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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Post-Sandy New York"
ALBANY, Dec. 2 -- It’s been a little over one month since Hurricane Sandy devastated a large swath of the Atlantic seaboard, including segments of New York City and Long Island. While the fury of this latest natural disaster to hit New York doesn’t dominate the headlines like during Sandy’s immediate aftermath, let’s be clear: the recovery and reconstruction effort remains in its very earliest stages despite all that’s been done already.
First and foremost, it’s most important to recognize that thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers continue to, literally, pick up the pieces of their lives. In the short term, I’ll say again that I simply can't say enough about all of the businesses, first responders, relief groups, volunteers and concerned citizens who have answered the call from throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. We here at home understand that it’s only through all of these helping hands that any community can ever begin to recover and keep hope.
But it’s also time to start thinking about the short- and long-term governmental burden. Early last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo pegged New York’s request for federal disaster aid at $42 billion. That move sets the stage for one key --and overridingly critical -- governmental and political battleground in post-Sandy New York. Our congressional representatives face a tough task in securing this federal reimbursement. But it’s imperative to all of us. The cost obviously can’t be borne by New York’s taxpayers alone. The amount of federal disaster aid New York receives from Washington – and how soon it’s delivered -- will in the end largely determine the burden that’s going to be left to state and local taxpayers. This brings us back to New York, in particular to Albany.
One month from now, in early January 2013, the new state legislative session gets underway. As tradition dictates, it starts with the governor’s State of the State message to the Legislature. And this time around, this speech is going to give every New Yorker the most specific indication yet, from a strictly governmental standpoint, of what we’re facing in post-Sandy New York.
Governor Cuomo has already signaled the agenda that, many believe, will dominate New York government for at least the next year, and probably longer. In mid-November the governor formed three state commissions to undertake a total review and make specific recommendations to “overhaul and improve” New York’s emergency response capabilities. They’re charged with re-envisioning the state’s systems of communications, energy, environmental protection, transportation and others to better withstand future severe weather events. You can read more about each of these commissions, and we all should, on Governor Cuomo’s website (www.governor.ny.gov). I recently heard one pundit characterize it as an “FDR-style” rebuilding effort.
In announcing the new commissions, Governor Cuomo was clear about the urgency. “Over the past two years," he said, "New York State has been hit by some of the most destructive storms in our state’s history, causing untold damage and the tragic loss of many lives. Regardless of the cause of these storms, New York State must undertake major reforms to adapt to the reality that storms such as Sandy, Irene, and Lee can hit the state at any time. For this reason, I have charged these three commissions to seriously examine existing systems and present a comprehensive blueprint so we can bring our emergency preparedness and response capabilities into the 21st century and ensure our infrastructure is built to survive major weather incidents.”
It’s a huge undertaking. While the images of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction have been powerfully clear, developing a better picture of the economic and fiscal toll for the state, for New York City and Long Island, and ultimately for localities statewide will be ongoing. As I noted, so much hinges on federal assistance. But it’s clear that all of the challenges we face here in New York -- upstate and downstate -- have become more difficult in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The burdens and the responsibilities of recovering and rebuilding will be enormous.
New York and states across the nation over these past several years of economic downturn have already been struggling with tough fiscal choices forced by ever-diminishing revenues to address ever-growing demands. We’ve had to face budget deficits and try to address them, for the short and long run, and the decisions have been painful. But my sense is that we’ve never faced choices like we’re going to face in post-Sandy New York. Legislators statewide will be asking what it means for the future of mandate relief, education aid, economic development and so much more. All of that and more is what the governor is going to begin putting before every legislator and all New Yorkers in his January State of the State. In my view, it’s going to be the most important and maybe the most difficult State of the State of our time.
During a time of crisis like this one – although it’s taking place so far from our immediate homes and somewhat removed for many of us – when ongoing uncertainty and day-to-day turmoil is the norm in many places, it’s imperative that government emerge as a level head and a steady force. In 2013, the governor’s and the Legislature’s challenge is going to be great. It’s safe to say, I believe, we’re going to be asked to call upon all of the empathy, cooperation, balance, perseverance, patience, common sense and reason imaginable. And it’s going to determine the course of all of New York State for the remainder of this decade, at least. Bottom line: the stakes will be enormous during the upcoming legislative session.
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