Unwrapping 2012: Gifts Galore For New York State

By Senator Patty Ritchie
The holidays can mean a lot of things, spending time with family, festive decorations, eating way too much, catching up with old friends, and of course, lots of gifts underneath the Christmas tree.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent hours in stores or online hunting for the perfect presents for your loved ones.

But there’s another group that I’ve been working to get gifts to as well, the people of Central and Northern New York.

This past year, I have worked alongside my fellow New Yorkers to make our state a better place.

Here are just a few of the “gifts” New York received this year:

Expanding employment opportunities: This year, I had the privilege of hosting three job and career fairs in Central and Northern New York. The takeaway? There are great opportunities out there for talented, hardworking people looking for their next job. That couldn’t be any more true, given the Governor’s recent announcement of $184 million in Regional Economic Development Council funding to help Central and Northern New York continue to create jobs and jump-start the economy.

A bonus for breweries: Breweries, wineries and small batch distilleries took center stage in 2012; as a number of new initiatives helped to boost this growing industry.  This past year, I sponsored legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Cuomo, that recognizes “Farm Breweries,” provides a boost to farmers, and cuts taxes and red tape to help create jobs and give New York an edge in these growing industries. I was also pleased to attend Governor Cuomo’s first-ever Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit in Albany, where I joined the Governor, state leaders and dozens of people in the industry to brainstorm strategies for growth.

Favors for farmers: As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have made it my priority to support some of the hardest working people in our state’s workforce, our farmers. This year, I was successful in helping to cut red tape for farmers and for the second year in a row, was able to reach an agreement with the Assembly to reverse all proposed cuts to key agriculture programs in the State Budget. Another big win was getting New York milk, along with other locally produced foods, back on the menu at cafeterias that serve tens of thousands of state workers every year.

Support for our seniors: This year, I had the pleasure of meeting thousands of local seniors at my three Senior Health and Wellness fairs held in Central and Northern New York. At Oswego County’s event, seniors were able to get questions about EPIC answered by a special guest, Senator David Valesky, chair of the Senate’s Aging Committee.  Funding for EPIC, a program which helps low-income seniors, including more than 10,000 in my district, manage the cost of their prescription drugs, was restored in the past two State Budgets. The program will once again cover co-pays for prescription medications beginning January 1. And don’t forget about the School Tax Relief Program, or STAR, which provides  a partial exemption from school property taxes for New York State homeowners who are senior citizens.

A little love for libraries: Libraries are an invaluable resource for taxpayers, offering everything from music and books to resources needed to search for your next job, and who can think of anything better than escaping from the cold, inside with a good book? As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Libraries, this year I was able to help secure $4 million in general aid for libraries; a 3.3 percent increase over last year’s level. An additional $166 thousand dollars in funding was also awarded to libraries across Central and Northern New York. Money will be used to make structures more energy efficient, make handicap accessibility improvements and more.

Good tidings for troops:  This year, there were a number of special events and initiatives to honor and support our troops. Last Spring, I had the honor of recognizing nearly 40 veterans from throughout Central and Northern New York at my New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame Ceremony, held on Fort Drum. More than one dozen veterans from our region also shared their wartime stories through the New York State Veteran Oral History Program. Members of 10th Mountain Division were honored at the State Capitol for the first ever “10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Day,” where the post was celebrated for the ongoing role it plays in our nation’s defense and our community.  In Jefferson County, the PFC Joseph Dwyer Peer Support Program for Veterans launched in Watertown to provide care for veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Most recently we saw the opening of the Paul Cerjan Memorial Highway, also known as the “Fort Drum Connector,” which is making travel easier for those traveling to the post.

As your State Senator, I promise to continue to listen to your concerns and work with my colleagues to create an even better New York State in 2013.

I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to serve you, and I am especially grateful and looking forward to the next two years.

From my home to yours, best wishes for a happy holiday and a healthy New Year!