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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Economic plan built on slogans or solutions?"
ALBANY, March 18 -- The legendary American newsman Edward R. Murrow once said, “Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”
I was reminded of that last Tuesday when the latest unemployment statistics from the state Labor Department appeared to lay waste to one of New York’s guiding slogans over the past few years, that we’re “Open for Business.”
Of course the unemployment news topped headlines around the region. It deserved top billing, but it’s not the news we want to hear. New York’s latest jobless numbers show that, for the second year in a row, not a single area of the state saw a decline in unemployment between January 2012 and January 2013.
Locally, it paints a bleak picture at the moment. The combined unemployment rate for the Chemung-Schuyler-Steuben tri-county region stood at an historically high 11.2 percent in January. That’s the highest it’s been in over 20 years, since 1990. According to one local labor analyst, this “definitely alarming” figure could even inch upward when the next figures come out.
We’re not alone, of course. In fact more than half of the state’s counties had unemployment rates above 10 percent. [It’s important to note one of the few bright spots: The 6.7 percent unemployment rate in Tompkins County was the state’s lowest.]
Overall, it’s been reported that New York State has trailed the nation in private-sector job growth since 2011.
We know that the closing of Sikorsky in Big Flats and the loss of those 600 jobs is a major economic hit on this region. We know, as well, that it’s difficult to dramatically turn around a state or regional economy while the national economy stays weak. And we also know that it’s always wise to take economic statistics with care, in context and even, sometimes, with a grain of salt.
But still. The trend is nothing short of disturbing. As one longtime Albany observer noted, “Much of upstate is flat on its back.”
So it’s fair to wonder if, on some level, New York’s mistaking slogans for solutions.
No government action in and of itself can or should ever be responsible for turning around a whole economy. There’s no magic pill for an economy recovery, especially from government. But there’s a worthwhile school of thought – one that I adhere to in fundamental ways -- that government policies can help create a business climate that works.
Since 2011 when Governor Andrew Cuomo first took office, New York has taken new and sometimes dramatic economic and fiscal directions. The creation of Regional Economic Development Councils, for example, has fundamentally refocused the state’s attention on regional economies in the Southern Tier, the Finger Lakes and eight other regions statewide. The councils have been accompanied by spending and tax restraint at the state level, some regulatory reform and at least the start of reshaping the state-local partnership through long-overdue Medicaid reform.
They’re all steps in the right direction. But if the latest unemployment figures stand as the jury, then the judgment can only be that what we’re doing isn’t enough.
So New York should be open to new ideas. A few days before last week’s Labor Department report, my colleagues and I unveiled a comprehensive “Blueprint for Jobs” plan that we believe offers a few new approaches for jump-starting the economy. Our plan includes a proposed phase-out of the corporate franchise tax for manufacturers. It would end a four-year-old higher utility tax that’s hit businesses, industries, farmers and energy consumers especially hard. It would create a Hire-A-Vet tax credit to recognize that the economy’s been especially tough on our returning military men and women. All proposals that I’ve been pushing.
You can read more about the plan on www.omara.nysenate.gov (click on the “Blueprint for Jobs” icon on the left-hand column of the home page).
At its core, it stresses this belief: Turning around the upstate economy calls for bolder actions. We can’t just settle for an oft-repeated pledge of “no new taxes,” for example, as important as that is.
The goal, instead, needs to be to tax cuts that help produce a business climate that invites private-sector job growth, welcomes businesses and industries, and helps provide long-term economic security for workers and their families in a state that’s remained notoriously tough on all of the above.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869