Business climate, drugs are top issues
FINGER LAKES--Three state and federal officials detailed their priorities during a State of the State address at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel Tuesday, Dec. 1. The speakers included State Senator Tom O'Mara (R,C,I--Big Flats), Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C, I--Corning) and Alison Hunt, representing Congressman Tom Reed (R--Corning). The officials detailed the greatest issues they believe the state will face in 2016, which includes tax relief, maintaining local infrastructure and combating illegal drug use.
O'Mara said there is going to be a "full plate of issues and challenges" in 2016, noting the state still has not confronted the issues of high property taxes, overregulation, job losses and overall economic decline that have long plagued upstate New York communities.
"We know that the state's overall business climate keeps New York one of the toughest places in the nation for small businesses to survive and thrive," O'Mara said. "The most recent Tax Foundation report, while acknowledging some progress on business taxes, still ranks New York as one of the worst taxed states in America. We have to turn that around."
O'Mara said despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo's promises to fix the situation four years ago, the state has not done nearly enough to transform the state-local partnership through meaningful mandate relief. He added this is the only path to actually reduce the burden on local property taxpayers for the long term.
"Local roads and bridges aren't getting the support from the state they need and deserve," O'Mara said. "Same goes for local schools, particularly where it comes to Common Core and other reform measures. We have to refocus on manufacturing as the backbone of economic revitalization. We need to find solutions -- and I believe we can if there's a bipartisan will to do it -- that protect the environment and permit economic growth and that will result in more sensible, workable laws instead of gridlock."
O'Mara said the state has taken regulatory and tax reforms over the past few years that have sparked growth in many agriculture- and tourism-related sectors, including the local wine, craft brewery and distillery industries. The state senator also touched on the growing drug problem in the area.
"We've reached a crisis point on heroin, meth, bath salts and other illegal drugs that destroy young lives, threaten communities and overburden our systems of criminal justice, health care and social services," O'Mara said. "As one of our local sheriffs said recently, it's going to take every community institution to confront this terrible cycle of addiction, violence and tragedy."
Palmesano also outlined his concerns, which also included tax and regulatory policies he describes as problematic to job investment and creation. Specifically, he noted his concerns with the Start Up New York program.
"The underlying premise behind Start Up New York is that we tax too much and we regulate too much, but the problem with Start Up New York is that it doesn't help existing businesses," Palmesano said. "[...] There are small committees who are not benefitting from this tax relief and regulatory relief, and I think that is something we should try to do across the board."
Palmesano also brought up his concerns with the minimum wage proposal, which he said was not voted on by the legislature, and was instead a direct action by the wage board. He said the 50 percent increase in pay for tipped employees will directly impact the restaurant community. He noted the fast food mandate to $15 an hour which the governor wants to do across the board will also have a negative impact on job creation in New York State. Palmesano said some studies have estimated it could cost the state over 200,000 jobs.
"If we are not doing anything to help ease the tax and regulatory burden on the business community and the people we want to invest in more jobs and we increase the minimum wage, it is just going to make it even more difficult for them to invest because it is going to increase their costs," Palmesano said.