Legislators say Cuomo needs to push for more tax relief
Hawley wants governor to apologize for comments about ‘extreme conservatives’
GAINES – State legislators said the atmosphere in Albany has changed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who seems serious about bringing tax relief to state residents and businesses.
However, some of that relief will be in the form of an election gimmick, State Assemblyman Steve Hawley said during a Legislature Luncheon on Friday.
The governor, who is seeking re-election in November, wants a $350 state rebate to arrive in the mail for Middle Class families in October, Hawley said.
The governor has proposed $2 billion in tax relief to residents and businesses. State Sen. George Maziarz said that is quite a difference than 2009-10, when the state under Gov. David Paterson pushed through $14 billion in new taxes and fees. The new taxes under Paterson “were the dark days of Albany,” Maziarz said.
One of those taxes by Paterson, a tax called the 18-A utility surcharge, was supposed to expire after four years, but Cuomo has allowed it to continue, Maziarz said.
According to National Grid figures, the utility tax costs a typical large business $30,000 a year, $540 for a typical small business, and $55 per year for an average household. “It’s the most onerous tax,” Maziarz said.
He is chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. Maziarz wants the 18-A utility surcharge rescinded in the upcoming state budget. The tax generates about $500 million a year for the state. If it was gone, there would be more job creation and investment by businesses, he said.
The state legislators commented on a number of issues during the luncheon, which was attended by about 75 people at the Village Inn.
Hawley took issue with the governor’s comments on a radio show about a week ago, when Cuomo said “extreme conservatives” don’t have a place in New York.. He defined them as pro-life, anti-gay marriage and pro-assault weapon.
“Governor, we’re New Yorkers, too,” Hawley said.
The governor needs to represent all of the residents, including those from low-wealth school districts, those who support the right to bear arms and those with conservative social viewpoints, Hawley said.
“Governor, we do matter,” Hawley said. “That’s the diversity of the state. Hopefully we’ll be hearing form him soon with an apology.”
Cuomo said his comments were directed at candidates, saying “extreme conservatives” don’t have a place for a state office in New York.
Maziarz, as an elected public official in the state government, said he is a conservative who views marriage as only between a man and a woman. He called the governor’s remarks “very disappointing.”
The governor has failed to push through any significant mandate relief for local governments, which are forced to provide some programs and services by the state, the legislators said.
“We implemented 2 percent property tax with the promise we’d untie the hands of the locals,” Hawley said. “But again that hasn’t happened.”
Cuomo and the Legislature have not worked to rein in program costs, especially the $60 billion annual Medicaid program, Hawley said.
He would like to see some the program’s costs reduced and county share in the program eased.
“The cost is unbelievably phenomenal,” he said.
Maziarz said one easy way to reduce the costs would be to bar EBT cards from being used at casinos and strip clubs.
Both said they want residency requirements before people can access benefits, and the state should do drug and alcohol testing for people on public assistance.
Hawley and Maziarz agreed the state should have reached a deal on mandate relief before imposing a property tax cap on the local governments. The local municipalities, without relief from the cost drivers from the state, will be forced to slash non-mandated services and eat into their reserve funds to stay under the 2 percent cap.
The eight Western New York counties, including Orleans, all lost population between 2000 and 2010. Upstate has sluggish growth overall, while the country is seeing robust growth.
The loss of people pulls money out of the community. That includes retirees who head for other states, including the less tax-oppressive Pennsylvania, said Ken Pokalsky, vice president of government affairs for the New York Business Council.
“An astounding amount of income is leaving,” he said. “We’re losing a lot of wealth. A lot of people are leaving when they enter retirement.”
The legislators said less taxes and a better business environment would lead to more jobs and opportunities for people to be in the state.
Hawley and Maziarz both said they support fracking, but they think New York may have missed the opportunity due to endless studies and delays by the governor and the Legislature.
The industry has had a transformative impact in Pennsylvania and other states. The price of natural gas, however, has fallen and companies may not be pushing to invest in new areas right now.
Fracking could have been a huge boon to the state, particularly along the economically depressed Southern Tier, Maziarz said.
“It could have created a lot of jobs and economic development,” he said. “I think we may have missed the boat on that one.”
The two legislators say there are working with local officials and Congressman Chris Collins for rural Broadband to be accessible in rural pockets of the county where there currently isn’t service. They said Collins may have an announcement soon about a Broadband initiative.
“It’s good for our children,” Maziarz said. “It’s the wave of the future.”
Casino in Henrietta
Hawley and Maziarz don’t support a new casino in Henrietta that would be run by the Seneca Nation of Indians. The Senecas haven’t submitted a formal proposal for the casino, but a developer said the tribe is talking about the project.
Marcia Tuohey, a former County Legislature chairwoman, now sits as the county’s’ representative on the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. board of directors. WROTB owns Batavia Downs, which returns some of its profits from a video gaming center to Orleans and 14 other counties, as well as the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.
A casino in Henrietta would be devastating to the Downs, Tuohey said, and may mean no money would be shared with the member counties.
Hawley and Maziarz said the region may already be saturated with casinos, video gaming sites and Lotto games.
“It would just a redistribution of the same money from one area to the next,” Hawley said about the Henrietta casino.