MASSENA - Speaking before a town hall meeting filled with school officials and local government representatives Friday morning, Deputy Secretary of State Deirdre K. Scozzafava delivered what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo calls a Regional State of the State Message.
Ms. Scozzafava noted how far the state has come during Gov. Cuomos three years in office, noting the $10 billion deficit he inherited has now become a projected $2 billion surplus.
Three-hundred and eighty-thousand private sector jobs have been added, she said, adding that ranks New York second in the nation for job creation since the recession. Also along those lines, Ms. Scozzafava said the unemployment rate in the north country has dropped from 9.9 percent to 8.3 percent.
Thats a pretty good indicator of a ship thats slowly, but surely, turning around, she said.
And to help expedite that growth even further Ms. Scozzafava outlined the governors three-step plan, which included reducing taxes, eliminating regulatory barriers and rebuilding infrastructure.
Given further detail on reducing taxes, Ms. Scozzafava said the governor has proposed cutting the corporate income tax rate from 7.1 to 6.5 percent, which would be the lowest rate since 1968.
She also noted that the state currently has the highest property taxes in the nation, citing the 10,500 government bodies across the state as a potential reason why.
To help alleviate the property tax burden, she spoke about a property tax freeze for residents of communities where the municipalities stay under the cap for two years and show signs of becoming more efficient.
One of the suggested ways to become more efficient was through shared services, something Ms. Scozzafava said she knows already happens quite a bit in the area.
I know around here thats the norm, she said.
St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire, recognizing that a lot of shared services already occur within the region, asked whether local governments already sharing services would be credited for the work theyve already done, rather than potentially being expected to do more work which may not be possible.
While Ms. Scozzafava said she was unsure whether that would be the case, Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray suggest consolidating some of the well over 35 courts that exist in the county as a way to save money.
Right there is an example, Ms. Scozzafava said. That could lead you to the second bullet.
Tourism was also a topic of discussion, with Ms. Scozzafava noting the states investment in promoting tourism has paid off.
The governor has invested $40 million into promoting tourism, while at the same time tourism spending is up $4 billion and the number of tourism related jobs has increased by 25,000.
He knows the many assets that we have here, its just a question of how can he encourage people from all throughout the state, all throughout the nation and all throughout the world to learn about the great resources we have.
No state of the state speech would be complete without education discussion and thats where Ms. Scozzafava noted Gov. Cuomo is proposing $2 billion for technology improvement in schools, expanded full day pre-kindergarten and the creation of a teacher excellence fund.
This governor is committed to make sure teachers are paid what theyre worthy of being paid, she said. A teacher is the most important asset in the classroom and they cam make a large difference in the life of a person.
Public safety was the final topic of discussion, where Ms. Scozzafava spoke about the proposed legalization of medical marijuana, stricter driving while intoxicated laws, and harsher penalties for teens caught texting while driving.
She noted that 20 states currently allow medical marijuana use. Ms. Scozzafava said the governors plan is to have 20 hospitals throughout the state prescribe marijuana.
The governor also proposed a three strikes drunk driving law.
There are 47,000 people with three or more DWIs still on the roads, she said, explaining that according to Gov. Cuomos proposal people receiving two convictions in a three year span would lose their license for five years, with people receiving three drunk driving convictions losing their license for life.
Three strikes means youre out and off the road for good, she said.
As for texting, Gov. Cuomos proposal calls for people under the age of 21 ticketed for texting while driving to lose their license for a year.
And while it wasnt touched on during her speech, Ms. Scozzafava did talk about the proposed study of a rooftop highway known as I-98 during the question and answer portion of the meeting.
The governor believes strongly in investing in infrastructure, she said. Lets get this study done.
Following the meeting, Mr. Gray, Massena Mayor James F. Hidy and Ms. St. Hilaire each said they were pleased with that they had heard.
We get to see it on TV, read about it in the media and on the internet, but these presentations are nice, Mr. Gray said. Its good to get some more details on the governors proposals.
Mr. Gray said he was glad the event also included a question and answer session.
I think the question and answer was good, not only for us to hear some more details, but its also good for the state to hear what peoples concerns are.
Mr. Hidy said was impressed by the emphasis on creating jobs and improving tourism.
I thought the initiative to help bring more business to the north country is certainly a step in the right direction, he said. And obviously what theyre doing to promote tourism is exactly what were trying to do.
Ms. St. Hilaire said its finally nice to see a governor not ignore the north country.
Im very pleased with this governors attention to the north country and his we can get it attitude, she said. I really do applaud him for the initiatives he has undertaken.
Ms. St. Hilaire also noted that by allowing the county to increase its sales tax and reversing his decision on the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Gov. Cuomo has shown that he cares about Northern New York.
I think the governor is trying to make New York a place people will want to live and do business, she said. I think he gets it, but we need a partnership with the state to make some of these things happen.