Duprey reacts to governor's State of the State address, cites questions about funding sources

Governor Eliot L. Spitzer's State of the State address has attracted a mixture of responses from his constituents at the state and local government levels. Following his speech Jan. 9, Assemblywoman Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, offered her remarks about what the governor said or rather, didn't say. "I think, as with most of the governor's budget, he talked about spending millions of dollars, but didn't indicate any source of revenue," said Assemblywoman Duprey. "He's clearly said no new taxes, no new fees, but there's got to be a way to pay for it. We have not seen the detail yet." The 68-minute speech delivered by the governor highlighted several topics facing the state, including health care, education, physician attraction and retention and property tax relief, among others. Governor Spitzer stated New Yorkers must have "quality health care" families, businesses and the state can afford, which includes "affordable coverage for every single child in this State." "I can't think of anything better than making sure our children our next generation are insured and able to receive particularly primary care, preventative care," said Assemblywoman Duprey. "It's an outstanding proposal and one that of the many things he said I certainly hope we can see become a reality, but there also has to be a revenue source." The governor's plan to increase funding for education is also a worthy one, said Assemblywoman Duprey, though funding for higher education through an endowment of at least $4 billion is no small feat. Though the governor said he plans to "unlock some of the value of the New York State Lottery, either by taking in private investment or looking at other financing alternatives," Assemblywoman Duprey said she heard no real detail of how that will happen. "[The governor] said he's not going to touch the $2.1 billion that's already being raised for K-12 education," said Assemblywoman Duprey, who added she would like to see exactly how the proposal would be funded. Colleges and universities within the 114th Assembly District and across the state could stand to use that funding to help stimulate the workforce, she said. On the issue of property tax relief, Assemblywoman Duprey said she was pleased the governor touched on the subject. "Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's the number one concern of people through my district. I hear it everywhere, I hear it all the time," said Assemblywoman Duprey. The governor's proposal to appoint Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi to the head of a bipartisan commission to investigate the reason for ever-increasing taxes, was a "good move," said Assemblywoman Duprey. The commission will, in part, examine unfunded mandates for both school districts and municipalities. The commission would also provide proposals to make the state's tax relief system "fairer to the middle class taxpayer" and a "fair and effective cap" to "hold the line on sky-high school district property taxes once and for all." "Tom Suozzi has been arguing about mandates for years and come up with good information in the past and I think he will certainly take this very seriously," said Assemblywoman Duprey, who noted she disagreed with the governor's position on capping school district taxes. "It's what everyone wants to hear, but school districts still face employee contracts and health insurance costs and still have many benefits they have to provide. There has to be the right balance, the right combination," explained the assemblywoman. "I don't feel we can cap local government unless we also relieve the mandates and give the government flexibility and assist them in the field of education and continue with the Medicaid cap. We're one of only two states in the nation that require local taxpayers to fund Medicaid. When we do all these things at the state level, we have to have revenue sources." The bottom line, said Assemblywoman Duprey, is property tax relief is critical. "We must provide relief for the homeowners," she said. "We cannot do it by just transferring the real property tax burden to our small businesses and our farms." An equally important issue the governor discussed was that of infrastructure, Assemblywoman Duprey said. In his speech, Gov. Spitzer cited the creation of a $1 billion "Upstate Revitalization Fund" that will increase available funds for business investments, agribusiness and infrastructure. Infrastructure, said Assemblywoman Duprey, is essential to economic development in the North Country, from high-speed Internet access to cell phone service. While the governor mentioned communities like Massena, Schenectady and the Souther Tier as examples of results of statewide efforts to revitalize the upstate economy, it's Assemblywoman Duprey's hope Clinton and Essex counties will be included on the list the state is examining for the future. A $250,000 commitment the governor announced in October for preliminary planning to create an upstate broadband network is something Assemblywoman Duprey said she hopes is not the last of aggressive funding the North Country will see. "We have to see more money and it has to be a combination of federal, state and private funding," she said. "The only way truly good broadband access can be obtained is with a three-pronged attack." Assemblywoman Duprey applauded local companies such as Primelink, TwinState and Westelcom for being "willing to come to the table and put up their own money and provide the service to their customers." The cost of running fiber optic lines is incredibly expensive she said, and cohabitation and cooperation is the key to keeping costs down for all involved. Progress has also been made for providing cell phone coverage for rural parts of the North Country, said the assemblywoman, though permanent service has a "long way to go" and would also benefit from further funding from the state and federal governments. Having adequate infrastructure in place will help market the region to those considering relocating to the North Country, she said, including physicians, who were also noted as critical need for upstate. The governor's proposal to create Doctors Across New York, a program which will offer grants to doctors to help repay education loans and find "other ways to make it appealing for doctors to move to our States medically underserved areas," is also favored by the assemblywoman. "We're very, very pleased with his discussion of recruitment and retention of physicians in areas such as the 114th district, where we have such a shortage," said Assemblywoman Duprey, who added proper physician reimbursement rates are also pivotal in that plan. In the governor's speech, he stated, "Outdated reimbursement systems pay too much for some hospital-based procedures that technology has now made routine, and too little for primary and preventive care that should be routine. If we want to lower costs and increase quality, we must start paying for the right care in the right setting at the right price, and I will propose that we do so." "[The governor] certainly didn't have the dynamic fire and brimstone he had his first year," Assemblywoman Duprey said, referring to his State of the State address. "He said some excellent things, but there's was absolutely no detail. It's a 68-minute speech so you can't detail everything, but looking forward to getting the background of what his intent is." The governor was to deliver New York's first State of the Upstate address in Buffalo Jan. 16. Due to this newspaper going to press Tuesday, the day before the speech, information and reaction to that address will appear in our next edition.

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