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Lawmakers from around Finger Lakes blast state budget, call for reconvened session after crisis ends

Upstate lawmakers say the budget passed by leaders in Albany and Governor Andrew Cuomo unfairly put additional burden on rural communities in Central New York, the Finger Lakes, and Southern Tier.

Senator Tom O’Mara, R-58, had previously called on leaders to adopt a streamlined budget that only addresses issues created by the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. Essentially, a budget that addresses the short-term needs of the state. The goal was to then reassess the situation as the pandemic eases in New York. At that point, lawmakers could get a better sense of what funding was available.

The new state budget cuts and freezes a range of state aid, including freezing Foundation Aid to local school districts at current levels despite the state receiving $1.2 billion in federal stimulus school aid. It authorizes billions of dollars in unnecessary new state borrowing that will burden future generations of taxpayers, according to O’Mara.

“This is not the time for hard-edged politics and out of respect for the men and women on the front lines working around the clock to combat and control the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll be restrained in my response,” O’Mara said. “All of New York has one priority right now. We must get this public health emergency under control. We will have plenty to say and do about this budget at the appropriate time moving forward. For now, the coronavirus response is paramount to having any hope of getting our feet back under us and finding some solid ground. Right now we all need to keep responding to COVID-19 with the seriousness and personal responsibility it demands.”

Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-130, said that the budget badly missed the mark. “The Assembly Democrats refused to promote tax and regulatory relief. They blocked an amendment presented by our Conference that would’ve provided emergency help to small businesses and workers impacted by coronavirus across the state. And while neighboring states like Pennsylvania support flourishing natural gas sectors that have created thousands of jobs, Democrats have permanently slammed the door on hydrofracking, robbing New Yorkers of a proven avenue for economic recovery,” he said. “For years, I’ve encouraged my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses to embrace our status as a co-equal branch of government with the executive. Democrats didn’t heed the message. They gave the governor sweeping powers to cut budgetary funds throughout the upcoming year with minimal opportunity for legislative oversight. They gave the governor unilateral authority to site solar and wind projects and trampled over local control and home-rule in the process. Rather than make hard choices during a hard budget year, Democrats instead chose to trade their voice in exchange for avoiding accountability.”

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said the regulations inside the budget will burden businesses that have already been forced to close their doors. “Assembly Democrats rejected a Republican proposal to help small businesses and employees, but they extended tax credits to Hollywood studios,” he said. “As restaurants everywhere are forced to close their doors, Democrats added more regulations that stifle growth and cut deeper into the industry’s bottom line. The appropriate time to discuss taxpayer-funded campaigns, gestational surrogacy or criminal justice reforms is in the light of day, with an open debate and transparent process.”

Meanwhile, Senator Pam Helming, R-54, said the need of communities in her district is the focus. “At a time when more than 90,000 New Yorkers have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus and more than 2,300 have died, our budget should have provided the resources every community needs to combat this pandemic. Sadly, the budget fails to do this,” she said. “We all understand that sacrifices need to be made in order to deal with the reality of New York’s current healthcare crisis and financial situation. However, this budget cuts necessities. It is bad for our community healthcare providers and hospitals, our schools and infrastructure.”

Helming, like other lawmakers, said that when the immediate crisis passes it will be imperative that leaders reconvene the legislature to move the state forward.