Local Reaction to Governor's "State of the State" Address

Posted January 10, 2014

Chemung County officials, business and education leaders react to State of the State
By Ray Finger, The Star-Gazette, 1/8/14 (Contributors: G. Jeffrey Aaron and Bob Jamieson)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo received kudos locally for addressing taxes, government spending, economic development and education in his State of the State message Wednesday, but it’s generally agreed that more needs to be done.

“Over the past four years, the governor and the Legislature have done an excellent job of curbing tax increases, reducing government spending and reversing over a half-century of out-of-control state government spending,” said George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth.

“But much more can be done, and these tax cuts and eliminations being proposed by the governor prove that. Unfortunately, it has taken a mass out-migration of businesses and residents with employable skills to get Albany’s attention to our economic crisis in upstate New York,” he said in a statement.

Cutting Taxes

Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli applauded Cuomo’s continuing drive to cut taxes in the state.

“Even though we still have a long ways to go – New Yorkers pay 81 percent more in property taxes than the national average – I do believe things like the tax cap and the proposal on the two-year freeze on property taxes for those municipalities that live within the tax cap are the things that we need to be talking about,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Even though he’s done some things to reduce the cost of unfunded mandates, we still have only scratched the surface of what needs to be done to take away some of the burden that the state places on local government,” Santulli said.

Cuomo also talked about shared services and consolidation, and he is right that local governments need to come together and do something, Santulli said.

“You’re not going to reduce the taxes in this state until you deal with those mandates and until you deal with the fact that there are way too many governments all doing the same services within every county,” he said. “We can’t continue each place being its own independent island.”

Kevin Keeley, president of the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that Cuomo demonstrated a savvy appreciation of manufacturing and the reality that the best future for the state depends on the best future for its economy.

“And he understands that if it’s to work, the new prosperity must embrace upstate as well as (New York City),” he said.

“We’re especially pleased that the governor’s proposals to enhance the business climate would be underwritten by spending constraints more than by overly ambitious revenue growth. That pragmatic prudent approach is crucial to real, long-term improvement of the state’s economy,” he said, noting he hopes that Cuomo’s prescriptions for the economy get legislative support.

Education Plan

Regarding education, Cuomo wants voters to approve a $2 billion bond act in November to pay for upgrading technology across New York’s public school districts to pay for such things as tablets, computers and wireless services. He also called for expansion of universal prekindergarten, now limited in many school districts. In addition, he proposed giving the top 10 percent of high school graduates a full scholarship to any SUNY or CUNY school if they pursue a career in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, math) and agree to work in New York state for five years.

While endorsing concepts Cuomo proposed, she said the devil is in the details.

“It is not only about buying the laptops and smartboards and hardware, it is about having the ability to develop an infrastructure in the school building that may require schools to do significant renovations,” said Mary Beth Fiore, who attended her first address Wednesday. She is both Elmira Heights school superintendent and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

While endorsing the value of universal prekindergarten, she said space and funding remain issues for local districts. ”You can fund additional classrooms of universal Prek, but if you don’t have the physical space to house them, how does that work?” she asked. “Also, the funds are never enough to fully pay for the services (and) personnel needed to run the classroom.”

Fiore said she wanted to hear Cuomo talk about continuing inequities in the funding of public education in New York. “The things that he talked about were kind of like add-on things,” she said.

Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips said integrating technology into education is absolutely critical for student success in a global economy. Noting 50 percent of students already own their own electronic devices, he would like to see some of the money spent instead on building wireless networks since many students could bring their iPads or Android devices to school.

Phillips said his district saw results from initiatives that provided smartphone and laptops to some students. “One thing it certainly did was raise the level of student engagement in learning. Students’ time on tasks increased and so did the level of class participation,” Phillips said.

Regarding STEM jobs, Phillips said they are clearly the future of the economy, noting that more than 3 million high-tech jobs that pay $50,000 or more now go unfilled now because students don’t have the skill set required.

“Part of our $24 million project (in Watkins Glen) is a 2,600-square-foot STEM room with two computer labs. There is no question that is the future of the economy right now. We need to prepare kids,” Phillips said.

Hillary Austin, interim superintendent for the Elmira City School District, endorsed Cuomo’s STEM focus in an email.

"The governor's proposal to give scholarships to students who pursue careers in math or science directly reflects and supports the STEM initiatives we are working on in the Elmira City School District," Austin wrote.

(For original story, please visit http://www.stargazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014301080070.)

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