Governor’s Budget A Starting Point; Job Creation, Retention Top Priority

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

Last Tuesday, the Governor released his proposed executive budget. This budget is a starting point which includes a number of proposals I think take us in the right direction, but still, there are others that concern me. Now is not the time to increase spending, as has been proposed. We need to rein in our spending to match revenues, while keeping an eye on job retention and job growth.

Locally, I’m concerned about the upstate prison closures. Closest to home is the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, but throughout Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties our communities have residents working at each of these facilities. It is not the government’s job to employ everyone, but these facilities are still needed and our local communities depend on these jobs. The negative economic impact of these closures may more than negate the projected savings. We must look at other ways to reduce spending in our prisons and elsewhere in our budget so that we can reverse this proposal.

Certainly, many state agencies appear to be top heavy with high administration costs that need to be looked at and reduced so that we can lower the cost of services, without impacting the services provided. I’m encouraged by the governor’s proposals for consolidation and more options must be strongly considered to eliminate redundancy and waste in state government. We can do more than what he has proposed, perhaps looking at some major agencies where services overlap, be it the New York State Bridge Authority, the Thruway Authority and the Department of Transportation, or another major administrative consolidation that will save taxpayers.

I was also pleased by the emphasis on mandate relief. Every year, New York State provides billions in aid to local governments and school districts for specific purposes, all while at the same time imposing additional unfunded mandates. If we can free up these local governments and school districts to use the funding they receive more efficiently and with more local control, it will save the state and local property taxpayers.

To maximize the savings, it’s important we follow this mandate relief with real property tax reform. This reform should include a cap and a circuit breaker—a progressive means to ensure that no one pays more than they can afford to keep their home. By reducing what we spend as a state and alleviating the tax burden on our working families and small businesses, we can position this state to create jobs and grow.

In Central and Northern New York, that means restoring and protecting our agricultural industries, as well developing and growing new economy jobs in alternative energy, high tech development and energy conservation that amount to more than just a short term boost pushed by developers from outside the region. We’ve taken some important steps outside of the budget process to accomplish these goals, including Green Jobs/Green New York, and I will continue pushing for improvements to our economic development programs.

In amending the executive budget over the next couple of weeks and ironing out a spending plan for approval over the next couple of months, our first priority must be creating and preserving jobs. There’s no doubt that we need to make tough choices, reject proposed new taxes, fees or assessments, and make smart cuts to reduce our spending, but it is critically important that we do so in a way that strengthens our economy.