Cuomo to push upstate initiatives to counter regional disparity

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, left, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, right, put their arms around Jim Ridgeway, a District 4 representative for the United Steelworkers Unions from Pulaski, in November at the Alcoa West Plant in Massena. Gov. Cuomo held a conference call Monday with media outlets to discuss the upstate rehabilitative initiatives in his 2016 Executive Budget. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, left, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, right, put their arms around Jim Ridgeway, a District 4 representative for the United Steelworkers Unions from Pulaski, in November at the Alcoa West Plant in Massena. Gov. Cuomo held a conference call Monday with media outlets to discuss the upstate rehabilitative initiatives in his 2016 Executive Budget. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

Downstate New York gets a lot of love, and upstate is left out in the cold.

That was the underlying message in a Monday conference call between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and media outlets to discuss the upstate rehabilitative initiatives in his 2016 Executive Budget.

The reason downstate is given more in the way of economic support, he said, is that most of the state legislature is from New York City and Long Island. Upstate legislators, on the other hand, have not formed a significant partnership.

“There is no association as upstaters, so there’s no alliance in the legislative body among the upstate members, and then each regional delegation gets overwhelmed by downstate, and I can feel it coming again,” Gov. Cuomo said.

“The downstate initiatives have gotten much louder political support, editorial support and coverage than the upstate initiatives, and in many ways the upstate initiatives are more critical to the development of the economy in the region.”

Gov. Cuomo has several upstate-centric initiatives lined up in his 2016 Upstate Agenda, the most significant of which is the $22 billion capital investment in upstate road and bridge rehabilitation. North country legislators, including Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, and State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, have fought for getting more infrastructure funding parity between upstate and downstate. Cuomo’s plan puts forth billions for bridge and road reconstruction and airport development.

Even though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is getting a $26 billion capital investment, Gov. Cuomo said the additional $4 billion was invested by New York City itself — something he can’t control. And in terms of getting upstate’s funding to each region proportionately, Gov. Cuomo said it will be up to the political process through the Assembly and the State Senate.

As property taxes continue to be the bane of upstate’s economy, Gov. Cuomo said too much blame is put on the state when income taxes have been brought to an all-time low and the property tax levy has been capped at 2 percent.

The problem, he said, is that there is little consolidation and service sharing among the state’s 10,500 municipalities to lighten the tax burden.

“When you have 10,000 of them, it is a very expensive price to pay,” he said “That is the point people don’t get.”

In the north country, a few St. Lawrence County municipalities are starting to get it, however.

In October, the village of Hermon voted to dissolve into the town of Hermon, which will cut costs and bring in $100,000 from the state every year. The towns of Clifton and Fine have also discussed merging, which would generate over $300,000 in state incentives.

A $70 million competition for upstate municipalities to stay under the 2-percent property tax cap is included the governor’s budget, which would give more incentive to start consolidating and sharing services. Local governments that accomplish this could be awarded around $20 million.

Other proposals in his budget include reducing Thruway toll costs, allocating $1 billion to bring broadband Internet upstate, eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment for school districts and $100 million in additional funding for water infrastructure projects.

By Brian Molongoski, Watertown Daily Times