LARRY TETAMORE/For the County News
The Livingston County Board of Supervisors watch a presentation by Senator Pat Gallivan about Geneseo's Kate Kingsley, who earned the senate's "Woman of Distinction" award this year.
Board of Supervisors
Gallivan reviews his year in the state senate
New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan, whose 59th district includes nine Livingston County towns, spoke before the county Board of Supervisors last Wednesday, July 25, providing on update on recent legislative progress in Albany.
Senator Gallivan concedes that state government has found itself in a “troubling spot,” severe to the extent that “there is no switch you can flip and fix things overnight.”
However, the senator is confident that, “New York is starting to move in the right direction — albeit slowly,” during the past year-and-a-half. He acknowledges the roles of a new governor, new Senate majority and new spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in getting the positive changes underway.
The focus of the new administrative and legislative attention has been on control of government spending and creation of private sector jobs. Gallivan is glad to report for a second consecutive year the on-time adoption of the state budget.
“In both budgets, all points of spending were reduced from the previous year,” Gallivan emphasized, adding, “The reductions were accomplished in a number of areas — but most significantly in state operations” which have been cut back eight-to-ten percent.
“The state is doing its part, although you could argue appropriately that the state can do more; that there are areas of wasteful spending that we must continue to work on,” Gallivan advised.
Gallivan documented a diminishing state budget gap: $10 million in 2011-12; down to $3 billion in 2012-13, and projected at less than $1 billion in 2013-14.
Significantly, he noted, the gaps have been, or will be, closed without resorting to tax and fee increases. Getting such control of two years of deficits has meant that the average working New York State family has avoided a $5,000 increase in state taxes.
Gallivan suggested that the 2013-14 deficit, projected at under one billion dollars, is not especially formidable in the context of an overall $130-plus billion state budget.
Deficits, he explained, are not caused by new spending, but rather by inherent increases in the state’s cost of labor and materials — for example, contracted salary increases or increases in a commodity such as asphalt. These increases must nevertheless be controlled if tax and fee increases are to be avoided.
Property tax and income tax relief are both state legislative objectives. Significant income tax cuts have been implemented for both families and businesses, Gallivan reported — putting the individual rate at its lowest level in 50 years, while corporate taxes have been reduced by approximately 50 percent.
The two percent property tax cap has placed strains and challenges upon local government, but has also saved money for taxpayers, Gallivan noted, while acknowledging “the other side” of the two percent cap, which is relief from state mandates for local government spending.
“The counterpart to mandates on local governments are regulations on business,” Gallivan pointed out. “We are easing these to create a much more friendly business environment.”
Returning to the issue of local government mandates, Gallivan admitted that legislation “clearly did not offer relief this year,” but promised, “over the course of time, there will be savings.”
The Medicaid takeover legislation, for which Gallivan himself was a sponsor, is a major piece in the effort to provide mandate relief. Medicaid expense is the single largest mandated item fostered upon county property tax payers.
Gallivan’s proposal was to freeze Medicaid cost to counties next year and then bring about incremental reductions in the costs to counties over the next four years. The total savings to Livingston County property taxpayers would be $1.5 million.
Over a longer, 20 year period of time, Gallivan intends to see a full state takeover of Medicaid costs.
“We will not be taking out of one pocket and paying out of the other pocket,” Gallivan promises. “We are calling for reduction in the spending as we are reducing the counties’ obligations.”
In September, Governor Cuomo had dismissed the Medicaid takeover legislation as having absolutely no chance for adoption. Gallivan, however, recruited support from counties, businesses, chambers of commerce and 80 of the 212 state legislators from both parties.
Remarkably, when the Governor introduced this year’s budget, it included Medicaid takeover, borrowed from the Gallivan proposal in near-verbatim form.
Likewise, pension reform, starting with the new Tier Six category, will save Livingston County an estimated $2.5 million over the next five years — and a staggering $160 million over the next 30 years.
Gallivan mentioned that the Governor’s Mandate Relief Council has yet to put forward recommendations of their own, but hopefully their reform package will be delivered by the end of the year, offering still further relief for county budgeting.
In the realm of economic incentives, Gallivan mentioned the NYWorks program, which will inject several hundred million dollars into the 17 county western New York economy, creating an estimated 2,500 new jobs related to repair of bridges, highways and other public infrastructure.
In his second session, Gallivan observes that Albany “clearly has a long way to go, but as long as the existing lineup stays in — majority and minority in both houses and in the executive’s office — state government will continue to focus on keeping spending under control; keeping property and corporate taxes under control, and “creating an economic environment that will present opportunities for our families and kids for years to come.”
“We have a lot of work to do as we move forward, and I greatly appreciate your help bringing things to my attention,” Gallivan said. “In my two years I have tried to be a true representative of the citizens I collectively serve in this and the other counties in the district. I try to be your voice and advocate in Albany — but I can only continue to do so if you continue to bring information forward to me.”
“We try our very hardest and best to work for individuals and businesses dealing with tribulations they’ve unfortunately had with state government. We haven’t been able to resolve everything, but we have resolved some things.”
Education funding reform
Gallivan mentioned education as the state’s second biggest area of spending.
“Our schools suffered greatly last year,” he said. “The funding formula is not fair to the upstate and rural schools. It works against them.”
Galllivan qualified that some progress has been made in both of the past budgets, with the greatest steps in 2012-13 thanks to a coalition of 13 upstate senators who advocated on behalf of their schools.
“We made some headway. Seventy-six percent of what was an $800 million increase went to schools like ours,” Gallivan reported.
Additionally, Genesee Valley BOCES has received state grant funding for a career education awareness program directed towards employment opportunities in agriculture, industry and technology — and local libraries will be receiving grant funding to assist technology upgrades for expanding citizen Internet access.
“We have a long way to go, but I do think we’re headed in the right direction. I thank you for your support and help,” Gallivan told the supervisors and audience. “I look forward to working together in the years to come.”
Acknowledging the Woman of Distinction: Kate Kingsley
“Perhaps one of the best things we do in Albany is recognize outstanding citizens — and one of the things we do at the end of the year is to recognize women of distinction across the state,” Gallivan said before introducing Kathryn ‘Kate’ Kingsley.
Kingsley’s involvement with Camp Good Days and Special Times, Teresa House and, in the wake of 9-11-01, as founder of the Medical Reserve Board, as well as serving as fundraiser for a variety of other worthy causes, is well known.
Gallivan said he was glad to receive Kate’s nomination, which “stood head and shoulders above other applications”, and thrilled to invite her to Albany in May, where she has been enshrined as the 59th Senate District Woman of Distinction for 2012.
Gallivan presented Kingsley with the recognition plaque to the applause of the full Board of Supervisors and audience.
Kingsley said she was humbled by the honor.
She paid tribute to the senator’s “wonderful energy” and expressed her fascination and admiration over the workings of state government, both of which she observed first hand during the Albany visit.