Monthly Column: While progress has been made, challenges still remain for Empire State

 

By: Michael H. Ranzenhofer

As a new year begins, so does another legislation session, and with that, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his third State of the State address last Wednesday afternoon at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.  While he emphasized the progress of the last two years, there are many remaining challenges ahead for the Empire State. 

The State Legislature has been able to work together– unlike the gridlock and partisanship in Washington, D.C.– to pass two on-time budgets that reduced overall spending, lowered middle-class tax rates to their lowest levels in 58 years, and established Regional Economic Development Councils.  

However, the State will face challenges again this year, including a $1 billion budget deficit and an economic recovery that hasn’t been creating jobs at a fast enough pace. 

New efforts to offer low-cost electricity to companies and tax relief for over 5,000 upstate manufacturers are a few of the many actions taken to improve our business climate.  Yet, the price tag to operate a business is still high.  That is why I was encouraged when the Governor recognized in his remarks that reforms to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance could further lower the cost of business.  

Year-to-year budgets deficits have been drastically reduced due to cost-cutting measures. Now, New York only faces a $1 billion budget deficit, instead of a combined gap of $13 billion during the last two budget cycles.  As decisions are made to balance the budget, it must be done the right way by continuing to find proposals to further reduce spending and avoiding taxes to plug up our budget holes.

In order to close budget gaps– as well as turn deficits into surpluses– for the long term, more aggressive action is needed to grow our economy. The private sector created over 210,000 jobs in New York State alone during the last two years, and the ultimate goal should be promoting policies that get this number much, much higher.

That is why I was pleased to hear, after announcing a billion dollars for economic development for the Buffalo region a year ago, the Governor recommended a series of initiatives to strengthen the State’s economy and revitalize Upstate New York. His proposals, Innovation Hot Spots, NY Network and Venture Capital Fund, have an enormous amount of potential to create jobs and business growth for the 21st century. 

While there are many other issues that will be debated throughout the year, I am optimistic that we can pass a budget on time, if not early; close a billion dollar gap with cuts to spending, not taxes; and make the right investments to move our economy in an even stronger direction. 

Senator Ranzenhofer's Monthly Column appeared in the Amherst and Clarence Bee on January 16.