PLATTSBURGH - Though headlines of doom and gloom have dominated the media, lawmakers are urging people to be cautiously optimistic about the future of the state and the nation.
During the annual New York State Legislative Forum breakfast hosted by the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce Feb. 27, the region's three top state representatives discussed President Barack Obama's recently-approved federal stimulus package.
State Sen. Elizabeth O'C. Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblywomen Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, and Teresa R. Sayward, R-Willsboro, each weighed in on the pros and cons of the stimulus package, urging people to take caution when hearing of all the money the state is slated to receive from the federal government.
According to Little, the state is to receive $24.6 billion over the next two years, which is what she characterized as "probably the biggest one-two shot in the history of the state."
There will be an increase in funding for Medicaid, education, infrastructure and many other areas, said the senator. However, she and the assemblywomen urged taxpayers not to believe the funding will end the state's fiscal troubles.
"We have to be very smart about how we use this money," said Little. "We want an economic benefit from all the projects we do."
The stimulus package will "fill in some holes" in Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed state budget, said Sayward. However, the assemblywoman said she feels the federal funding will cloud the issue that budget cuts still need to be made at the state level.
"I'm really not encouraged that we're going to be making the necessary cuts we need to make," she said. "There's never a better time in the world to get back to the basics than when you don't have enough money ... That's what we need to do in New York State and that's what we'll be advocating for this year."
The governor's 2009-10 budget proposal also needs fine tuning following the approval of the federal stimulus package, said Little. The senator suggested the governor throw out his previous proposal and develop a new one that will factor in the stimulus money.
The assemblywomen agreed.
Duprey said the governor's proposed budget contains 137 new fees and taxes, the vast majority of which will affect the middle class and small businesses.
"This is just not the year to tax people. When we're in a recession, when people are losing their jobs or having a tough time, it's really not the time to add new taxes," said Duprey.
Sayward remarked she was "extremely disappointed" the property tax cap the governor had talked about was "nowhere to be found" in his budget, which she feels would further drive down the burden on state taxpayers.
"The governor, while he talks the talk, has not shown us he's going to walk the walk when it comes to reform," said Sayward. "We do have some difficult times ahead."
The legislators urged taxpayers to voice their concerns about the state budget to not only the governor, but to Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon L. Silver.
"I truly believe he's the most powerful man in the state of New York right now, and he has to hear from upstate," said Duprey.