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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"What's your opinion?"
ALBANY, Dec. 30 -- What’s your opinion? It’s a question that speaks to the lifeblood, the heart and soul, of politics and government. So once the new legislative session gets underway a little over a week from now when Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his fourth State of the State message to the Legislature, on January 8th -- a day when everyone’s attention quickly gets refocused on the enormous economic, fiscal and other challenges facing cities, towns and villages across New York -- that’s the question to ask.
And that’s one of the key questions I will be asking in the new year to encourage all of you to share your opinions, concerns and suggestions for better government. I hear every year from thousands of area residents who take the time through an e-mail, a letter, a phone call, a community meeting or in some other way to share their ideas and, especially, their views on the issues of the day. The input -- negative or positive, constructive or not -- makes all the difference, and I can’t do enough to encourage it.
This year I’ll be joining the region’s State Assembly representatives for a series of community meetings across the 58th Senate District in Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Yates counties. Constituent service remains responsibility No. 1 for all of us, and these community meetings are a critical part of meeting that responsibility. Visit my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov, for a schedule of our 2014 community meetings that will be posted once the schedule’s been set.
In addition to the community meetings, an online “Community, Jobs & Economy Survey” will also be launched on omara.nysenate.gov at the start of the new year to encourage you to share input on a range of specific challenges facing the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, including: private-sector job creation, government reform, education, public safety, health care, and many others.
I’ve been offering these surveys since my tenure in the State Senate began in 2011. They’re not scientific polls in any traditional sense, but they do offer meaningful and useful snapshots of what’s on the minds of area residents paying attention to state government and willing to give some thought to the choices being debated in Albany. In addition to answering a series of detailed questions, most respondents also take up the chance I give to share more extensive, detailed comments on many of the issues facing us. Again, I can’t say enough about the value of this local input as the Legislature begins working in earnest toward solutions. It’s timely, it’s informative, and I truly appreciate the participation.
Last year, for example, 97% of the survey’s respondents expressed support for proposals to consolidate, restructure and reduce the cost of the state bureaucracy. That single answer alone delivered a loud-and-clear local message that the state bureaucracy should be streamlined and made more cost-effective for taxpayers.
In addition to a streamlined state government, 87% of respondents also supported efforts by local governments to undertake similar cost-saving initiatives like consolidations and shared services. At the same time, 87% also agreed that the state-imposed property tax cap must be accompanied by actions to reduce the burden state mandates impose on local governments and school districts.
I’ll be asking your views on many of these same issues again this year, because they’re still on the agenda, especially the economic and fiscal issues, and will frame several of the key debates of the 2014-15 state budget.
But this year’s survey will also cover new ground, including some current, hot-button debates. What do you think about the state’s new Common Core educational standards? How about the future of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry? Do you support hydrofracking? Should the NY SAFE Act be repealed?
What about the Cuomo administration plans to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County? Do you agree?
There’s no quick-fix on most of these issues. We’re particularly going to have to confront economic and fiscal challenges for the foreseeable future. So it’s important to have a full public airing of what we’re facing, and this is one way to encourage it.
Two years ago, survey respondents were split when it came to being “optimistic” (43%) or “pessimistic” (44%) about the future of the Southern Tier and Fingers Lakes regions. In 2013, with the online survey drawing nearly 9,000 responses, optimism moved ahead to 60%.
I’ll be asking again in 2014, and I look forward to gauging the sentiment. I hope you’ll keep an eye out for -- and take part in -- my “2014 Community, Jobs & Economy Survey.”
Happy New Year.
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: Gary Whyman, 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 Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869