ELIZABETHTOWN - North Country representatives are rallying against the budget agreed upon by the state legislature.
The $131 billion budget represents an eight percent, $10 billion increase over last year's, with roughly that same amount being funnelled to the state through the federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The budget passed in the Senate April 3 after first receiving approval in the state Assembly. The measure passed by a 32-30 vote along party lines.
"A $17 billion deficit requires that some tough choices be made, but somehow the architects of this budget have failed to make many smart ones," said Sen. Elizabeth O'C. Little, R-Queensbury.
Both Little and Assemblywoman Teresa R. Sayward, R-Willsboro, had several issues with the effect the budget will have on the North Country and statewide.
"This is a really bad budget. There are no significant cuts in spending," said Sayward. "The leadership chose to continue a pattern of spending more than the taxpayers can keep up with."
"While there is a lot to not like about the plan, what concerns me the most is the absence of a job growth strategy," Little said. "The new budget does nothing to ensure that two years from now, when most of the federal stimulus money is spent, our state's economy will be stronger."
Both pointed to an $8 billion increase in taxes and fees, including increased costs for vehicle registrations, drivers licenses, license plates, and hunting and fishing licenses.
"The people I represent in the 113th Assembly District have told me repeatedly that the high cost of property taxes is their number one issue," said Sayward. "This budget does nothing to give them relief from property taxes and in fact will likely increase their property taxes over time."
The budget also puts an end to the STAR check rebate program. Though STAR exemptions remain in place, the rebates represented hundreds of dollars each year for low-to-middle-income households.
Sayward said her biggest concern was for small businesses in Essex County.
"In the district I represent, we have many small businesses who contribute greatly to our economy," she said. "There is no relief for those small establishments in the budget."
Though some of the federal stimulus funds may go to fund infrastructure projects in the Adirondacks, both legislators noted very few bright spots for the region.
"The best news is that the Medical Home Model for the Adirondacks is funded in this budget," said Sayward. "It will give doctors in the Adirondacks more money to see Medicaid patients and allow them to provide a more holistic approach to primary care."
Little said one positive result of the budget process was the rejection of a proposal that would have frozen payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) for state-owned forest preserve land.
Still, Little and Sayward are among many criticizing the manner in which budget revisions and compromises were decided, relying heavily on deals made by leading Democrats behind closed doors.
"In years past the rank and file members of the Legislature served on conference committees to vet the budget bills," Sayward explained. "It was in these committees that much of the real work was done to discuss and compromise issues. None of that happened this year."