O’Mara, Palmesano blast Cuomo Albany culture

Gwen Chamberlain The Chronicle-Express
Yates County Legislators (from left) Mark Morris, Leslie Church and Dan Banach were among those who met with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and State Sen. Tom O’Mara March 6.

When New York Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano met with Yates County Legislators March 6, they  shared their interpretation of activity in Albany, and didn’t hold back on their criticisms of Gov. Andrew Cuomo or the current political atmosphere in Albany.

In fact, Palmesano said while he knows there are a lot of good people in Albany who are trying to do the right things, one of his favorite things to do is get in his car and head for home. “The farther away from Albany that I get, the better I feel,” he said.

At the top of the discussion, O’Mara addressed the ongoing budget negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education proposals, corruption, and ethics. He said he is hopeful the state budget will be settled by March 31, but he expressed concern about ultimatums Cuomo has tied to his budget agenda. Calling Cuomo, “a bully,” he said, “It’s not a pleasant situation to be in.”

O’Mara said, “The governor continues to vilify individual teachers, which is unwarranted. You can improve the system without vilifying teachers.”

Palmesano added, “He (Cuomo) has every right to make policy decisions, but to basically hold hostage our school systems isn’t fair.”

They were both critical of the economic development programs that pit regions against one another, making “winners” and “losers.”

O’Mara said while the Start Up New York program, which gives tax breaks new businesses coming to New York State, has had some success, for the most part, it hasn’t had a significant impact, and there have been concerns about the cost of advertising and limited accountability.

Palmesano said he is concerned about the message the program sends to existing businesses. “It sends the wrong message to small businesses that want to be here and raise families here,” he said.

O’Mara said he supports the work of Industrial Development Agencies, and he opposes government restrictions on their activities. “Without them (incentive programs), we would be in real trouble.”

Some of the other issues they discussed with legislators included:

• Corruption: “There are 213 members of the legislature, and most of us are trying to do the right thing, but there are those who have abused things over the years, and they need to pay,” said O’Mara. He said the governor’s recommendation to convert to a full time legislature is not the answer. “We don’t need to pass thousands of bills in state legislature. I believe we should have more of a citizen legislature, so we can have more real world contact.”

• Highway Funds: They said one of the major issues they are working on is funding for local highways. They are pushing to restore $40 million that had previously been cut from highway funds plus an additional $160 million from the windfall settlement from banks to pay for one time needed improvements.

• SAFE Act: O’Mara said while there has been calls to repeal the SAFE Act, Second Amendment rights groups are beginning to support strategies to defund the budget areas involved in carrying out the act. He said State Police authorities have not made progress in enforcement of point of sale background checks. Since there is no clear line item in the budget for the program, members of the senate are looking at reducing the capital information technology budget items, which would likely impact progress.

• Public Safety: O’Mara agreed with Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis that local officials should be concerned about Cuomo’s proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York. According to Cuomo’s office New York is one of only two in the nation that has no legal authority to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles, resulting in youth being housed in adult jails and prisons. Although the executive office has assured local governments that the state will cover the cost of changes in housing juveniles, O’Mara said, “You should be concerned.”

Legislators commented on other areas.

• Mandate relief: Finance Committee Chair Douglas Paddock called the regional competitions for funding “Hunger Games,” and said, “When the governor says the state should not be considered a piggy bank for counties, the counties should not be looked on as a bankroll for state-mandated programs. If the governor is going to make the tax cap permanent, we need to have some mandates removed. If the state took over the Medicaid program, property taxes would go down 25 percent.”

• Shared Services: Government Operations Committee Chairman Mark Morris described how concerns about increased liability has scuttled plans to share the services of highway superintendent David Hartman with Schuyler County. Palmesano said he hopes state officials can help negotiate a solution.

• Sales Tax renewals: Dennis said counties should not have to seek state approval for renewal of sales tax increases that had previously been approved. He said “We need to be trusted as a partner in New York State and our people have grown accustomed to the tax.” O’Mara agreed, saying, “There’s no reason for holding it up except to keep local legislators in line.”