There is nothing more important to me, and to the individual communities I represent throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions comprising the 58th Senate District, than the creation of jobs and the pursuit of economic development to continually improve and sustain our quality of life.
Since the deep-rooted, nationwide Great Recession which started in 2008 (and even long before this latest, devastating economic downturn), we have understood all too well here at home what economic decline produces across the 58th District: job losses, high taxes, unfunded mandates on local governments, overregulation and too many other community burdens to mention.
Fortunately, many of our grassroots economic foundations remain strong: in agriculture, in tourism, in the wine-and-grape industry and in key segments of the manufacturing sector which has long been the critical local economic engine, but which needs attention today like never before to remain nationally and globally competitive in the modern, high-tech economy.
The Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Councils have done and continue to do outstanding work to put in place short- and long-term public-private partnerships, strategies and foundations to rebuild and revitalize local economies. These comprehensive blueprints are focused on all of the assets that can produce future success, from agriculture to tourism, and from broadband expansion to workforce development.
The Southern Tier and Finger Lakes REDCs were recognized as top winners in the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI).
I’m proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of, strongly encourage and support these efforts over the past several years, including the councils’ successes in late 2015 in the Upstate Revitalization Initiative which truly represent fundamental and potentially difference-making victories-as well as the city of Elmira’s more recent award of a $10-million “Downtown Revitalization Initiative” grant from New York State, which will continue laying the foundations for Southern Tier renewal
[In the photo below, from left right following the Elmira announcement: Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, Assemblyman Chris Friend, Senator O’Mara, NY Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Southern Tier REDC Co-chair G. Thomas Tranter, Jr., and Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli.]
It was also incredibly exciting news in late August with the official announcement that the long-awaited new contract had been finalized for Alstom Transportation Inc. to manufacture the next generation of high-speed trains as part of Amtrak’s $2.5-billion program to build its next fleet, a contract that’s expected to create over 750 manufacturing jobs including 400 directly at Alstom’s Hornell facility.
The fact that the new Alstom-Amtrak contract has been signed, sealed and delivered is cause for celebration in Hornell and across the Southern Tier. The creation of 400 manufacturing jobs at Alstom simply can’t be overstated. It’s vitally important to the Southern Tier economy, for Alstom’s workers and their families, and to the entire Hornell area.
It represents another, timely foundation of manufacturing on which we can continue to build job growth in Steuben County, across the region and throughout Upstate New York.
It speaks volumes about the quality of Alstom and its local workforce.
Together with many other local leaders, I appreciate the perseverance of Alstom officials, Senator Schumer, Congressman Reed, Mayor Hogan, Hornell IDA Executive Director Jim Griffin and so many others. Simply put, this job creation contract makes a huge difference for the future of economic development across the region.
But despite many of the positive steps we’ve taken since 2011 to try to create jobs and foundations for economic growth, control rising property taxes and enact long-overdue fiscal and governmental and regulatory reforms, this job is far from finished.
Throughout my tenure in the New York State Legislature – first in the State Assembly beginning in 2005, and since 2011 in the Senate — I have remained focused on marketing and developing the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions as good places to expand or locate a small business, a new manufacturing facility, a fresh tourism attraction or a diversified agricultural enterprise.
I am not just concerned about bringing any business into the area, but businesses that will create good-paying jobs and show the promise of long-term growth, expansion and sustainability. I have worked within the business community to ensure that our existing businesses, especially those that have been the backbone of local economies for decades, are complemented by new economic growth to ensure the progress of our region and jobs for the future — and secure for us a prominent, successful and strong position in the 21st century economy.
Senator O’Mara congratulates Thomas Clark and all of this year’s graduates from the inaugural class of the new CNC Hybrid Machinist training program at GST BOCES!
Government does not create jobs, businesses do, but legislators can put in motion positive actions to help create a business friendly climate — especially a business friendly tax climate – that can lead to private-sector job creation, a growing economy and sustained economic hope and optimism for individual communities.
That’s job – and responsibility – No. 1.
UNFUNDED MANDATES/PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
Increasing property taxes to fund mandated state programs must end if our communities are going to have any chance at a sustained economic turnaround. It’s difficult enough for communities to afford their own projects, programs and services, let alone unfunded state mandates like Medicaid (see more on the Medicaid challenge below).
That’s why I continue to co-sponsor legislation in the Senate to end the practice of unfunded state mandates on local governments and school districts. Specifically this legislation would ban the imposition of any future unfunded state mandates on local governments and school districts that are not accompanied by state funding to localities to pay for delivering the required programs and services.
Senator O’Mara has been outspoken in his criticisms of New York State leaders for not doing enough to relieve local governments and school districts from the burden of unfunded state mandates.
It’s a commonsense, straightforward message: if the state mandates a local program or service, the state must pay for it. No more passing the buck to counties, cities, school districts, towns or villages.
The state enacted the local property tax cap in 2011 with a promise to localities and school districts to roll back the heavy burden of unfunded state mandates. The property tax cap has been successful and provided local taxpayers with a combined, four-year savings of $15.3 billion. I strongly support making the cap permanent. Add to this the fact that the state’s self-imposed spending cap — which should also be made a permanent fixture of New York State’s fiscal practices — has produced an additional $31 billion in taxpayer savings, and we’re making progress.
But New York State has not lived up to Governor Cuomo’s original promise to lift the existing burden on local governments and local property taxpayers — and that must happen in order for the tax cap to achieve its No. 1 goal, which is to ensure a future of property tax cuts, not just a slower rate of growth.
So we should immediately put an end to any future unfunded state mandates.
Furthermore this legislation would mark, if enacted, a real beginning to the true transformation of the state-local partnership that’s needed. The state has taken some important mandate relief actions over the past several years, including long-term pension reform and a phased-in takeover of the growth in local Medicaid costs. But it hasn’t been enough. Mandate relief has to be a top state priority. Localities and school districts facing tough fiscal challenges still have their hands tied by too many unfunded state mandates.
We have recently taken an important mandate relief action that, if enacted into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, will relieve counties of an unfunded mandate which the New York State Association of Counties has identified as a top priority: indigent criminal defense costs. Governor Cuomo must sign this legislation.
At a Capitol news conference, Senator O’Mara calls for Assembly approval of the “Paint Stewardship Program.”
I also continue to sponsor and push for the approval of commonsense mandate relief legislation to relieve counties of the burden of disposing of unused paint. My legislation would establish an industry-sponsored “Paint Stewardship Program” to ensure the proper recycling and reuse of unused paint. It makes great economic and environmental sense.
Beginning with the Southern Tier Organization to Reform Medicaid (STORM) spearheaded over a decade ago by Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli – who’s been such a widely respected and effective leader in this arena of reform for so long – our region has been on the leading edge of the fight to reform New York State’s system of Medicaid.
It’s a system that now costs state and local taxpayers more than one billion dollars a week but remains plagued by unacceptable abuse, fraud and waste.
I agree, wholeheartedly, that we need to take care of people in our community and region that need the care Medicaid was intended to provide. But by some accounts, one out of four New Yorkers now receives some type of Medicaid benefit — a rate of growth which is, very simply, unsustainable now but that’s expected to just keep growing.
Medicaid needs to be reformed to provide essential care – but to provide it cost effectively and without being the abused, mismanaged and overwhelmingly expensive system of health care that it’s become in New York State at the expense of taxpayers.
Throughout his tenure in the Legislature, Senator O’Mara has been a strong advocate for and sponsored legislation to reform the state’s Medicaid system.
The cost of Medicaid is the single largest unfunded state mandate on counties. It’s an unfair and unreasonable cost that overwhelms their finances and places some counties on the brink of bankruptcy. The local share of Medicaid accounts for far too large a share of our counties’ total real property tax levy. This local share — again, an unfunded State mandate (the most burdensome one of all) — has driven up real property taxes, the worst job-killing tax there is, in virtually every county in the State.
That’s why reform of Medicaid has long been and remains so important to me.
Many state fiscal experts are pointing to New York’s effort to redesign its system of Medicaid as the cornerstone of recent state budgets. I won’t argue. Again, it’s the state’s most expensive program and it’s the largest unfunded mandate burdening our local governments. If we’re going to get serious about state spending control, we have to get serious about Medicaid reform. It’s that simple. We’ve taken some important and meaningful steps since 2011 – including a state takeover of the growth in local Medicaid costs – but it’s time to go even further, which is why I have:
- co-sponsored legislation, together with local Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris Friend, to begin a full state takeover of local Medicaid costs. The idea behind this move is that if it’s the state’s responsibility, then the state will become more aggressive at fighting fraud and waste, and even more intent on redesigning and reducing the cost of the system;
- sponsored legislation to encourage the more widespread use of modern, fraud detection technology like the software developed and continually fine-tuned by the Horseheads-based Salient Corporation. This Salient technology lays out a blueprint for effectively detecting and preventing fraud, inefficiency, mismanagement, overutilization and waste. My legislation would help more localities get started with its use by reimbursing them for the software’s initial cost – the underlying idea being that this small state investment could lead to significant cost savings;
- encouraged the reinstatement of the eligibility requirements for face-to-face interviews, finger-imaging and asset tests for Medicaid applicants that were once conducted by counties but that were eliminated as part the 2009-10 state budget;
- and sponsored legislation to restore the incentive for localities to pursue Medicaid fraud investigations.
One of my priority goals in the Senate is to continue to lead the fight to reform Medicaid in order to save property taxpayers and our counties and communities our hard-earned and limited tax dollars. I will continue to fight for the reforms highlighted above, and others, to ensure a better system for those and only those the program was intended to serve, and before the burden of the system simply sinks local governments and property taxpayers.
There must be a fair and equitable distribution of funds to school districts throughout the state to provide vital educational opportunities to all of our children. The final test for any school aid formula must be that all students and taxpayers are treated the same, with the same opportunities. And the formula must be understandable and consistent. I will always fight to ensure that we in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions receive our fair share of state aid to education.
Senator O’Mara pays a morning reading visit to the children at Schuyler County Head Start in Montour Falls.
This year’s state budget provides record aid to education and, importantly, it finally eliminates the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GAP) that has unfairly cost local school districts billions of dollars since it was imposed on them in 2010 by the Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly and then-Governor David Paterson as a budget gap closing measure. The Senate Republican Majority was strongly opposed to the action from the start (every Senate Republican voted against it) and has fought year after year to get rid of it. New York State should never close its budget gaps on the backs of local school districts and local property taxpayers. The elimination of the GAP represents one of this year’s highlights, together with record funding for local schools.
Senator O’Mara, Assemblyman Palmesano and Assemblyman Friend meet with a group of Watkins Glen high school students in Albany.
Senator O’Mara and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo joined healthy schools advocates to push for this year’s approval of the “Safe Schools Drinking Water Act.”
Most recently, I have joined with my Assembly colleague, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Broome County), to address the growing crisis of lead contamination in public school drinking water systems. Our legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Cuomo on September 6th, makes New York the first state in the nation to require testing and remediation — and we achieve it without imposing an unfunded mandate.
I was grateful to be appointed chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation in 2015. It’s one of the Senate’s key committees and, most importantly, it has an enormous impact on local communities, local environments, local economies and local taxpayers.
I’ll focus on 2016, because it was the most important and successful session for environmental conservation in many years.
Don’t just take my word for it.
For example, here’s what the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) wrote following the enactment of this year’s state budget, “Historic is a word that we try not to use lightly, but it’s truly appropriate to describe how the environment fared in this budget.”
This year’s budget does makes great environmental and economic sense.
Senator O’Mara has served as the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee since 2015.
It includes, following years of hard work and effort by so many conservation advocates and others, a fully funded, $300-million Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The EPF supports critical environmental initiatives including clean air and water projects, flood control and restoration, and open space preservation.
The EPF helps create local jobs and studies have shown that for every dollar of EPF funds invested in land and water protection, the state and localities get back seven dollars in economic benefits. That’s a pretty solid investment by any measure. The EPF enjoys an impressive record of government achievement which has brought benefits to a broad-based segment of New York’s citizens and communities like very few government programs ever have.
Strengthening the EPF to the fullest extent possible within the context of the entire state fiscal plan makes great economic and environmental sense. It will be an enduring and proud achievement for future generations of New Yorkers and New York communities.
The budget also includes a $200-million increase for the “Water Quality Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program” established last year to help localities undertake water infrastructure improvement projects including sewer and municipal water line repairs – an action which has become particularly timely as drinking water quality concerns and crises regionally, statewide and across the nation become increasingly acute.
It also includes additional funding to reimburse counties for costs associated with the collection and recycling of electronic waste – and here’s what the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) had to say about this action, “Many counties end up absorbing the costs of recycling the electronic waste disposed of by their residents. This reimbursement will provide much needed financial support to our counties for the responsible collection and recycling of electronic waste.” Read the most recent announcement on the beginning of the new E-Waste Recycling Grant Program, including Steuben County’s initiative and participation, HERE.
Also on the environmental front, the budget includes a rebate program for consumers and municipalities who purchase electric and “zero-emission” vehicles. The rebate program contained in the budget mirrors legislation I introduced earlier this year and would provide up to a $2,000-per-vehicle rebate for individual buyers and a $5,000-per-vehicle rebate for local municipalities. Rebates would also be granted to municipalities for building related infrastructure, such as charging stations and hydrogen refueling stations.
The Irish have a saying about offering “a thousand welcomes” and I’ve certainly recalled that expression a thousand times over the past two years. So I’ll take this opportunity to say thank you to so many of the organizations who have welcomed me so kindly to this Chairmanship. Thank you for your advocacy and input on so many of the critical challenges and crises we face – but equally important, thank you for the many welcomes you’ve extended and which have helped make the past two years enjoyable, informative, enlightening and full of new experiences.
Senator O’Mara recently hosted a Pollinator Protection forum sponsored by Cornell University.
At the Annual Meeting of the Finger Lakes Land Trust at Brook Farm of Skaneateles, I learned how Louise Robinson and her daughters carry on an incredible family legacy and commitment to the protection and preservation of special corner of the Finger Lakes Region.
The Nature Conservancy provided a spectacular welcome to Boreas Ponds in the Adirondacks.
At the 21st Western Regional Conference of the New York State Federation of Lake Associations in Western New York, an organization representing more than 200 lake associations across the state of New York, I received a valuable reminder that in addition to our grand and well-known lakes, like the Finger Lakes, we’re a state of spectacular but lesser-known and smaller lakes. It was an opportunity to engage yet another of our great conservation challenges, invasive species, and while we’ve achieved some important progress, both in terms of new laws and new funding, many more actions are needed.
And of course I’m constantly reminded as I travel throughout the 58th Senate District of the importance of our outdoor recreational economy, whether it’s the fields and forests of Steuben County, one of New York’s premiere hunting destinations, or the Bath Fish Hatchery which stocks an abundance of our rivers, streams and lakes, or a visit to Watkins Glen State Park or any one of the number of spectacular network of parks and trails dotting the landscape of home.
So it truly has been a thousand welcomes, and it has certainly enhanced my already deep appreciation and amazement at all that our state and region have to offer, and my understanding of the critical work facing all of us.
“I truly believe that we all share a critical piece of common ground, and it’s a common ground that’s a vital starting point for our future success,” Senator O’Mara has said in reflecting on his role as Chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee. “President Theodore Roosevelt expressed it as ‘the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.’ We will have differences and face controversies. But we have a responsibility to stewardship and conservation. We have a responsibility to do our best to address the challenges, to work through them, and consider and negotiate them in a balanced, deliberate, fair, serious and sensible way. I hope and I believe we will.”
What we’ve accomplished over the past two years has been important and meaningful in many ways, but it’s only the beginning and I’ll be fighting to keep building on these foundations.
“LOCAL ROADS MATTER”
The action comes after several years of effort and leadership together with Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. We’ve partnered with local highway superintendents and other local officials from throughout New York over the past several years to lead the fight in the Legislature for fairer and stronger state support for local transportation infrastructure.
At a news conference in Corning last fall, Senator O’Mara stressed the importance of the “Local Roads Matter” campaign to fight for fair and equitable funding for local roads and bridges.
These efforts have helped increase CHIPS funding by $125 million from 2013 to 2015.
For the first time since 2010, this year there will be parity in funding between the five-year state Department of Transportation (DOT) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) capital plans.
The new budget also provides $438 million in direct funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) while an additional $400 million ($100 million a year over four years) of funding for local roads will also be allocated through the CHIPS funding formula from a newly established PAVE-NY program for local roads.
Every additional dollar of state support means a dollar less that our local property taxpayers have to pay.
Earlier this year, in a joint statement, Assemblyman Palmesano and I said, “We’ve been working hard on this, session after session, since 2013 and so it’s very gratifying that this year’s state budget begins to take the kind of action that’s absolutely needed for local transportation infrastructure. It will make a significant difference for our local governments, local economies, local property taxpayers and motorist safety locally and statewide. This year’s budget marks an important move forward, we’ll keep working and building on it.”
Local roads and bridges account for 87% of the roads, 52% of the bridges, and 48% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State.
Since 2013, Senator O’Mara and Assemblyman Palmesano have built an ever-growing, bipartisan coalition of legislative colleagues, local leaders and local highway superintendents from every corner of New York State to rally support at the Capitol for local roads and bridges.
Consequently, our annual “Local Roads Matter” campaign keeps making the case for an even stronger state commitment to local roads, bridges and culverts. With the property tax cap and shrinking local revenues, CHIPS funding is absolutely critical to helping local communities and taxpayers.
A 2013 study conducted by the town highway superintendents association reported that New York needs to invest an additional $1.3 billion per year on local roads and bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient. An earlier report from the state comptroller called 32% of New York’s local bridges deficient and 40% of local roads fair or poor, and getting worse. A national transportation advocacy group, TRIP, has estimated that deteriorating roads cost New York motorists nearly an additional $25 billion annually – nearly $2,300 for the average driver in some areas — in lost time, fuel costs, vehicle repairs and other expenses.
THE SECOND AMENDMENT
I’m an avid outdoorsman and will always remain a strong advocate for the ideals, rights and traditions that sportsmen and sportswomen have long cherished. I firmly defend our Second Amendment right to bear arms. I am a member of the NRA and have received an “A” rating from the NRA Political Victory Fund, which recognizes me as being a “solid pro-Second Amendment/pro-hunting candidate who supports sportsmen and gun owners.”
As we all know, the Second Amendment has been under siege in New York State for many years. That’s especially been the case since the enactment of the NY SAFE Act in early 2013. I was one of 18 state senators who voted against the SAFE Act and, since then, have stood together with many citizens, sportsmen, law enforcement officers and other local leaders from across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions in opposition to the Act. Equally important, we’re opposed to the shoddy legislative process that produced a law so full of failings and shortcomings, and one that places even more state-imposed burdens on already hard-pressed upstate citizens and localities.
At a large SAFE ACT protest rally outside the Capitol in Albany in the spring of 2013, Senator O’Mara expressed his strong opposition.
I’m continuing to co-sponsor legislation to repeal the SAFE Act. We understand that the odds are more than long that Governor Cuomo or the State Assembly Democratic leadership will ever suddenly reverse course and agree to repeal it on their own. But this protest has had a lasting impact. The SAFE Act is a vehicle giving voice to the importance of the Second Amendment, but also to long-simmering frustrations and anger at a state government largely controlled by downstate, urban-oriented, liberal powers-that-be who couldn’t care less about upstate New York’s economic decline, upstate’s tax burden, our traditions and values, or our way of life.
On a more personal note, fishing is my pastime of choice. I often fish our Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario. As Chairman of the Chemung-Schuyler Red Cross, I helped organize the Annual Red Cross “Reeling for Relief” fishing tournament held each July on the Finger Lakes. I have been and will always be a strong supporter of programs to preserve and enhance our natural resources, and the hunting and fishing traditions which have for so long been a foundation of our economy and culture. I believe in a cooperative approach to fish and game management favoring inclusion of our sportsmen’s organizations in the process.
And never forget that hunting and fishing — the outdoor industry overall — is big business locally and throughout New York State, to the tune of more than $8 billion in annual economic activity. It’s a reminder that the traditions carried on by our sportsmen and sportswomen are truly anchors of upstate New York’s way of life – making irreplaceable contributions to the economy and the culture, and leading the way on conservation.
PUBLIC HEALTH & SAFETY: The Heroin Crisis
I was named a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction in 2014, at a time when regional law enforcement leaders and substance abuse treatment agencies were warning of the escalating abuse of heroin.
We all know what’s occurred since then: the rise of heroin has become a public health crisis.
Senator O’Mara sponsored a Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction public forum in Yates County earlier this year.
I’m proud of the work that the Senate Task Force on Heroin has done over the past several years. The news law, and programs and services, which have been enacted directly reflect the local input we’ve received at numerous public forums across New York State, including those I’ve sponsored in Elmira and Penn Yan.
This includes the most recent announcement, in late July, that $1 million in state funding is being awarded to Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services in Trumansburg (Tompkins County) to construct a new, 25-bed residential treatment facility to treat patients suffering from substance use disorders.
We know that treatment and recovery services are cornerstones of this ongoing battle against heroin and opioid addiction. These new residential treatment beds are critical. I commend and I look forward to continue working with Governor Cuomo and his administration, Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, my colleagues on the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction and all of the local leaders, law enforcement officers and concerned citizens doing our best to strengthen the state-local-federal partnership that’s needed to effectively combat this heroin and opioid epidemic. Read more HERE.
We’ve taken additional, comprehensive, important action again this year that will continue to strengthen our four-pronged anti-heroin response: prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement. Read more on this year’s critical actions — and know that this is a long-term fight and much more will need to be done. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to save lives from this deadly drug.
“The devastation, tragedy and violence associated with heroin, meth, bath salts and other illegal drugs is our number one public health crisis,” said Senator O’Mara, who sponsored a Senate Task Force hearing in Elmira in 2014.
There’s just no denying that we’re witnessing a disturbing rise throughout many local communities in drug-related addiction, violence and tragedy. It continues to draw local, federal and statewide alarm, and it should.
On this front, regional district attorneys, sheriffs, police departments, and other law enforcement agencies continue to perform outstanding service. If you suspect criminal activity, you should never hesitate to report it. The offices of county sheriffs throughout the 58th District can be contacted at:
- Chemung (607-737-2987);
- Schuyler (607-535-8222);
- Steuben (Tip Line: 1-877-862-4847);
- Tompkins (Tip Line: 607-266-5420); and
To those caught in the terrible spiral of drug abuse and addiction, we need to let them know that there are ways out and treatment is available. Information on substance abuse services in area counties can be obtained at:
- Chemung County (607-737-5501);
- Schuyler (607-535-8282);
- Steuben (607-664-2152);
- Tompkins (607-272-1616); and
- Yates (315-536-5149).
However most critical of all is the consistent message we keep sending to our young people about the dangers of substance abuse, in all its forms. The dangers and endless pitfalls associated with illegal drugs should never be taken lightly or dismissed out of hand. Too often the abuse of one drug leads to the abuse of another, more addictive, dangerous and destructive substance.
Distinguished veterans like Tony Specchio of Watkins Glen, my 2014 inductee into the Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame, are true American heroes who have earned and deserve our admiration and respect.
Throughout my Senate service, I’ve stood behind, strongly supported and co-sponsored numerous legislative efforts to help honor, in a variety of ways, the sacrifice and service of our veterans.
One measure I was particularly proud to sponsor recently seeks to encourage businesses and industries in New York State to hire returning veterans. One true highlight of the 2016-17 New York State budget extends the “Hire-a-Vet” tax credit that I helped sponsor and fought to create in 2013. It’s an investment in the future of returning veterans. It’s a tough economy all around, but the impact has been especially hard on veterans returning home during this recession to a weak private-sector economy.
Returning servicemen and servicewomen have had a hard time finding work and that’s particularly true for wounded veterans. We believe this tax credit is a worthwhile way to recognize their service and we hope it will help encourage economic opportunities and jobs for returning military men and women who have so much to offer.
Federal Bureau of Labor statistics have shown that unemployment reached a staggering 20 percent for veterans under the age of 30 who have recently returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, statistics show that a significant number of recently returned veterans report service-connected disabilities.
Under New York State’s Hire-a-Vet tax break, businesses became eligible for the tax break after employing a post-9/11 veteran for one year, beginning in 2014. The credit equals up to 10% of a veteran’s salary – 15% of disabled veteran’s salary – with the credit capped at $5,000 for a non-disabled vet and $15,000 for a disabled vet.
Senator O’Mara and Assemblyman Palmesano sponsored legislation designating the “Christopher J. Scott Memorial Highway” in tribute to one of our local fallen heroes.
I’ve also been privileged to sponsor legislation memorializing the lives and courageous service of some of the young soldiers we’ve lost from here at home, including the designation of the “Sergeant Devin Snyder Memorial Highway” in Cohocton, Steuben County, and the “Christopher J. Scott Memorial Highway” between the town of Reading (Schuyler County) and the village of Dundee (Yates County).
We welcome the opportunities we have throughout the year to express gratitude and respect to our veterans for their past service and for the enduring contributions they continue to make to our communities including the New York State Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
GROWN IN NEW YORK
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I was proud to co-sponsor legislation, now law, to place a two-percent cap on annual agricultural land assessment increases and deliver long-awaited and badly needed property tax relief to state farmers.
A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator O’Mara has worked with his Senate Republican Majority colleagues to put in place a comprehensive “Grown in New York” agricultural development strategy over the past several years.
This new law was a cornerstone of “Grown in New York,” a comprehensive economic development strategy for New York State agriculture unveiled by me and my Senate colleagues in early 2013 and continually updated, session after session, since then.
It has achieved a range of important actions, from tax relief and regulatory reforms, to support for longstanding and critical agriculture programs and services (so many of which are developed and delivered by Cornell University), assistance for beginning farmers to address the challenge of aging farmers and need to encourage the next generation and, this year, an initiative to attract veterans into farming.
I was also pleased to recently help announce the initial recommendations for a New York State Pollinator Protection Plan. It may not be the first challenge that comes to mind when you think about agriculture, but believe me it is a critical agricultural, environmental and economic concern.
Senator O’Mara joined other state and local leaders at Cornell University’s Dyce Lab to help announce the beginning of New York’s “Pollinator Protection Plan.”
I’ll keep fighting for action on other provisions of our “Grown in New York” plan, which focuses on tax cuts, regulatory reform, market expansion and a series of other economic growth initiatives. We need to keep taking actions that keep our farmers competitive for the long haul. We can’t risk New York State’s farmers being taxed, regulated and priced out of business.
The ‘Grown in New York’ plan is a bold, common sense blueprint to keep New York a proud and strong agricultural state. Farming has been a mainstay of upstate New York’s culture and economy for centuries, and it remains the backbone of many of our communities. But the challenges and the competition are tougher than ever.
In particular, I was proud to sponsor legislation enacted this session that continue to advance commonsense, long-overdue regulatory reforms to continue to spark growth in our world-class wine industry, and encourage the rapid growth in the number of craft brewers, cideries and distilleries which have become such vital economic growth engines across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions.
Senator O’Mara believes that the regulatory reform success which has been achieved within the agricultural industry should serve as a model for how cutting red tape and eliminating unnecessary state rules and regulations could help jumpstart turnarounds in other industries, especially manufacturing. Here he joins colleagues in Corning for a hearing to gather regulatory reform ideas within the manufacturing sector.
I strongly believe and will continue to promote idea that the success of regulatory reform within this sector of the agricultural industry should serve as a model for what regulatory reform could achieve if applied other sectors of New York State’s private sector economy.
Assemblywoman Lupardo and I also continue to work together to secure a strong position for New York State’s in the nation’s growing industrial hemp manufacturing industry — which holds out promising opportunities for many state farmers to diversify and seek new economic opportunities. Important action was taken toward reaching this goal with the enactment of legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Lupardo and myself this session.
RURAL NEW YORK
I’m also grateful to continue to serve as one of 10 state legislators on the joint, bipartisan Legislative Commission on the Development of Rural Resources, commonly known as the Rural Resources Commission.
I was first appointed to the group in 2011. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of Ithaca and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano of Corning also serve on the commission, which is currently chaired by New York Senator Patty Ritchie.
The Rural Resources Commission was established more than three decades ago, in 1982, to examine the impact of rural communities and industries on the state economy. Since then it’s done important, often landmark work on a range of rural challenges including agriculture, economic development, universal broadband, education, land use, transportation, local government structure and functions, volunteer recruitment and retention, and health care.
Approximately 44 of New York’s 62 counties are designated as rural, including all of the counties I represent.
At a forum in Cooperstown, Senator O’Mara joined his colleague, Senator Jim Seward, to hear from local transportation leaders from throughout the state on the state-imposed threats facing the future of rural, Upstate public transportation.
For several years, I’ve been focused and working with local transportation leaders from throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide, to keep attention focused on a critical crisis for Rural New York: the future of rural public transportation. We’ve taken important action this year with the Legislature’s recent approval of legislation creating an “Upstate Transit Funding Board.” It must be signed into law by Governor Cuomo.
QUALITY OF LIFE
On July 10, 2013, the administration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to shut down inpatient services at and diminish the overall role of the Elmira Psychiatric Center (Elmira PC) beginning in 2014.
A little over two weeks later, on July 26, 2013, a second Cuomo administration announcement revealed the administration’s intention to close the Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Schuyler County, also in 2014.
These two actions alone go a long way toward crystallizing the fundamentally important work facing so many communities across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes in the ongoing challenge to promote, protect and strengthen our locally based facilities and institutions.
The efforts to convince the Cuomo administration to reverse these decisions were difficult and demanded rallying local community support and action to make our case for maintaining each of these facilities.
Point one: cost effectiveness. We rightfully kept on highlighting the cost-effectiveness of the Elmira PC and Monterey Shock.
Senator O’Mara held legislative hearings and spearheaded community action to help save the Elmira Psychiatric Center after it was targeted for downsizing and potential future closure by the Cuomo administration.
The Elmira PC was the state’s highest-rated facility in key areas including cost-efficiency, length of inpatient stay and rate of readmission. The bottom line was that thanks to the Elmira PC it was costing the state just $3.65 million to effectively serve an 11-county region.
Turning our attention to Monterey, we knew that shock facilities had saved the state millions of dollars. Additionally, the participation of Monterey inmate work crews in numerous community service and enhancement projects across a four-county region here at home during the six years prior to 2013 alone saved local communities and taxpayers upwards of $6 million!
So we argued that the Cuomo administration could go ahead and keep on billing these proposed closures as fiscally necessary for New York in the long run, but it was important that we continue to let Governor Cuomo know that they were not making any fiscal common sense at all. It appeared hard, if not impossible to improve upon the Elmira PC’s record of fiscal responsibility. The same held true for Monterey.
Senator O’Mara, Assemblyman Palmesano and Assemblyman Friend at a “Save Monterey” rally, one of many that were held to try to reverse the Cuomo administration’s decision to shut down the facility.
In the end, this fight went well beyond dollars and cents. It cut to the core of the quality of New York State’s systems of mental health and correctional services.
Point two, then, was programmatic quality. We clearly made the case that the Elmira PC has been and remains an irreplaceable lifeline for thousands upon thousands of patients and their families throughout the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and western New York. And we easily demonstrated that the staff of Monterey, past and present, turned around numerous lives that were once at a dead-end but that, as a result of Monterey, are now productive and successful.
We ultimately won the battle to save the Elmira PC but, regrettably to this day, the Cuomo administration ignored the strong case we made to keep Monterey open.
Senator O’Mara took the fight to save Monterey straight to Albany and remains a strong ally of New York State correction officers regionally and statewide.
Each case goes to show that we must constantly remain on guard against these efforts by the Albany bureaucracy to impact our communities in these ways.
It’s why I was pleased to note some recently important state-federal support for the Academy of Fire Sciences in Montour Falls. Over the past few years, we’ve been concerned about and raised questions over the Cuomo administration’s future plans for the Academy.
The overriding point is that our communities must be ready, at a moment’s notice, to fight back and rally support for community institutions, programs or services being put at risk by the Albany bureaucracy. That’s what we’ve done.
It’s been said that you can pass as many laws as you want but if criminals are intent on committing crimes, laws won’t stop them.
That’s as true of violent street crime as it is of public corruption. As a former prosecutor, I know that for a fact.
But that doesn’t mean that we can afford to turn our backs on the ability of tough laws to act as deterrents. And we don’t.
Sadly, public corruption has taken front and center stage in New York State government far too often over the past decade and, especially, throughout the past year. Despite the existing, numerous laws and rules that have long been in place to prevent public corruption, there remain public officials who ignore these laws and break the public trust.
After each and every instance of another public official being convicted of another crime which tears down the public trust, the public outcry for more reform and tougher laws are more than understandable and warranted.
This session, the Legislature and Governor Cuomo reached agreement and enacted into law a new, 5-point Ethics Reform Plan to enact stricter election, lobbying and enforcement laws.
I’m especially pleased that this law finally includes an action that the Senate Majority took for the first time last year: if elected officials and other, high-level public policymakers break the public trust and are convicted of corruption, they will be stripped of their public pension benefits.
The law also puts in place a first-in-the-nation action to rein in the power of the independent expenditure campaigns which have proliferated since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Under this law, independent spending groups may not be formed by candidates or run by the candidate’s family members or former staffers. Independent spenders will be required to report the identity of anyone exerting control over their organization, as well as any former staffers and immediate family members of candidates. In short, it enacts the strictest anti-coordination law in America.
Other points of this year’s Ethics Reform Law include:
> first-time disclosure requirements for political consultants;
> lobbying disclosure reforms;
> issue advocacy reforms.
This year’s action will overhaul the New York State lobbying, ethics and public officer’s law. Disclosure requirements for lobbyists are being strengthened and penalties for lobbying violations are becoming tougher.
Furthermore, for the first time, political consultants who provide services to sitting elected officials or candidates for elected office and who also have clients with business before the state or local governments must register with the state and disclose these clients.
There are some who will continue to argue that the one and only answer to public corruption is for New York State to move from a part-time citizen Legislature to a full-time legislative institution.
I disagree. In fact, I believe the last thing New York’s citizens can afford is the creation of a full-time, highly paid political class (because, believe me, if this Legislature were to ever go to full time you can bet that the first thing to follow would be a massive pay raise for these “full-time” legislators).
I’ll pose it as a question: Do New York State’s citizens and taxpayers want a full-time legislative/political class which does nothing else but sit around all day, all year long, trying to justify their new profession by feeling compelled to come up with new laws, new ways to spend (and collect) taxpayer dollars, new taxes, new fees, new regulations, new mandates, new you name it.
Isn’t New York State, under a part-time Legislature, already overtaxing, overspending, overregulating and overlegislating? What do you think would happen under a full-time Legislature?
There are laws and rules in place that every single state legislator must abide by in order to earn and keep the public trust. When those laws and rules are violated, the public officials who do the violating must be punished to the fullest extent.
We’ve strengthened our ethics laws and rules this year, and we will keep strengthening them as necessary.
But a full-time Legislature, from my experience and in my view, would not be a cure for public corruption. Equally important, it would not be a positive development for New York State’s citizens and taxpayers.
The outpouring of local, grassroots support that I’ve witnessed throughout the past several years I’ve served in the Senate, in defense of the Elmira Psychiatric Center and Monterey Shock, for example, as well as more recently in response to the heroin crisis and so many other regional assets, challenges, crises, institutions and natural disaster responses has served as a dramatic reminder of how much the people of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region care and are always ready to help.
Senator O’Mara hosts the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester for a hearing in Bath for survivors of breast cancer to share their stories and to help strengthen area support services.
First, I can’t do enough to express my appreciation and to encourage your ongoing interest and participation in New York State government.
That’s especially true when it comes to your input on so many of the common goals we share throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. Throughout my time as your representative in the New York State Senate, I’ve heard from thousands upon thousands of constituents who took the time through an e-mail, a letter, a phone call or a community meeting to share concerns, ideas, opinions and suggestions for better government.
Senator O’Mara congratulated this group of Keuka College nursing school graduates and thanked them for their commitment to a future of vital public service.
This input makes all the difference, and I can’t do enough to encourage it.
The point is this: we can’t afford to stop working together on the economic, fiscal, public health and safety and all of the many other challenges facing our region and state.
Read more on all of these issues and actions being taken to address many other regional and statewide challenges confronting all of us on my official Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov.