Remarks from Senator Ranzenhofer at Clarence American Legion Meeting on September 9th


Remarks from Senator Ranzenhofer at Clarence American Legion Meeting
September 9, 2009

Thank you Neil for selecting me as a guest speaker tonight.  It’s nice to recognize so many familiar faces in the audience this evening. It’s great to be here in Clarence, rather than in Albany – that’s for sure.  In fact, later this evening, I will travel back to Albany for special session tomorrow.  I would like to take a few minutes to update you on some of my efforts on behalf of veterans and some of the major issues that I have been fighting for on your behalf in Albany.

I truly enjoy it when I have the opportunity to speak to veterans.  Just two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Veterans Memorial Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony in Tonawanda, where, as you may have heard, Former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell spoke. I had the opportunity to talk with him and it was a wonderful ceremony to be a part of. 

Veterans memorials such as the one being dedicated a few weeks ago in Tonawanda, monuments in Washington, D.C. – the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Wall – are not only symbols to illustrate our veterans’ dedication and service to our country, but more importantly, they truly ensure that future generations of Americans know and appreciate the sacrifice that so many veterans have given to their country.

On that note, I would like to thank you for your service to our country and especially for being a member of the American Legion.  Since 1919, the American Legion has served to remind us and future generations of Americans how much veterans have given to our country to preserve our freedom.  As your State Senator, I have focused on ensuring veterans are aware of the benefits that they are entitled to and raising awareness for the Purple Heart Stamp. 

Last May, Erie County Director of Veterans Service Patrick Welch and I hosted a Veterans Outreach Program at the Harlem Road Community Center in Amherst.  It’s so important that veterans be made aware of all the benefits they have earned.  The outreach program helped to ensure that our veterans and their families have access to all the programs and services which are available. You have earned them.  

Representatives from the Erie County Veterans Service Agency, Vietnam Veterans of America, the VA Hospital and the New York State Department of Labor were on hand to offer information and answer questions.  The turnout was just fantastic; over 50 veterans, their spouses and family members attended the program.  The event was such a success that we have begun planning another similar veterans outreach program for November.

Another issue that I have been promoting for our veterans is making the Purple Heart Stamp a forever stamp.  As you may know, General George Washington established the Purple Heart in 1782.  Since then, over 1.7 million service men and women have received the world’s oldest military honor still awarded today. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a letter to Postmaster General John Potter, requesting the United States Postal Service issue the Purple Heart stamp as a permanent Forever Stamp.  This way, when postal rates increase, the Purple Heart stamp will not have to be re-issued at the new price and we can all be assured that the Postal Service will continue production of the stamp.

The Purple Heart stamp is one more tribute to those service men and women who have bravely defended the liberty and freedom for which our country stands.  It publicly commemorates all of those who have been killed or wounded in battle and the democratic principles for which they fought.

On March 10, I sponsored a resolution, that later passed the New York State Senate unanimously, which called on the Postal Service to make the stamp a forever stamp.  I hope that the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee will consider printing a Purple Heart Forever stamp since it is an enduring symbol worthy of a Forever Stamp.  After the resolution passed, I held a news conference outside the Clarence Center Post Office with Purple Heart recipients to encourage the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee to make it a forever stamp.  I am hoping that within the next few years, the Postal Service will issue the Purple Heart Stamp as a forever stamp.

I would also like to take a moment to update you on just a few of the issues that I have been working on in Albany.

As you may already know, the 2009-2010 New York State  budget eliminated the STAR rebate check program earlier this year. As a result, you will not receive the three or four hundred dollar check that normally helps you with your property tax bills. 

Western New Yorkers already pay the highest property taxes in the nation.  In the past, the STAR rebate check program provided much needed property tax relief.  Senior citizens and families often use the rebate checks not just to defray sky-rocketing property taxes, but to off-set energy costs, college tuition and other household expenses.  Eliminating the STAR rebate checks makes it harder for both families and senior citizens to make ends meet, especially during these tough economic times.

Even worse, I am concerned that eliminating the STAR rebate checks is the first step by some State leaders to cancel the STAR tax exemption on your school property taxes.  That is why I have been very vocal on this issue, holding press conferences and even introducing legislation to reinstate the STAR rebate checks.

Another recent issue that thousands of residents have been calling my office about is the new 2% utility tax on your utility bills.  Starting July 1, 2009, individuals and businesses have to pay a 2%  State Assessment Fee on top of their monthly utility bills.  I have started an online petition to repeal the tax by visiting my web site.  I have also introduced legislation in the Senate to repeal this tax.

The tax was included in the New York State budget with numerous other new tax and fee increases as a way to close the State budget deficit.  But this new tax doesn’t even come close to fixing the $2.1 billion State deficit.  New taxes and fees just don’t work.  Instead, they only make matters worse.

In fact, the truth is in the numbers: as I said, the State deficit is at $2.1 billion now, with a projection to grow to $4.6 billion in 2010-2011 and $13.3 billion in 2011-12.  New York State cannot continue to tax and spend it’s way out of a fiscal mess.

Only across-the board spending cuts in every State agency and department will deliver property tax relief and fiscal responsibility that New Yorkers have been demanding for so long. When you put together your household budget, if your income decreases, then you are forced to cut spending. Honestly, I believe New York State should have to do the same.  

That is why I have been calling on the Governor and State legislature to deal with the $2.1 billion dollar deficit that faces New York State.  Tomorrow, as the Senate goes into special session, I will be urging my colleagues to deal with the deficit and seriously consider making across-the-board spending cuts.

Again, I appreciate your invitation to speak to you tonight and I cannot sincerely thank you enough for your service to our country and to both your community and fellow veterans as a member of the American Legion.