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Local legislatures look toward New Year

ALBANY - When the New York State legislature returns to session in January 2008, all three North Country representatives are on the same page: the top priority is property tax reform. Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward and Janet Duprey and Senator Elizabeth Little recently reflected on the events of 2007, but all agreed that for 2008, trying to get property tax reform legislation passed was their main goal. Little pushing forward with tax reform plans
Little said she was working with Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, who represents parts of Putnam and Westchester Counties, on legislation to cap property taxes using a percentage of income and ability to pay. The "circuit breaker" legislation is her top priority, and Little said several taxpayer advocate groups have given approval of the plan. The state budget will also be contentious, with the comptroller projecting a $4 billion shortfall. Little said she was against any kind of tax increase, especially with high gas prices effecting area residents. "The budget is going to be difficult - we did very very well for schools last year which helped keep the property taxes down. In order to do that again, we're going to have to cut some other areas," said Little. Progress has been made on some key issues, Little said. The Adirondack Community Housing Trust would help with housing options for year-round residents. A permanent plan to provide cell service by Verizon will likely come to fruition in the summer, but Little wanted to get temporary towers up for at least part of this winter. Getting a gas line into Franklin County, and other infrastructure improvements were also important to little. "I certainly hope that we can make some improvements in the North Country. Everyone talks about improving the economy of the North County, and I hope the state will put the money in the projects we have that we need some assistance for," said Little. Sayward frustrated with partisanship
Sayward, who represents the 113th District, said 2007 had been very frustrating due to a partisan climate in Albany. She said while she entered the year with hope, the budget process had been a huge disappointment. "The whole budget process went back into five men in a room - there was no real work in those conference committee," said Sayward. She said the budget was presented without the require "plain language" summary that was required by state law, and there hadn't been enough time to review it. After the budget conflict, Sayward believed "everything went downhill after that." She said the fault lay on the both sides of the aisle. For the coming year, reform was needed on the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). New York State is currently in violation of the federal law, the furthest behind in implementing the 2002 federal law. "This was the worst, least productive legislative session I've seen while in office," said Sayward. Sayward said there were some successes, notably the passage of a civil confinement law for sex offenders. Sayward said the state needed to reauthorize parts of the No Child Left Behind Act and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). She anticipated that Broadband Access would also be an explosive issue next session. Sayward is also working with Hudson Headwaters to create the Adirondack North Country Pilot project, which would put together a system of rural health care delivery. Sayward said she was entering 2008 with a renewed sense of hope. She wanted to get back to business, and move past what had happened in 2007. "I think the people have really gotten disgusted with what's going on in Albany, and we have to move to go forward. I'm hopeful, I'm ever-optimistic - we're going to have change," said Sayward. While working on the state level had been frustrating, Sayward said her constituents and local officials had been extremely cooperative. "I represent one of the greatest areas in New York, and I've had such cooperation from the local government, which speaks about the character of people in the North Country They are the backbone of what happens," said Sayward. Duprey reflects on first year
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey of the 11th District is currently wrapping up her first year as a state official. Duprey said it's been a learning process, but she was enjoying the challenge immensely. "The most surprising is how busy it is. I'm enjoying it. I'm really glad I made the decision to run, and have the population to serve," said Duprey. Duprey was pleased with some of what the assembly approved, including worker's compensation reform and funding schools at the highest levels in years. Allotting $30 million in agriculture aid was also important, she added. The legislature also stopped the governor's proposal to cut funding to local hospitals. Duprey stated the funding shortage would have been devastating. Escalating health costs needed to be addressed, Duprey said. She hoped to help encourage additional health insurance providers to enter the region to make the market more competitive. Helping to maintain a good health care infrastructure is another challenge. Recruitment and retention of medical personnel are another issue, particularly primary health care physicians. Issues on the state level include legislation to protect children from violent and sexually explicit video games, and revising the Rockefeller drug laws. Getting a good commuter airline into Plattsburgh and the Tri-Lakes region was something she hopes to work on in 2008. Broadband service is also a needed infrastructure improvement. "We're oh-so-close to the cell phones on the Northway. We'd hoped to have the temporary ones operating by now. We've made really good progress in Verizon getting the permanent towers, but we don't want to have to go through this winter without," said Duprey. In Franklin County, Duprey said the expansion of the St. Lawrence Natural Gas Line was a key issue. Having the natural gas would help businesses expand or move into the region. In Clinton County, Duprey hoped to get a state veterans cemetery approved. She felt it would tie into the region's historical military ties, along with providing a service. Duprey agreed with Sayward that the budget process was the most frustrating thing she'd encountered. "Way too much of it is done in secret by five men in a room, and I'm not sure it's good for government, or the people," said Duprey. Duprey said her favorite part of the job had been visiting with constituents. In just one year, she's put 26,000 miles on her car. She'd also spent times touring the eight prison systems within her district, learning about their importance to the region. "It's pretty intense, and I came away with an enhanced respect for these facilities, and it's a tough job," said Duprey.

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