From January 29th through February 2nd seven County Legislators and several County Officials were in Albany to attend this year’s NYSAC Legislative Conference. Those attending included Legislators Curt Crandall, David Decker, Dwight Fanton, Judy Hopkins, Kevin LaForge, Debra Root, and myself. Other officials in attendance included County Treasurer Terri Ross, County Administrator Tim Boyde, Clerk of the Board Brenda Riehle, Public Health Director Lori Ballengee, County Planner Kier Dirlam, Tyler Shaw and Lori Hennessy.
Monday morning began with NYSAC Committee Meetings. The standing committees included Agriculture& Rural Affairs, Taxation & Finance, Transportation & Public Works, Economic Development & Environment, Public Health & Mental Health, Public Employee Relations, Intergovernmental Relations & General Government, Children with Special Needs, Medicaid & Human Services, Public Safety, and Native American Affairs & Gaming. To cover as many meetings as possible our delegation attempted to have at least one representative each meeting. I attended Public Employee Relations and Medicaid & Human Services. In addition to general updates we learned about various initiatives occurring around the State.
The keynote speaker for Monday’s luncheon was State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. He reported State budget challenges and trends he is seeing in county government throughout the state. He noted that Downstate has mostly recovered from the Great Recession. Unfortunately, Upstate’s recovery has been much slower. He reported that more than 90% of the growth in our state since 2008 has occurred Downstate. Upstate counties have struggled to handle state mandated costs and programs. He reported that the State Pension Funds are doing well, and remain fully funded. Current pension reserves now exceed $180 billion.
Monday afternoon, and Tuesday morning and afternoon consisted of numerous workshops. Topics ranged from “Developing an Employee Social Media Policy”, to Pre-School Special Education, Medicaid Financing & Rate Reform, to Next Generation E-911, to Cybersecurity & Threats to IT Systems, to Early Childhood Intervention Issues, to Indigent Defense Developments, to State Budget Review, to Counties Working with Airbnb, to “Leftover Paint: A Solid Waste Nightmare”, to Ridesharing Innovations in Transportation, to County Veteran Programs, to Reducing County Energy Programs. County representatives tried to cover as many of these workshops as possible. Some workshops were very valuable, while others seemed either too technical or too general. Overall I believe that I learned a great deal.
On Tuesday morning there was a Plenary Session consisting of a presentation by Chris Low, Chief Economist for FTN Financial Capital Markets. He analyzed current economic trends. He is generally hopeful that markets and business will do well over the next several years. He was generally favorable about the economic policies of President Trump. I asked a question about the impact of increases in minimum wage rates. He noted that numerous studies show that while incomes go up for some entry-level positions, that overall employment usually declines. The reason is that businesses are motivated to automate and eliminate the entry-level positions. It usually has the greatest negative impact on young workers, and on the lowest earning individuals.
On Tuesday evening Curt Crandall, Kevin LaForge, Tim Boyde and I attended a reception/dinner that Governor Andrew Cuomo hosted at the Executive Mansion. About 150 County leaders gathered for the privilege of being “scolded” by Governor Cuomo. He reported that he is doing a great job, and that the State is in fantastic shape. The only negative mark on his record is that local real property taxes are too high. He blames that on local officials. He took no responsibility for State mandates. He stated that there would be no significant mandate relief for local governments. His 2017 Budget Proposal calls on County leaders to convene meetings with Town and Village leaders to find ways to save costs and reduce taxes. They must submit a proposal to the County Legislature by the end of August, and a proposal must be submitted for countywide referendum in the November General Election. If it doesn’t pass they must do the same thing again next year.
I hope to report more on this proposal in an upcoming article. And that’s the news from Albany.