest would be."
Goodell also pointed to data, which suggests that people who spend the most amount of money in casinos are the same people who typically have the least amount of disposable income.
"So, ironically, casinos are perhaps one of the most regressive ways of raising tax revenues," Goodell said. "So, when someone comes up and says, 'We should have all these casinos, because that will create a lot of tax revenue,' it's tax revenue that comes from people who have the least amount of money to spare, so that's a real concern."
DEVELOPING EDUCATION & TECHNOLOGY
One of the education reforms Cuomo is proposing is lengthening the school day and year. Districts that would choose to lengthen the amount of time students are in school would receive funding from the state to cover expenses.
Additionally, Cuomo is proposing the creation of Innovation Zones to provide schools with transformative technology to increase student achievement.
"I support the concept of innovation hot-spots, where we couple research and technology that is being developed at our universities, with the private sector," Goodell said. "In fact, we have an incubator right now in the city of Dunkirk that is operated by SUNY Fredonia specifically for that purpose. So, the concept of incubator hot spots makes a lot of sense."
Sen. Young, on the other hand, appreciated the governor's resolution to pay additional attention to less-wealthy school districts.
"It is good that he singled out helping high-needs districts such as the ones I represent," she said. "We need to invest in our children so they receive the quality of education that they need and deserve."
Despite all he promised for the upcoming year, Cuomo may have missed several opportunities in giving his State of the State address.
Goodell identified two areas Cuomo passed over, which he feels should have been addressed. Goodell called for a focus on welfare reform, as well as mandate relief.
"The governor does not yet focus on the needs for welfare reform," he said. "That's very important to Chautauqua County and the entire state of New York, because many of our laws relating to welfare inadvertently trap people in poverty and make it extremely difficult for them to make the transition from welfare to self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, that means that New York's welfare costs are among the highest in the nation, which dries up local property taxes, making them also among the highest in the nation."
Goodell called not focusing on welfare reform a missed opportunity, adding that he hopes it will receive more attention as the legislative session goes on this year.
Additionally, Goodell pointed out that mandates are driving up costs for local governments.
"Right now, state mandates, particularly with Medicaid and the welfare system, but also with a lot of regulations for the private municipalities, drive up the cost of government, needlessly," he said. "I was disappointed there wasn't any mention of that."
Sen. Young said she will be reviewing the State of the State address as she goes into the 2013 session. She said she will be reviewing all details as they emerge.
"Much of the information will be presented in a couple of weeks when the governor's budget proposal is released," Sen. Young said. "My goal is to build on the successes we have had over the past few years by enacting meaningful tax relief, passing on-time budgets, and reducing the cost of government."
Goodell pointed out that the issues presented by Cuomo are issues for all lawmakers to review, as they are issues that affect everyone in the state.
"The issues that are facing us in Chautauqua County are not Republican and Democratic issues, they are bipartisan," he said.