A Column from Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C,I,Ref-Lockport)

During this unprecedented time of a public health and economic crisis, the state needs to be fiscally sound while ensuring proper resources are allocated for public health, education and infrastructure. This is the time to be laser focused on these critical priorities while ensuring fiscal responsibility.

Prior to the COVOD-19 pandemic, the state was already facing a $6 billion  deficit, and it is estimated now that the state will face a $10 to $15 billion deficit. Our state is also second in the nation in debt to the tune of $60.4 billion. Facing this stark reality and public health situation, the State Legislature and governor should have taken this opportunity to have an open and transparent budget process – focusing on dollar and cents only, and not shoving non-budgetary, unrelated policy items into the budget adoption.

Sadly, the downstate driven majorities chose to craft a final state budget – which was debated during the middle of two separate nights – filled with pet policy provisions that negatively impact the hardworking residents of upstate New York. Some of these issues include amendments to how major renewable energy facility projects are sited, which severely limits local control and local representation in a now expedited and fast-tracked process. It also establishes a publicly funded campaign system beginning during the 2024 election cycle in the amount of $100 million a year and setting a higher threshold limit for political parties to receive permanent ballot access, which stifles an individual’s constitutional right to political association.   

Despite many policy challenges, education funding remaining flat, cuts to our libraries and the lack of real adjustments to our Medicaid program in terms of eligibility and costs, there were a few bright spots that I fought for over the past few months that will benefit our upstate communities:

– A longstanding loophole in healthcare coverage was addressed to ensure that volunteer firefighters are covered with enhanced cancer disability benefits;
-The Extreme Winter Recovery program was restored in the amount of $65 million, which will assist local municipalities fix our roads;
-The Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer to Peer Counseling program was fully restored in the last minute of final budget negotiations; and   
-The reversal of the provision providing three hours paid voting which was adopted in last year’s budget. The elimination of this paid time off section is good for businesses and taxpayers.

However, while reflecting on this massive $178 billion budget, it does not adequately address the needs of the people of Western New York, nor the mandates placed on our businesses, taxpayers and local municipalities. It also doesn’t address the continued exodus of over 75,000 people a year in our state, and substantial adjustments to our bloated Medicaid system which amounts to about 40% of the state budget. It is riddled with many ridiculous policy changes and is not a true reflection of the strong fiscal headwinds coming our way from the uncertainty of the impending crisis. Based upon the aforementioned, as your voice and representative, I voted NO on the entire state budget this year. 

While this budget chapter has ended with changes which will impact us for many years, I encourage you to focus this time on what matters most in these trying moments. Please stay safe and healthy. And let’s provide a special thank you to all who are serving us during this pandemic, especially our doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, military, first responders, and grocery store and delivery workers. You are all on the frontline of this battle and we all truly appreciate your outstanding dedication and sacrifice. Though we are facing dark and uncertain times, brighter skies are indeed ahead.