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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Use the settlement wisely"
ALBANY, Aug. 11 -- It’s a record-setting agreement that’s been a little lost in the shuffle of other breaking headlines in New York State government over the past several weeks. But in the last days of June, the United States Justice Department and state regulators completed negotiations and announced a legal settlement with BNP Paribas, France’s largest bank, resulting in a landmark fine of nearly $9 billion for violations of U.S. sanctions.
There’s no need here to dive into the details of the case that’s produced this unexpected financial windfall for New York State. The windfall’s the news. What’s most important about this settlement for the communities and residents of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions is that New York’s share of it is expected to total approximately $3.6 billion. That’s nearly four billion dollars going to the state’s general fund to be used as state leaders see fit. It’s the largest piece of what the state Division of the Budget just last week projected will be an overall $6.2 billion state budget surplus at the end of the current fiscal year next April.
So the question becomes this one: What’s the best way to use the surplus? Rest assured that the line’s forming at the Capitol as the governor, legislators, candidates, advocacy groups and think tanks have already started sharing suggestions for divvying up the newfound aid. And you can bet there’ll be no shortage of ideas from now until the start of a new legislative session next January. It’s going to dominate next year’s budget negotiations and, maybe most significantly, offer decision makers a prime opportunity to debate the fundamental responsibilities facing state government. And because this year happens to be an election year, it also currently helps highlight the importance of the political makeup of the Legislature and the executive making these crucial choices in 2015.
In early July, shortly after the BNP announcement, my colleagues and I in the Senate Republican Conference called for the state to use the surplus in three primary ways: Accelerate badly needed state tax relief. Invest in Upstate job creation. And provide assistance to local schools and local property taxpayers.
In other words, return most of the surplus to the taxpayers but dedicate a portion of it to strengthening the Upstate economy. More specifically, we’re stressing that the BNP windfall should especially be used to more quickly roll back tax and fee increases first imposed on New Yorkers in 2009-10, when both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office were under largely New York City-based, Democratic control. During their brief tenure in charge of the state Senate, for example, Senate Democrats okayed raising taxes and fees by $14 billion, overspent their own internal operations budget by millions of dollars, agreed to eliminate a STAR rebate program for seniors and homeowners and, among other actions, put in place a new energy surcharge that has hit New York’s consumers and businesses especially hard.
New York State is still trying to climb out from under the overspending and devastating tax and fee hikes imposed on New York's citizens and businesses in 2009-2010. We’ve been chipping away at it over the past several years, but the reinvestment of the BNP settlement in the ways we’re proposing could significantly speed up the recovery. So, Senate Republicans are calling for:
> accelerating tax relief for all New Yorkers, especially the immediate elimination of the higher 18-a energy surcharge enacted in 2009, which has hit upstate manufacturers, farmers and senior citizens especially hard. Our plan would also provide additional, direct property tax relief that was eliminated in 2009;
> focusing on New York's infrastructure and creating new jobs by making major new investments to rebuild local roads and bridges, as well as undertake key environmental initiatives like clean water projects and sewer upgrades in communities statewide; and
> helping local schools and property taxpayers, with a particular
emphasis on erasing the damaging and highly controversial Gap Elimination
Adjustment (GEA) enacted in 2010, which has severely impacted hundreds
of school districts and millions of property taxpayers across the region
We believe the wisest use of the BNP settlement means returning it to the taxpayers, staying focused on the Upstate economy by investing in fundamental responsibilities like rebuilding our failing infrastructure, and eliminating the GEA. It can help accelerate the impact of our efforts since 2011 to roll back New York's highest-in-the-nation tax burden and worst-in-the-nation business climate.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
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