State Sen. Betty Little addresses the crowd at the annual State Legislative Forum breakfast on Friday, March 1.
PLATTSBURGH — Business confidence reports show that North Country residents have faith that the local economy is on firm ground.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas announced the findings of the chamber’s business confidence survey at the annual State Legislative Forum breakfast on Friday, March 1 at the Holiday Inn in Plattsburgh.
“There’s a culture of optimism to want to feel good about the area, to want to see what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong,” Douglas said to a room packed with representatives of local businesses, municipalities and the media.
State-wide issues, however, were of greater concern.
Several issues became talking points for the three legislators present — State Sen. Betty Little, Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and Assemblyman Daniel Stec — who gave their opinions on many of the items in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget.
The topics included mandate relief, pension fund smoothing, affirmative action, a minimum wage increase and gun control.
“We are trying to do some mandate relief,” Little said. “No matter what we come up with, it’s never enough.”
Little said that pension fund smoothing is one way to provide relief, and likened it to a fixed mortgage rate.
The State Retirement Fund payments would be fixed at 12-and-a-half percent for 25 years.
That rate is lower than the current rate, but is thought to be higher than the expected future rate.
Little said the fixed percentage can be adjusted if the pension fund becomes over funded, and schools could opt out at any time.
Duprey backed up the pension smoothing, and said it would help municipalities budget better, but Stec said he would need more information to get behind it.
Affirmative action requirements were also an issue for some attendees.
Currently, New York State requires that 20 percent of all state contracts have to be awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses, a stipulation that can also be reached by hiring 20 percent women or minorities.
John Donoghue of the Plattsburgh-Saranac Lake Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke against holding the North Country to that requirement.
“Putting 20 percent across the state isn’t fair,” Donoghue said. “Why can’t they go county by county and adjust the affirmative action numbers so it tailor fits each area, so we can keep our work local? It’s hard enough for our contractors to bid competitively and supply benefits against the people that don’t.”
Little sympathized with Donoghue.
“That’s why I’m on that task force; I wanted to speak for the rural areas,” she said. “This is not New York City and we do not have the number of minority- and women- owned businesses.”
The North Country business community is also largely opposed to the proposed minimum wage increase.
“Most small businesses can’t afford the 21 percent increase,” Douglas said. “Any increase must be balanced with other forms of cost savings, reform measures and tax relief for small businesses.”
Perhaps even more contentious was Gov. Cuomo’s SAFE Act.
“We started off with a bang, literally, with the gun bill,” Little said. “People talk about getting it repealed, but we don’t have the votes in the Senate.”
Presently, Little said there are only 19 “no” votes out of 63 total votes in the Senate.
She added that she agrees with some aspects of the legislation, but thinks other portions of the law fall short.
“Making owning an illegal gun a crime is good, it was just a misdemeanor before,” Little said. “These tragedies that happen, we’d love to prevent it from ever happening, but I’m not sure that we can.”
Stephens Mundy, CVPH Medical Center President, said he is concerned that people who need firearms for their job, or for hunting, will no longer seek help for mental health issues because of the SAFE Act, which requires mental health care professionals to report people they suspect could be dangerous to themselves or others to the county’s mental health director.
Those reported will be added to a database and will become ineligible to own or purchase a gun for five years.
The failure to get help they need could lead to an increase in the suicide rate, Mundy said.