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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Challenge after challenge still ahead"

ALBANY, April 7 -- It’s like the Energizer bunny advertising campaign for the battery that keeps “going and going and going.” In New York State, the challenges keep coming and coming and coming.

We’re coming off the adoption of a state budget being touted in some corners for its timeliness and its spending restraint -- and criticized in other places for its funding cuts and tax extensions -- but already the news of the day has moved on to new unemployment numbers, new political scandals and the welcome-back-to-New-York celebration of “The Tonight Show.”

It’s just another sign of the times and the unrelenting 24/7 news cycle, I guess, to immediately start looking beyond the new state fiscal plan to the remainder of the legislative session. One of the first orders of business after every budget’s signed, sealed and delivered is to start setting the stage for what’s next.

So what’s on tap when lawmakers return to Albany next week? I’m sure many of you can quickly pinpoint a few of the prominent issues, including the future of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry as regulatory decisions from the state Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation remain unfinished. The future of the NY SAFE Act will be constantly in the public eye, as well as before the Legislature and the courts. And now, of course, the latest political scandals out of Albany and New York City will renew calls for reform and disclosure -- though one reaction to this latest string of corruption goes that people who take cash in paper bags don’t disclose it.

But there are many other challenges that simply won’t receive as much attention but that need it nonetheless. Here’s just a few I’ll be focusing on:

-- Methamphetamine. Another headline signaling another meth-related incident locally seems to pop up every other week. There’s just no denying that we’ve seen a disturbing increase across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions over the past few years in the incidents of addiction,
violence and tragedy that are the by-products of rampant methamphetamine production and use. It continues to draw federal and statewide alarm, and it should. Law enforcement remains on the job and focused on protecting our communities. Can we take additional steps to help? I’m continuing to sponsor legislation to impose stricter penalties aimed at deterrence, as well as facilitating the prosecution and punishment of meth crimes. We can’t allow our region or anywhere else in New York State to serve as a safe harbor for meth labs, meth addicts or meth pushers. The risks are too great and the consequences too overwhelming. Keep in mind, according to a 2009 report from the Rand Corporation, the economic cost of meth use in the United States reached nearly $24 billion in 2005 and could go as high as $48 billion;

-- Mandate relief. The deal back in 2011, when the state first enacted its two-percent property tax cap, was that it would be followed by meaningful and significant relief for local governments from unfunded state mandates. That still hasn’t happened. It has to. There are any number of legislative proposals on the table. One that I’m co-sponsoring would ban future unfunded state mandates. I’m also sponsoring or co-sponsoring other measures that target Medicaid costs, the single-largest mandated burden on counties and local property taxpayers. So mandate relief’s an issue – and a promise – that can’t be ignored; and

-- Volunteer recruitment. It could very well be the next explosive property tax crisis facing localities: the ongoing challenge of emergency services volunteer recruitment and retention. The facts bear repeating.

The state Firemen’s Association (FASNY) estimates that it would cost local taxpayers more than $7 billion annually to replace volunteers with paid fire and ambulance services. According to FASNY, the number of volunteer firefighters statewide has declined from 140,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 90,000 today. Volunteer emergency medical technicians (EMTs) experienced a decline from more than 50,000 to 35,000 during the same period, with some rural counties experiencing as much as a 50-percent depletion of their EMT ranks.

So if Albany’s serious about addressing high property taxes, we better keep sounding the alarm on the volunteer recruitment challenge. And we better keep seeking solutions. That’s why Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and I remain the sponsors of legislation aimed at helping localities fend off potentially enormous future local property tax increases by offering incentives to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and other emergency services personnel.

The bottom line is that when you look beyond this year’s state budget, the message is clear: the challenges aren’t going to stop.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field

   
       

Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

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
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address: http://schumer.senate.gov/webform.html

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451
Website: http://gillibrand.senate.gov/

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976
www.omara.nysenate.gov

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538
Website: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=137

 

© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869

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