PLATTSBURGH - The financial plight of New York may be bleak, but legislators are hopeful tightening of the purse strings in Albany will bring about much-needed change.
State Sen. Elizabeth O'C. Little, R-Queensbury; Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward, R-Willsboro; and Assemblywoman Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, shared their views of the $10 billion budget deficit facing the Empire State during the North Country Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Forum Breakfast March 4.
New York State has to be fixed through tough actions, said Little during her address of nearly 200 people last week.
"Everyone knows that change has to happen," Little said. "People are no longer talking about the high taxes in New York State. They're using their feet to move out of New York State and to take their money, their business, their wealth elsewhere."
One of the keys to turning the ship around will be to make state government more business-friendly, said the senator, reducing or eliminating state mandates that can have a devastating effect on businesses.
"Everybody always talks about the taxes in New York State and we do have a lot of taxes - we're ranked right up there near the top when you combine income, property, sales tax and all of that," said Little. "I actually think that for many businesses it's the regulations that are the killer ... They may be good ideas, but they should not be a mandate. They should not be required."
"Our business climate has to improve," Little continued. "That's the way we'll make the businesses here more workable and happier to be here. And, that's the way we'll continue to attract new businesses."
Making sure the North Country continues to be heard in discussions in Albany is also essential to ensuring funding reaches places north of the Capital District, she added.
"We have to really make sure we get the attention we need," Little said. "We have smaller numbers, but I think working together and working with our other North Country legislators we have tried to make our points. And, we will continue to do that."
Though the legislators recognize now is a time where programs critical to the well-being of residents are facing potential cuts in funding, they underscored Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's message that the state's cupboards are bare.
"We're just beginning to realize there is no money and there are going to be programs we are not going to be able to help out with any more money than the governor has proposed," Sayward said.
Sayward said she and her fellow legislators will still examine where, if at all, any "tinkering" can be done to make funding available.
"We're going to do the very best that we can," Sayward said.
Duprey agreed, adding she and her colleagues understand the programs they received questions about regarding future funding "all serve a vital role."
"We hope that we can find a way ... but there is no money. And for every program that gets funded, something has to come out."
"The message is we cannot do business the way we've been doing it in New York State anymore," Sayward said. "In order for the economy to grow, government has to get out of the way and let the private sector take over as much as possible."
One good sign for the local economy, said Stephens M. Mundy, chief executive officer and president of CVPH Medical Center, underwriter for the legislative forum, has been the progress made with Laurentian Aerospace Corp. Following the announcement Laurentian has closed on financing for construction of $175 million maintenance, repair and overhaul facility, Mundy said he's already begun to hear of people looking to relocate to the area, hopeful to land one of potentially 900 jobs over the next few years.
"This past week, we received a call from a cardiac surgery nurse who wanted to know if we had any opening because she was looking at moving here with her husband for Laurentian," Mundy said. "So, it's already happening. It's a great thing."
Chamber of commerce president Garry F. Douglas referred to a recent survey of the chamber's membership, which noted 79 percent of businesses expect their business activity to be up this year compared to last year, with another 14 percent expecting business to be steady.
"There's a continuing message there from the business community that what the economic development community is doing here in the North Country is the right recipe," said Douglas, "and that while we may be in the midst of a national recession - and we're simply not immune to that - there is an inherent desire to be optimistic in the North Country."