The ongoing pandemic continues to color legislative business, officials said Friday afternoon at the 17th Annual Legislative Forum hosted by the Genesis Group and the Chamber Alliance of the Mohawk Valley.
The pandemic has touched almost every aspect of the discussion, from how it affects business and education, to the areas it has revealed as needing attention, and how it is being managed.
“It’s clear that we can’t talk about anything without talking about COVID,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr., one of the elected officials who gave brief statements on legislative matters.
Other topics of discussion included Governor Kathy Hochul’s recent budget presentation and the need for broadband internet access in the region.
Eleven elected officials in total spoke briefly on Friday on legislative affairs within the framework of the forum.
These officials were:
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney
State Senator Joseph Griffo
State Senator Peter Oberacker
State Deputy Marianne Buttenschon
State Deputy John Salka
State Deputy Robert Smullen
State Assemblyman Brian Miller
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr.
Herkimer County Legislative Speaker Jim Bono
Mayor of Rome Jacqueline Izzo
Robert Palmieri, Mayor of Utique
All elected – with the exception of Buttenschon and Palmieri, who are Democrats – are Republicans.
The forum was moderated by Ray Durso, President and CEO of Genesis Group.
Mask and vaccination mandates and the effect of the pandemic on businesses were among the top pandemic topics at the forum.
Tenney Congresswoman R-New Hartford spoke out against warrants and said the decision should be left to the individual.
“I am personally vaccinated, but a warrant is a threat to individual liberty,” she said.
Tenney and several of the state officials also noted Governor Hochul’s warrants, including the mask warrant, which is currently making its way through the court system.
Senator Griffo, R-Rome, spoke about the effect of the pandemic on business and how he is focusing on health care and helping to ensure that people on the ground are properly trained and retained.
“We can reposition ourselves coming out of the pandemic,” Griffo said, after detailing some of the ways he thinks businesses are being affected, including high taxes and people leaving the state. “We have to be ready and willing to address these issues.”
Budget proposal from Governor Kathy Hochul
Every elected official in the state talked about Hochul’s budget proposal from earlier this month. Most took issue with it, especially how it has grown year on year.
“It’s increased every year since I’ve been in Albany,” said Miller, R-New Hartford, who has served in the Assembly for the past six years.
Miller further said that if the state has as much money as Hochul said, he might see the budget going in other directions.
Hochul, a Democrat, presented her first budget presentation of her term as New York governor on Tuesday, Jan. 18, presenting a $216 billion map for spending on child care, education, climate change and other initiatives.
Hochul will work with a fiscal surplus, proceeds from better-than-expected tax revenue and economic activity, and an influx of federal funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New York State government hasn’t had the luxury of running a surplus for years. Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, has often worked with multibillion-dollar deficits while striking budget deals in recent years.
A budget deal must be reached by April 1, with New York’s fiscal year beginning July 1.
Smullen, R-Gloversville, noted the surplus and floated the idea of giving additional sales tax revenue back to the public.
“We’re the highest-taxed state in the union,” Smullen said.
Many officials have spoken out on broadband, with many noting that the pandemic has highlighted the need for it in the region.
Picente and Bono spent some of their time talking about what is being done to help with broadband access in the region.
The two county leaders talked about a joint broadband survey that was sent out in May. County residents could respond to the survey until August, and Picente said the survey results would be released shortly.
“It’s key,” Picente said of broadband access, noting how it cuts across businesses, schools and other areas.
Broadband was one of the main areas Bono focused his remarks on. He noted that the county plans to spend $2 million to address broadband issues in Herkimer County.
The county is meeting with two local telecommunications companies next week that are able to help provide service, Bono said.
“It certainly won’t cover everyone in the county, but it’s a start,” he said.
Information from Gannett New York was used in this article.
Ed Harris is the Oneida County reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Ed Harris at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Genesis Group Legislative Forum Talks COVID, Budget and Broadband