Mountains & Valleys of the State of the State
We’re not sure about some of the things Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his State of the State speech Wednesday – corporate tax cuts and medical marijuana, for instance – but on other things he mentioned, we know where we stand:
VALLEY – Out of the blue, Gov. Cuomo plugged the mythical Interstate 98, the “Rooftop Highway” across the top of the state. The reason this project has stalled for decades is that it’s a terrible idea – a ridiculously expensive project that would do great harm to small businesses in towns along U.S. Route 11 and state Route 3. The same thing happened along U.S. Route 9 when the I-87 Northway was built, but then, at least, the Northway cut many hours off north-south travel times. I-98 would save truckers just a few minutes as they race through our region. It would block wildlife migration, eat up rural farmland (often taken by eminent domain) and degrade the area’s rural character. The cons so outweigh the pros, we continue to be amazed that people keep this bad idea alive. It would exemplify the worst kind of government waste.
MOUNTAIN – We’re OK with the state extending the Regional Economic Development Council grant program for a fourth year. This program has been good to the North Country, but we’re glad that the way Gov. Cuomo announced it assumes the REDCs will end relatively soon. The state has already gradually reduced its grant awards each of the three years. This is a stimulus plan for hard economic times, which hopefully are nearing an end. Taxpayers don’t need to subsidize private developers in the long term.
MOUNTAIN – It’s good Gov. Cuomo is keeping our region in the public eye. After saying the state had ignored the North Country in the past, he cited Trudeau Institute and “a new hotel in Saranac Lake” as signs that state stimulus is helping the area economically. We’ll have to see how those initiatives play out, but still, we, too, are optimistic.
MOUNTAIN – Gov. Cuomo has a great record of promoting tourism, and he’s continuing that.
VALLEY – The governor keeps plugging Start-Up NY, which would let businesses go tax-free – no business tax, no local property tax and even no income tax for employees – if they set up on or near state colleges. We still think it will create long-term problems to give away the farm like this. Worse, it’s only for college towns, which in our experience are less in need of economic stimulus than non-college towns. If the state is going to do something like this to lure jobs, it should do so in places like Tupper Lake.
VALLEY – Gov. Cuomo now wants to extend the state’s universal pre-kindergarten to all-day statewide, but that would be incredibly expensive – and the state doesn’t fulfill its current promise to pay for half-day UPK, as those in the Saranac Lake area know well. This school district has had to choose between paying for it partly with local property taxes, having a lottery system to see who gets in, and (what’s happening now) farming the program out to private providers who will do it cheaper. UPK hurts many local day-care providers, though; you can’t compete with free (to users, not taxpayers). UPK is all the rage these days, with New York City’s new mayor plugging it, but other aspects of education should be higher priorities – foreign languages, for instance.
VALLEY – We don’t think the governor’s $20,000 bonus for teachers who score high on evaluations is very productive, especially when schools statewide are having to lay off teachers due to state budget cuts, and when school communities are in turmoil over the botched rollout of the Common Core – something the governor didn’t mention Wednesday. It’s such a turbulent time in education today, New Yorkers need Gov. Cuomo to stabilize things: by publicly addressing and trying to improve the problems, and by funding education properly and fairly – not too much and not too little. Without the latter, it’s just more unfunded mandates.
MOUNTAIN – We agree with the governor’s call for tougher penalties for texting while driving and repeatedly driving while intoxicated.
MOUNTAIN – We love the idea to have a person’s driver’s license show his or her other state licenses, such as hunting and fishing. This makes a great deal of sense.