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COLUMN: Stage Set for New Legislative Year in Albany, but Will Albany Deliver?

— It was good to be back in the State Capitol last week and embark on this legislative year.

This week included the annual State of the State address by Gov. Cuomo. He talked about a variety of topics including creating the country's largest convention center in New York City, investing $1 billion in Buffalo for job creation, forming an energy superhighway and reforming education. As a representative of this region, I wanted to share my thoughts on the most important aspects of his speech that will impact our area. I was glad to hear many of them mentioned and hope we in Albany can build off the momentum of last year. Much, however, remains to be seen, as we await details on these proposals.

Mandate relief

We need to finish the job we started last year by passing a property tax cap. Unfunded and underfunded mandates drive up costs for schools, municipalities, and, accordingly, increase property taxes that support them. I was glad to hear the Governor say the words "mandate relief." This is a critical if we are to truly cut costs. We need to reduce the mandates associated with Medicaid by lowering the local cost share for counties. We need to take some of the requirements away from school districts. We need to give local cities, villages and towns a way to work within their means, without cutting basic services that residents need and demand. I sincerely hope, for all of our sakes, mandate relief is finally part of the 2012 legislative session.

School aid reform

As part of my duties as representative for this region, I meet and talk regularly with parents, taxpayers, school district representatives and teachers in both Oswego and Onondaga counties who are concerned about education. In virtually every one of those conversations, the school aid formula is mentioned. We need to reform the school aid formula so that funding is more equitable. State aid accounts for a large portion of low-wealth districts' total budgets so when we talk about a 10-percent cut across the board for school districts in our region, this forces districts to cut staff and close schools, but to somehow maintain state and federally mandated services. Cuomo said education reform will be a priority this year. I hope the school aid formula is reformed as part of his proposed plan, because this formula is unfair to those students who need help the most. I await more details.

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