Property tax relief, education and public funding for politics were some of the major issues Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed during the 2014-15 executive budget address Tuesday, Jan. 21. He also backed specific proposals for the North Country.
In his budget speech, Cuomo mentioned $12 million he had promised in November to the Whiteface Mountain toll road for repairs. He also announced $10 million to Trudeau Institute's partnership with Clarkson University, $9.4 million to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and a $2.5 million feasibility study for an Interstate 98.
It is not clear whether he means I-98 as a freeway from Watertown to Lake Champlain or just a bypass of Canton and Postdam. Cuomo did not mention any specific details of the study, but he appeared optimistic it would be a wise investment.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Tuesday during his 2014-15 executive budget address in Albany.
(Photo — Office of the Governor)
"If it (the study) works, it can make a tremendous difference to the North Country," Cuomo said.
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, was more hesitant about the I-98 study.
"Well (the idea has) been around for a long time; there is a lot of debate and discussion," Little said. "There are many communities that don't want to be bypassed."
Assemblywoman Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, said the study needs to be done to settle the matter.
"It's been talked about forever. Let's get the study done and move forward or put it to rest forever," Duprey said.
Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo said New York was regaining its sense of pride from across the state. He said political leaders in Albany were out of touch with the people in North Country.
"They felt abandoned and isolated," he said. "They felt they weren't even a part of New York."
Cuomo hopes to maintain that attitude by "swinging for the fences" with this year's budget, he said.
Clyde Rabideau, Saranac Lake mayor, issued a statement saying he was pleased with Cuomo's budget.
"The governor has our priorities straight and it shows in our dramatic private sector job growth since he's taken office and in New York's upward economic trajectory that I see it in my own back yard," Rabideau wrote.
Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston issued a statement to the same effect.
"This plan truly focuses on helping the everyday New Yorker through much-needed tax relief, a continued investment in education, and a renewed focus on rebuilding the infrastructure that is so essential to the success of our state's economy," Preston said. "Governor Cuomo gets it; he understands that tourism is the economic engine of the Adirondacks. The investment in the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway and the other ORDA facilities will be paid back many times over with increased tourism, which the entire region will benefit from. The North Country used to feel isolated and forgotten by Albany; we don't anymore."
Property tax relief
"When you are spending a lot of money, guess what? You raise taxes," Cuomo said.
"We were spending a lot of money but not seeing a lot of results."
Cuomo put most of that blame on too many layers of government - local government and property taxes being the main culprit. He rattled off a list of counties with "too many" local governments and said the services they provide have to be re-created into countywide consolidated services.
Public financing of politics
One of Cuomo's boldest plans for the state is to create a public funding model for political campaigns. He claimed it is needed due to the amount of money in politics.
"The amount of money in politics has created a number of issues," Cuomo said.
Duprey said she has mixed feelings about using taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns.
Universal full day pre-k and Common Core
Spending overall for education would increase by 4 percent, a $807 million change. On top of that, he hopes voters approve a $2 billion ballot measure for technology and pre-kindergarten facilities.
Cuomo said the $1.8 billion investment in education was one of the largest investments the state will ever make.
His speech comes after a recent report by the state comptroller's office that 16.9 percent of North Country school districts are in financial stress. Tupper Lake was included in that list, ranking at number 12.
Cuomo promised $1.3 billion in general support to education in the state, $75 million to performance programs and $460 million for a statewide pre-k initiative. New York allows universal pre-k now, but it's half day and underfunded, and not all districts do it.
New York would become the fourth state to have universal full-day pre-k, along with Oklahoma, Georgia and West Virginia, if Cuomo's budget is passed.
Little said she wants to make sure the program would be affordable and not just a "big New York City wish." Duprey was in favor of the idea.
"I strongly support universal pre-k." she said.
Cuomo also added that he wants to remove standardized testing for younger children.
"Too much testing can hurt, not help." he said.
Cuomo said that children in kindergarten through second grade should no longer be required to take standardized tests.
Little agreed with the governor on cutting the standardized testing.
Cuomo recognized problems that Common Core implementation has caused schools; he said the way the Board of Regents has handled it was flawed. However, Cuomo said he is still a supporter of Common Core.
He proposed a panel of academic experts and legislators to come up with corrective actions to the program.
Duprey said she was delighted to hear his comments on Common Core.
"The Board of Regents has handled Common Core poorly." she said.
New York is set to receive federal Race to the Top funds, because the state implemented the national academic standards in a single year, although a large amount of tests were introduced that included material teachers hadn't been able to teach yet.