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Senator Tom O'Mara

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  1. Numbers help tell every story. For example, many studies have helped make the case that children who read during the summer months make greater academic gains in the following school year than children who do not. In fact, statistics on the “summer slide” jump right off the page, including that: Students can lose up to 25 percent of their reading level over the summer; Children who don’t engage in summer reading lose approximately two months of instructional time, or roughly 22% of the school year; and By the end of the sixth grade, children who lose reading skills during the summer are, on average, two years behind their peers. While numbers alone help tell the larger story, words themselves deliver the most impactful testimony of all. Scholastic’s “Kids & Family Reading Report” has become one of the gold standards of advocacy and research on the importance of summer reading. The organization’s Chief Academic Officer, Michael Haggen, has said, “Parents, grandparents, older siblings, teachers, principals—everyone in a child’s life—can be a reading role model. It’s up to us all to provide the opportunity for choice, be readers ourselves, ask and answer questions about what a child is reading, read aloud together (regardless of age!), and more. When a child knows that the people surrounding them value reading, we will have a greater culture of literacy in our homes and in our schools.” The bottom line is that summer reading is a lifeline for children. Consequently, I am grateful this summer to join with the New York State Library and public libraries statewide, including so many throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, on “Summer Reading at New York Libraries” initiatives. Scholastic itself also offers a summer reading program that you can find out more about at: www.scholastic.com/summer. For my part, I’m proud to share the Senate’s online summer reading program. To participate, students and parents can visit my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov, and click on the “Summer Reading Program” logo on the home page. At its most fundamental level, summarizing the range of research on the importance of summer reading for students is straightforward: it is all about getting books into the hands of kids. According to Scholastic, a few of the keys to successful summer reading are letting young readers choose the books they want to read (91% of children say they are more likely to finish a book if they have picked it out themselves), encouraging kids to read four or more books and, most importantly, providing easy access to books. The underlying importance of access points directly to the critical role our public libraries play to encourage students and their families to read. Libraries are the gateway for making books and other reading materials and programs available throughout our communities. Our region is incredibly fortunate to have an outstanding network of public libraries providing access to books and other reading activities, materials, and opportunities. Of course, our local libraries sponsor a variety of summer reading activities and events. Visit the website of the Southern Tier Library System, www.stls.org, for links to member libraries in Allegany, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties. The members of the Finger Lakes Library System, including Seneca, Tioga and Tompkins counties, are online at www.fls.org. Over two million young people statewide have participated in its summer reading program annually, according to the New York State Library. More information on “Summer Reading at New York Libraries” is online at www.nysl.nysed.gov. There are plenty of ways to help children get summer off to a great start and then to keep making the season meaningful and memorable. A reading list is one of the best ways of all.
  2. Among numerous other designations, the month of June is recognized as National Great Outdoors Month. It is worth some attention here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. At a time when we need to stay in pursuit of every possible ray of hope, it is one bright spot in an otherwise cloudy and unsettled economic future. The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) gets right to the point, “Outdoor recreation is an economic force.” It’s a point well taken and one that governmental leaders, at all levels, and in all places, should take to heart. Prior to the onset of COVID-19 and subsequent shutdowns across our economies and ways of life, it was reported that America’s outdoor recreation industry was generating a $734 billion “gross domestic product output” while producing $887 billion in consumer spending and supporting nearly eight million jobs. Yet even in the face of the pandemic’s unprecedented challenges and upheaval, outdoor recreation remained strong, still accounting for nearly $700 billion in gross domestic output in 2020 – and will likely emerge from this crisis even stronger. “Throughout this pandemic, outdoor recreation has been a cornerstone of American life,” the OIA states. “As we look forward, it’s clear the outdoors will be an important part of America’s economic future.” In other words, there is a lot of biking, hiking, hunting, camping, climbing, fishing, paddling, bird watching, and other outdoor recreation going on locally, statewide, and across the United States. We’re told that nearly one-half of American citizens annually take part in an outdoor recreation activity and that these Americans annually make more than 10 billion outdoor outings. As a former chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and a lifelong sportsman, I have been grateful for opportunities to support the ongoing resurgence of outdoor recreation. The Legislature annually takes actions on behalf of the outdoors, not solely for the economic and conservation benefits but also because these activities offer a high-quality means of exercise, healthier lifestyles, and family fun and recreation. Surveys by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have shown striking facts about the nationwide economic impact — to the tune of $122 billion in revenue and millions of jobs — of the 87.5 million Americans who fish, hunt, or engage in other wildlife-related recreation. Hunting, fishing, and trapping are deeply rooted in New York’s (and our region’s) culture, experience, and tradition. The same goes for our unmatched network of New York State parks, trails, and historic sites. The advocacy group Parks & Trails New York (PTNY) routinely highlights the economic impact of New York’s more than 200 state parks, dozens of historic sites, more than a thousand miles of hiking trails, and over 8,000 campsites (to say nothing of numerous boat launches, beaches, swimming pools, and nature centers). PTNY estimates that the state parks and trails system supports approximately 54,000 jobs and generates upwards of $5 billion in park and visitor spending – which means each dollar of state investment is supporting a return of an estimated nine dollars in consumer spending. As we continue working to turn around the Upstate New York economy through small business growth, a revitalization and strengthening of manufacturing, high tech research and development, an ongoing foundation of agriculture and tourism, and in many other ways, we will be smart to keep an eye on the outdoors. New York’s unique outdoor experiences and pastimes are sure to entice increased spending on goods and services provided by local businesses. These expenditures support jobs, generate sales and income taxes, and spark tourism. “This includes day trips as well as overnight trips,” the PTNY has noted, “with visitors spending money on park entrance and use fees, sporting equipment, food and drink, transportation, lodging, and other expenses. Visitor spending creates jobs and revenue not only for the park system, but also has a multiplier effect, as jobs and revenues are created in supporting industries throughout the local economy.” In this period of great uncertainty, one thing is clear: More and more New Yorkers are eager to get outside for a breath of fresh air and a better view – and it keeps adding up to a stronger bottom line.
  3. To kick off the 2022 session of the State Legislature – one that we believed represented one of the truly pivotal sessions in modern history, with New York at a crossroads in so many areas – the Senate Republican Conference put forth a comprehensive set of goals to help rebuild and strengthen local and state economies, focus on the financial challenges facing many middle-class families and small business owners, and make public safety a top priority. It was called “Take Back New York” and we began rolling it out at the very start of this session — a session that New York’s Democrat legislative leaders brought to a close late last week — with a focus on rising crime and public safety. But the overall agenda has covered many challenges and crises. From combating crime to job creation to tax relief, one-party control of New York State government has been a disaster for Upstate New York communities, economies, and taxpayers. The Albany Democrat direction for New York is producing billions upon billions of dollars of short- and long-term spending commitments requiring billions upon billions of dollars in new taxes, fees, and borrowing for future generations of state and local taxpayers. This relentless pursuit of a far-left, extreme-liberal agenda was once again, as it has been for the past three years, the priority over a long-term, sustainable future for Upstate, middle-class communities, families, workers, businesses, industries, and taxpayers. If enacted, the overriding goals of Take Back New York would have: ● Offered a safer and better quality of life for all New Yorkers by repealing bail reform and supporting law enforcement and crime victims, as well as expanding and ensuring access to quality education; ● Made New York more affordable for every resident by cutting the state’s highest-in-the-nation tax burden and enacting a series of measures that lower the cost of living in New York; ● Developed a strong workforce for a strong economy through substantive training and development programs, a major commitment to family farms, and fostering quality and affordable child care for working parents; ● Improved the state’s business climate and expanded economic opportunity by cutting burdensome regulations, investing in physical infrastructure and broadband statewide, and moving more sensibly toward a cleaner energy future; ● Ensured security for our vulnerable populations by securing funding for veterans, providing needed resources to seniors and their caregivers, combating the opioid crisis, and enhancing mental health programs and services; and ● Restored accountability to state government in the aftermath of disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rampant abuses of executive power. But that’s not what happened this session under continued one-party, all-Democrat rule. Last year’s enacted state budget, for example, increased spending by nearly $20 billion – the annual state budget, for the first time in history, surpassed $200 billion – and raised taxes by more than $4 billion. There was no turning back from this explosive tax-and-spend path this year under Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders. Far from it, in fact. The new state budget, as I have detailed in previous columns, took yet another huge leap in size and will burden state and local taxpayers for years to come. A Farm Wage Board established by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat majorities in 2019 recommended lowering the current farmworker overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours. It’s a move that risks changing the face and the future of New York State agriculture as we have known it for generations – and it could undermine the strength and vitality of many upstate communities, cultures, and economies for generations. Agricultural advocates including the New York Farm Bureau, Northeast Dairy Producers Association and many individual farmers and other farm leaders continue to warn Governor Hochul, who will make the final decision, against lowering the threshold. I have joined many Upstate legislative colleagues to express our own opposition and to repeatedly reinforce what is at stake for our family farms. Most reasonable New Yorkers also recognize that rising crime and violence, and weakened public safety and security, are the result of the pro-criminal policies being enacted and pushed by this governor and a State Legislature under one-party control. They have emboldened the criminal element throughout this state through failed bail reform, lenient parole policies, an out-of-control Parole Board, cowing to the “defund the police” movement, and an overall careless approach to criminal justice. It has been alarming to district attorneys, law enforcement officers, and criminal justice experts alike, and it showed no signs of letting up this session. The Senate and Assembly Republican conferences have repeatedly stood with law enforcement to speak out and keep fighting against the pro-criminal mentality and anti-police policies that keep going too far in New York State and making our state, our communities, and our neighborhoods less safe. We have kept calling for the enactment of legislation that puts crime victims, law enforcement, and safe communities first and begins restoring responsibility, sanity, and common sense to criminal justice and public safety in New York State. Our alarms and our calls for opposition went unheard. Nevertheless, the fight will go on. It’s time to take back Upstate’s rightful place and restore a more responsible and reasonable approach to governing. You can read more about “Take Back New York” on my Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov. It’s more urgent than ever.
  4. From Arlington and Gettysburg to Woodlawn and Bath and hundreds of other national veterans’ cemeteries and monuments across this land, Americans will gather once again to observe Memorial Day. The nation’s long-standing Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in the nation’s capital is highlighted by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, on which the following words are inscribed, “Here rests in honored glory an American solider known but to God.” Therein lies the essence of Memorial Day: To pause in our daily lives and remember the American soldiers who now rest “in honored glory” in devotion and service to all Americans — to our families, our friends and neighbors, our communities, state, and nation. Many words have been shared on Memorial Day through the generations and what remains striking is how often these words are repeated: conviction and courage. It is conviction and courage, after all, that has led and will always lead our soldiers into battle. Therefore, it must be through our own personal conviction and courage, in our own ways and walks of life, through which we can best honor the sacrifices of our military men and women. Toward that end, we continue to raise the American Flag. We proudly recognize New York State as the “Birthplace of Memorial Day,” in Waterloo, Seneca County, which our nation has observed since the time of the Civil War. Of course, we always turn enduring thoughts and prayers to the young soldiers, the heroes, who have been recently lost. We honor wounded warriors, and we support the men and women serving in harm’s way at this very moment — shining examples of bravery and eternal honor and, yes, courage and conviction. We salute all New York State veterans and the millions more across the nation. I have been privileged to pay tribute to the service of outstanding local veterans through the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame, into which more than 400 veterans have been inducted since 2005. This includes the following area veterans that I have had the privilege to induct since 2011: Philip C. Smith of Schuyler County; J. Arthur “Archie” Kieffer, Chemung County; former Painted Post Mayor Roswell L. “Roz” Crozier, Jr.; Anthony J. “Tony” Specchio, Sr., Schuyler County; P. Earle Gleason, Yates County; Warren A. Thompson, Steuben County; Paul C. “Digger” Vendetti, Chemung County; and Richard T. “Dick” Gillespie, Yates County. Very soon, we will be announcing this year’s inductees. The Senate will conduct its 2022 virtual Veterans’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Monday to coincide with Memorial Day. This year, I am proud to induct Dennis L. “Denny” Wolfe, Sr. of Chemung County. Denny is a well-known area Vietnam War veteran, and the founder and director of the Vietnam War Museum in Elmira. We take this opportunity to salute the lives of veterans who have made such a difference for our local communities, our state, and the United States of America. Denny Wolfe courageously served our nation in Vietnam and then returned home where he has devoted his life to tirelessly working to honor and assist his fellow veterans and strengthen our community. The Senate’s virtual Veterans’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony can be viewed on my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov. Several years ago, asked about the importance of Memorial Day, the director of both the Woodlawn and Bath National Cemeteries, Duane Mendenhall, shared this reflection, “Every single freedom and liberty we enjoy can be traced back to a battlefield…How can words suffice to honor our fallen veterans? We honor them by remembering they loved America. Most of all they valued life by bravely readying themselves to die in service of this country.” Because of our veterans, we can look into the eyes of the young people in our lives this Memorial Day, the faces of the future, and have faith that they, too, will be instilled with the spirit to keep America strong, to keep believing that the American way is a good, decent, worthwhile way. In the end, perhaps this is the greatest justice for all of the missions flown, the foxholes dug, the hills taken, and the battles fought on land and sea. America’s Armed Forces have made and will continue to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep America free, so that she can lead the way to a freer world. The sacrifices of our military will keep alive America’s promise, so that people throughout the world will look to her for inspiration. Our servicemen and servicewomen will keep America strong, so that other nations will draw courage from her strength. For as long as we remember and keep them alive in our hearts, we will stand as we do — free in a land of opportunity and promise. The spirit of this salute will endure and remain strong for the future. God Bless America and God Bless our troops.
  5. May is officially designated as Lyme Disease Awareness Month because, according to the Lyme Disease Research Foundation, it is the “most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United States.” Several years ago, when I was serving as a member of the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases, as well as chairing the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, the Southern Tier was identified as a hotbed for Lyme disease, according to data released by the state Department of Health in 2016. There was a time when the alarm over Lyme and other tick-borne diseases was considered mostly a “downstate” concern, confined in and around the Hudson Valley and Long Island especially. No longer. For more than a decade, it has been a rapidly growing public health challenge throughout upstate New York and has drawn increasingly heightened warnings from public health officials. Lyme is a debilitating disease that needs to be taken seriously by everyone who enjoys the outdoors, even if that means doing yard work or gardening. Those afflicted by Lyme disease can endure years of frustration seeking diagnosis and treatment. New York State is now home to the second-highest number of confirmed Lyme disease cases in America. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 500,000 new cases across the United States each year, which makes Lyme the nation’s third-most common bacterial infectious disease. In 2013, in response to the growing statewide alarm, the Senate Republican Majority conference at that time established a special task force on Lyme and tick-borne diseases. For the next several years, we set about reviewing research, consulting with experts, and holding public hearings as part of our work to develop legislation and other recommendations with the overriding goal of putting in place a statewide action plan to serve as a comprehensive roadmap for strengthening research and development, awareness and education, and diagnosis and treatment. The task force was successful between 2013-2018 in helping enhance New York’s response through increased state funding and the enactment of numerous new laws, including laws I co-sponsored as a task force member in 2016 to: Require DOH to design, develop, and disseminate an aggressive, comprehensive, and statewide public awareness, education, and prevention campaign to reduce the public’s exposure to Lyme and other tick-borne infectious diseases (Chapter 167); and Complement the statewide DOH campaign by requiring the development of age-appropriate instructional materials and tools made available to schools and libraries to help reach school-age children with the awareness and prevention message (Chapter 109). Unfortunately, the past few years in state government under all-Democrat control have brought a weakening of the state’s commitment to funding research, education, and prevention initiatives. Despite record-setting state budgets, former Governor Andrew Cuomo and current Governor Kathy Hochul, together with the Legislature’s Democrat supermajorities, have all but stalled the momentum that we had created surrounding New York’s response. This year, for example, despite repeated calls from our Senate GOP conference, Governor Hochul and the Democrat supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly failed to include any new funding, zero, in their respective state budget proposals. It signaled a glaring – and unacceptable — lack of commitment. Nevertheless, I continue to join legislative colleagues in the Senate and Assembly to continue doing whatever we can to put a spotlight on the need for ongoing investments in research, education, and prevention initiatives. Numerous advocates from around the state have joined us. Now is no time to ignore critical public health responses. Thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers suffer from Lyme Disease annually, yet in the context of the newly enacted state budget – the largest spending plan in New York’s history — state leaders essentially failed to offer even a penny more of funding to help combat the spread of these diseases. In the absence of executive leadership, it is always the Legislature’s responsibility to ensure the state’s overall response to the spread of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. They continue to fail. This important work needs to carry on, through a much more steady and sustainable commitment, particularly in the areas of reporting, testing and treatment, and education and awareness. For additional information on existing and ongoing state efforts, visit the DOH Lyme disease webpage at: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/.
  6. The month of March could end up marking a critical turning point in the future direction of New YorkState. The Senate and Assembly Democrat supermajorities controlling the state Legislature will soon unveil “one-house budget bills” likely seeking to expand the already $216-billion Executive Budget proposal put forth by Governor Kathy Hochul in January. I’ve previously noted in this column that, if enacted, the governor’s proposal by itself -- already nearly $5 billion higher than the current state budget – would jumpstartNew Yorkinto the stratosphere of state budgets now and well into the future. It’s poised to go even higher after negotiations with a big-spending Legislature driven to remakeNew YorkasAmerica’s most “progressive” state and with a glaring lack of commitment to fundamental priorities. Our state budget already rivals the size of theFloridaandTexasstate budgetscombined– even though each of those states has a greater population and is growing whileNew YorkStatehas a continuing exodus due to the lack of affordability. That’s a direction that will wind up shocking New York’s state and local taxpayers well into the future – particularly in a state already ranked the least affordable in the nation, with one of America’s heaviest tax and regulatory burdens, and with a national and global economic outlook that’s uncertain, at best. Beyond the new state budget that will be negotiated throughout March, the hits could keep coming in other places. Remember thata Farm Wage Board established by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat majorities in 2019 has already recommended lowering the current farm worker overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours. It’s a move that risks undermining the strength and vitality of many upstate communities, cultures, and economies for generations to come. Agriculture advocates like the New York Farm Bureau and Northeast Dairy Producers Association, together with many individual farmers, farm workers, farm leaders, and legislators including myself, remain strongly opposed. It’s in Governor Hochul’s hands now and, to date, she shows no sign of turning back this progressive push to lower the overtime threshold. The same goes for this governor and these legislative majorities moving at warp speed to remake the future of energy for businesses, communities, and residents through a “Climate Leadership and Climate Protection Act” (CLCPA) that lacks any serious or transparent cost-benefit analyses of its impact on feasibility, affordability, and reliability. Despite ongoing warnings that the public has no idea what’s coming, New Yorkers will be stunned at what’s in store for all of us in the very near future. I’ll simply reiterate here what I’ve been saying throughout the past few years:New YorkStateis already an absolute leader in this arena, as we should be, accounting for just 0.4% of global carbon emissions. The Climate Act only applies toNew York-- not to neighboring states, or toChina,IndiaorRussia, which account for 40% of global emissions. In other words, even ifNew YorkStatedoes reach zero emissions, it will have zero impact on the global climate. It will come at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and untold economic consequences, and it will surely further crush the affordability of living for families, drive up the expense of doing business, and limit economic opportunities even more. Of course, let’s never forget that mostreasonable New Yorkersrecognize that rising crime and violence, and weakened public safety and security, are the result of the pro-criminal policies being enacted and pushed by this state government under one-party Democrat control. A recentSienaCollegepoll showed 65 percent of the state’s voters want bail law amended and, furthermore, 91 percent believe that crime is a serious concern. Nevertheless, Governor Hochul and Albany’s legislative Democrats appear unrelenting in their ongoing embrace of failed bail reform, lenient parole policies, an out-of-control Parole Board, cowing to the “defund the police” movement, and an overall careless approach to criminal justice that simply continues to embolden the criminal element statewide. It has been alarming to district attorneys, law enforcement officers, and criminal justice experts alike, and it shows no signs of letting up. To mark the beginning of the 2022 legislative session -- one that I believe represents one of the truly pivotal sessions in modern history, with New York facing so many critical crossroads – our Senate Republican Conference put fortha comprehensive set of goals to help grow local and state economies, focus on the financial challenges facing many middle-class families and small business owners, and make public safety an urgent priority. It’s called “Take Back New York.” From combating crime to job creation to tax relief, one-party control ofNew YorkStategovernment has been a disaster for Upstate New York communities, economies, and taxpayers. This relentless pursuit of a far-left, extreme-liberal agenda appears to be the priority over a long-term, sustainable future for Upstate, middle-class communities, families, workers, businesses, industries, and taxpayers. The overriding goals of Take Back New York 2022 would: ● Offer a safer and better quality of life for all New Yorkers by repealing bail reform and supporting law enforcement and crime victims, as well as expanding and ensuring access to quality education; ● MakeNew Yorkmore affordable for every resident by cutting the state’s highest-in-the-nation tax burden and enacting a series of measures that lower the cost of living inNew York; ● Develop a strong workforce for a strong economy through substantive training and development programs, a major commitment to family farms, and fostering quality and affordable child care for working parents; ● Improve the state’s business climate and expand economic opportunity by cutting burdensome regulations, investing in physical infrastructure and broadband statewide, and moving toward a cleaner energy future; ● Ensure security for our vulnerable populations by securing funding for veterans, providing needed resources to seniors and their caregivers, combating the opioid crisis, and enhancing mental health programs and services; and ● Restore accountability to the state government in the aftermath of disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rampant abuses of executive power. It’s time to take back Upstate’s rightful place and restore a more responsible and reasonable approach to governing. You can read more about “Take Back New York” on my Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov.
  7. To kick off the 2022 session of the State Legislature – one that I believe represents one of the truly pivotal sessions in modern history, with New York at a crossroads in so many areas – my colleagues and I in the Senate Republican Conference have put forth a comprehensive set of goals to help grow local and state economies, focus on the financial challenges facing many middle-class families and small business owners, and make public safety an urgent priority. It’s called “Take Back New York” and we began rolling it out in earnest last week with a focus on rising crime and public safety. But the overall agenda covers many challenges and crises. From combating crime to job creation to tax relief, one-party control of New York State government has been a disaster for Upstate New York communities, economies, and taxpayers. The Albany Democrat direction for New York is producing billions upon billions of dollars of short- and long-term spending commitments requiring billions upon billions of dollars in new taxes, fees, and borrowing for future generations of state and local taxpayers. This relentless pursuit of a far-left, extreme-liberal agenda appears to be the priority over a long-term, sustainable future for Upstate, middle-class communities, families, workers, businesses, industries, and taxpayers. Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt summarizes our fight this way, “From escalating taxes to blatant pro-criminal policies and extreme government overreach, it’s become harder than ever to live in our communities — something reflected in the growing exodus of our fellow New Yorkers. It’s more vital than ever, for them, that we take back our state from out-of-touch politicians and restore some sanity and common sense to our government. Take Back New York 2022 is the first step in accomplishing that and restoring our reputation as the Empire State.” The overriding goals of Take Back New York 2022 would: ● Offer a safer and better quality of life for all New Yorkers by repealing bail reform and supporting law enforcement and crime victims, as well as expanding and ensuring access to quality education; ● Make New York more affordable for every resident by cutting the state’s highest-in-the-nation tax burden and enacting a series of measures that lower the cost of living in New York; ● Develop a strong workforce for a strong economy through substantive training and development programs, a major commitment to family farms, and fostering quality and affordable child care for working parents; ● Improve the state’s business climate and expand economic opportunity by cutting burdensome regulations, investing in physical infrastructure and broadband statewide, and moving toward a cleaner energy future; ● Ensure security for our vulnerable populations by securing funding for veterans, providing needed resources to seniors and their caregivers, combating the opioid crisis, and enhancing mental health programs and services; and ● Restore accountability to the state government in the aftermath of disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rampant abuses of executive power. As I noted earlier, 2022 represents a pivotal session in so many areas. Last year’s enacted state budget, for example, increased spending by nearly $20 billion – the annual state budget, for the first time in history, now surpasses $200 billion – and raised taxes by more than $4 billion. Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders could be eyeing yet another huge leap in the size of New York’s budget and the scope of what state and local taxpayers must foot the bill for -- including an expanded, potentially $3-billion “Excluded Workers Fund” to provide one-time, taxpayer-financed payments of more than $15,000 to hundreds of thousands of individual illegal immigrants who were excluded from federal COVID-19 assistance because they are in the country illegally. Later this week, a Farm Wage Board established by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat majorities in 2019 will hold final public hearings on whether to lower the current farmworker overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours. It’s a move that risks changing the face and the future of New York State agriculture as we have known it for generations – and it could undermine the strength and vitality of many upstate communities, cultures, and economies for generations to come. Agriculture advocates including the New York Farm Bureau, Northeast Dairy Producers Association and many individual farmers and other farm leaders have undertaken a yearlong campaign against lowering the threshold. I’ve joined many of my Upstate legislative colleagues to express our own opposition and I will be testifying at the Board’s January 20 hearing to once again reinforce what’s at stake for our family farms. Most reasonable New Yorkers also recognize that rising crime and violence, and weakened public safety and security, are the result of the pro-criminal policies being enacted and pushed by this governor and a State Legislature under one-party Democrat control. They have emboldened the criminal element throughout this state through failed bail reform, lenient parole policies, an out-of-control Parole Board, cowing to the ‘defund the police’ movement, and an overall careless approach to criminal justice. It has been alarming to district attorneys, law enforcement officers, and criminal justice experts alike, and it shows no signs of letting up. Consequently, last week the Senate and Assembly Republican conferences once again stood with law enforcement to speak out and keep fighting against the pro-criminal mentality and anti-police policies that keep going too far in New York State and making our state, our communities, and our neighborhoods less safe. We are calling for the enactment of legislation that puts crime victims, law enforcement, and safe communities first and begins restoring responsibility, sanity, and common sense to criminal justice and public safety in New York State. It’s time to take back Upstate’s rightful place and restore a more responsible and reasonable approach to governing – an approach that puts law-abiding citizens and crime victims above criminals and one that looks out for citizens over illegal immigrants. You can read more about “Take Back New York” on my Senate website, omara.nysenate.gov.
  8. Following the November 2018 elections, when New York State government fell under total, one-party, Democrat control, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo exclaimed that he felt “liberated” without a state Senate Republican Majority left standing in his way. The former governor’s feeling was no doubt shared by the longstanding Assembly Democrat majority and, of course, the newly crowned Senate Democrat leadership. And, indeed, liberated they have been, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. Following the enactment of that first all-Democrat state budget in 2019-2020, the state comptroller reported that state spending increased by nearly three times the inflation rate. According to an analysis from the Empire Center for Public Policy (empirecenter.org) – an analysis, by the way, which relied on the comptroller’s update on the state’s short- and long-term financial picture – the 2019-20 budget hiked spending by nearly 6 percent, projected a $14 billion debt increase over five years, and was “balanced by an accounting gimmick.” Fast forward to the 2021-2022 state budget enacted in April, negotiated at a time when the Democrat supermajorities in the Legislature had Cuomo over a barrel due to his evolving sex harassment and nursing home cover-up investigations. Cuomo tried to curry favor from the Democrats with your tax dollars with giveaways that increased spending by a whopping $18 billion, over 8%, and on top of the spending, hiked state taxes by nearly $5 billion. As the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, I said at the time this year’s budget was approved that, yes, this budget addresses a number of important priorities and programs. How could it not with $18 billion in new spending? However, overall, this Albany Democrat giveaway went far beyond any reasonable sense of fairness, responsibility, or sustainability for hard-working, taxpaying citizens. In 2018, the year before the Democrats took total control of state government, the state budget stood at $164 billion. The 2021-22 state budget cashes in at an unprecedented $212 billion. That’s the alarm many of us keep hearing as we approach a new legislative session in 2022: What’s next? In short, the hard-left direction of New York State politics and government does not look pretty, at the moment, for future generations of state and local taxpayers. Just as the Legislature had former Governor Cuomo over a barrel in 2021, this coming year they will have a situation in which new Governor Kathy Hochul is submitting her first budget as she tries to curry favor with the Democrats for her upcoming Democrat primary election in June to continue as governor. Your tax dollars could yet again be used for political gain. Consider just a small sampling of what the Albany Democrats’ newfound power to spend taxpayer dollars has produced since 2019: The “DREAM Act” to provide taxpayer-funded college tuition assistance to illegal immigrant families; Significantly increased spending on Medicaid. New York spends more on Medicaid than the more populous states of Florida and Texas combined. According to a new Empire Center analysis, “Medicaid’s Metamorphosis,” one in three New Yorkers is now covered by Medicaid, which was originally “designed as a ‘safety net’ health plan for the poor and disabled.” Furthermore, according to the report, “people living above the federal poverty line accounted for all of the program’s growth” during the decade between 2010 and 2019; Using taxpayers dollars to finance political campaigns, commonly known as public campaign financing, at a cost projected to be in excess of $200 million of taxpayer dollars each election cycle; and Remember that the 2021-22 state budget also included a $2-billion-plus “Excluded Workers Fund” to provide direct, one-time payments of up to $15,600 to illegal immigrants in New York State who were excluded from federal COVID stimulus and unemployment payments. Yes, the Albany Democrats raised taxes to give handouts to illegal immigrants. That initial fund of billions of dollars was already depleted by October and many Democrat lawmakers are now clamoring for more of your money to give them. Even with all this new spending, the newfound unilateral Democrat control of state government has not reduced or eliminated unfunded state mandates on local governments and schools, which would provide much needed property tax relief. So you better believe it’s always going to be the key question as this state tries to move forward under one-party control: What’s next? A state-level, universal health care system that many believe will simply break the bank? A new 55-cents-per-gallon gas tax that would leave New Yorkers paying the highest gas tax in America? A 26% increase on home heating fuels? Each of the above – and more – is already under consideration. Additionally, let’s not forget 2019’s so-called “Green New Deal” that, among other actions, seeks to make New York’s electricity 100% carbon neutral over the next two decades. It may well be a new deal but I remain far from convinced that it’s a fair deal for future taxpayers or energy consumers for whom the cost of energy will rise. It is a massive undertaking. It calls for a huge investment in new technologies and infrastructure with no cost/benefit analysis whatsoever. The New York Energy Research and Development Authority, better known as NYSERDA, has recently said that the state will have to spend an additional $12.7 billion through 2024 just to begin the implementation of the Green New Deal. A recently leaked draft report of the New York Climate Action Council, which is charged with developing the overall plan, indicates that the costs and who pays them should be figured out as the plan is implemented. No joke! Let me remind you that this is all to lessen New York's 0.4% portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. New York State has been, and rightly should be, a leader in actions toward a cleaner environment. I and my Republican colleagues embrace taking reasonable and rational steps to reduce emissions. But at what cost to taxpayers and businesses across the state? It’s unknown at this time. And to what benefit for New Yorkers? Even if New York were to get its 0.4% of global emissions to zero, it will have no discernable impact on climate change globally nor its impact on New York itself. These actions must be done globally to make any difference. Asking these basic questions do not make us climate deniers as the zealots would have you believe. These are questions that the taxpayers of New York deserve answers to, and I am bound and determined to get them. Over the past two years of one-party control, I have consistently raised the specter of state borrowing and debt, particularly the burden being kicked down the road to future generations of decision makers and, especially, taxpayers. New York already has America’s highest state and local government debt per capita. Most of it has been accomplished through state borrowing, significantly adding to future state debt and, most egregiously, being heaped onto the backs of future taxpayers who will have to deal with it long after New York’s current decision makers are long gone out of office. I have said it before, it bears repeating: The new, Democrat direction for New York State is producing billions upon billions of dollars of short- and long-term spending commitments requiring billions upon billions of dollars in new taxes, fees, and, especially, borrowing for future generations of state and local taxpayers. This relentless pursuit of a far-left, socialist, extreme-liberal political agenda appears to be the priority over a long-term, sustainable future for upstate, middle-class communities, families, workers, businesses, industries, and taxpayers. In other words, hold on to your wallets heading into the new year in New York State government.
  9. One of the most positive state-level actions heading into this holiday season was the recent enactment of a new law I helped co-sponsor and strongly supported to make the “Nourish New York” program a permanent fixture of New York government moving forward. It is the product of legislation (S4892/A5781, Chapter 631 of the Laws of 2021) that received overwhelming bipartisan support in the state Senate and Assembly, where it was unanimously approved earlier this year, and was recently signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul. In a year of dubious actions, this new law emerges as a highlight and important to the future. We all can recall the earliest weeks and months following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid shutdown of life as we had known it imposed unprecedented hardships throughout our communities. One of the most alarming scenes occurred at regional food banks – right here in the Southern Tier and throughout New York – where residents and families lined up for assistance in numbers most of us had never before witnessed. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier delivered an incredible response to this unprecedented demand, shifting its operations to respond quickly and effectively to meet the community’s needs, while also ensuring the safety of staff, volunteers, and clients. The food bank ended the first year of the pandemic with a record-breaking distribution of 17.6 million pounds of food – a 40% increase over the previous year! Remarkable. Nevertheless, it wasn’t easy and it took an enormous amount of creativity, collaboration, and perseverance. Nourish New York established what would become an indispensable lifeline of assistance. Nourish New York was launched in May 2020 as a pandemic relief initiative to help respond to the rapid, statewide escalation of community residents and families seeking assistance at local and regional food banks, and the hardships farmers were facing due to supply chain disruptions. An initial $25 million in state funding directed the purchase of food and products from Upstate New York farms and food producers for distribution to food banks throughout New York. An additional $10 million was delivered in late October to sustain the program through the end of 2020. The 2021-2022 state budget included an additional $50 million for the program’s continuation. The successful farm to food bank strategy has been widely praised by farmers, food banks, and many other community leaders for its partnership approach to meeting dire community needs and challenges. Through the program, food banks have purchased food and other agricultural products directly from New York farmers and food processors. It has connected, like never before, New York's surplus agricultural products to those most in need through New York’s vital network of food banks. At the same time, Nourish New York has helped provide badly needed support for farmers and food producers who have had to face lost and shrinking markets because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the governor’s office, through the first three rounds of the program, New York's food banks have purchased over 35 million pounds of New York food products. That equals nearly 30 million meals for New York residents and families in need. The state has invested a total of $85 million to Nourish NY which, in turn, has assisted more than 4,000 businesses across the state. In other words, the COVID-19 pandemic forced local communities to work together like never before to meet these unforeseen and unprecedented challenges and needs. Nourish New York evolved as one of the most successful efforts. Local food banks and farmers recognized the opportunity to join together to address the twin challenges of food insecurity and struggling farms, and it has made an enormous difference for farmers, food banks, and countless New Yorkers in need. I have been proud to help sponsor and strongly support making this program a permanent fixture of New York State investment. The legislation directs the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to provide financial and technical support for the development of a permanent initiative to provide surplus New York agricultural products to communities in need. As previously noted, the distribution is facilitated through the state’s network of food banks and other emergency food providers. The new law seeks an expansion of the current program and will also complement related efforts, such as the Farm-to-School program. In a statement, New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said, “Nourish NY has served as a lifeline for many in and out of the farm community over the past 18 months. It moved fresh food that might have otherwise gone to waste into alternative markets like emergency food pantries and regional food banks. (The signing of this law) makes the program a permanent fixture in New YorkState. Nourish NY will continue to assist farmers with the costs of harvesting, packaging, and transporting fruits, vegetables, dairy products and more while making sure people in need can put food on their tables. We thank the governor for her support, as well as the legislative champions of this important program. It demonstrates that by working together, we can creatively strengthen our vital food system and support New York agriculture.” Ensuring the continuation of Nourish New York represented a great start to this holiday season, as we all begin looking forward to and hoping for a better, more positive, and stronger new year for our communities, families, friends, and neighbors.
  10. The cost of a gallon of gas keeps climbing. The warnings keep coming over significantly higher home heating costs this winter and who knows how many winters to come. All of this, as well as the fast approaching start of a new legislative session in January, helped make for good timing on last week’s listening session in the Southern Tier on a piece of legislation that, if it’s enacted, could reach into the wallets of everyday New Yorkers and cut into the bottom lines of New York employers even more. Specifically, we hosted a roundtable discussion in Corning on legislation (S4264/A6967), known as the “Climate and Community Investment Act” (CCIA). Introduced earlier this year by the Democrat majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, the measure proposes accelerated state-level actions to achieve broad and far-reaching climate change policies. Of course, to help pay for it, it includes a new 55-cents-per-gallon gas tax as well as increased taxes on heating oil, propane, and natural gas, which is estimated to increase home heating fuel costs by 26%. The CCIA is projected to raise $15 billion annually in new and increased fees and taxes levied on New Yorkers individually, hospitals, schools, colleges, and businesses. Keep in mind that New York State accounts for just approximately 0.5% of global carbon emissions and the CCIA will only apply to New York -- not to neighboring states. Nor does it apply to China, India or Russia, which account for 40% of global emissions. Further, a true, full cost-benefit analysis to show the public in a transparent way what this will cost them, and what we’ll gain, has not been required of the precursor of the CCIA, the previously enacted Climate Leadership and Climate Protection Act (CLCPA) and the Climate Action Council (CAC), which has not completed their recommendations. We have sponsored legislation (S7321/A7524) to required this full cost-benefit analysis for the public. It is imperative that it be required and completed. The CCIA is a bad move, to say the least, in our view. New Yorkers are already being hit by so many higher costs across the board and now is no time for state government to make it worse, all in the name of progressive politics. And especially not when the Albany powers that be already raised taxes in this year’s state budget by more than $4 billion to help pay for a whopping $18 billion in increased spending – with $2 billion of that increase going to illegal immigrants for COVID unemployment benefits for the loss of jobs they weren’t legally allowed to have in the first place (and, all the while, New York still owes the feds $9 billion for unemployment funds borrowed during COVID and no effort has been made to pay it down. This inaction has resulted in significantly increased unemployment insurance rates to all businesses, despite state tax and revenue receipts exceeding budgeted expectations by $8 billion this year.) It has set in motion an unending search for more tax dollars to afford higher and higher spending -- and every taxpayer will pay the price at the pump, to heat homes, and in a lot of other places and ways. Our recent roundtable – and similar listening sessions that the Senate and Assembly Republican conferences have held around the state – makes it clear that any move in this direction would be disastrous. Participants at last week’s forum in Corning all pointed to the ever-increasing burden of escalating costs and the risk to the reliability of our electricity delivery. They’re not alone. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which represents more than 10,000 small businesses in New York Stateand hundreds of thousands more across the nation, has also stated its strong opposition to the CCIA in testimony at our roundtables. The NFIB writes, “(Our opposition) is not a reflection of small business’ indifference to climate change or its commitment to addressing it, but rather that the economic impacts to those actually investing and hiring in New York’s economy must be understood and valued in coordination with environmental goals…Increases in the costs to do business anywhere in the economy will ultimately be felt across the economy by every employer, and felt most by members of NFIIB…New York State needs to take a step back and seriously consider the effects this proposal will have on small businesses and consumers.” They highlight one of the key points: Even without the CCIA, New York State has already established aggressive renewable energy goals. Working groups are underway on how best achieve the current targets to tackle New York’s 0.5% impact on global climate change. The CCIA even expects job losses and negative impacts to school and local government property tax bases. It establishes a “Just Fund” which will provide compensation for displaced workers up to three years of wages, and payments to school districts and local governments for lost tax revenues resulting from industries being shuttered. It’s our belief that, every step of the way, there must be a constant recognition of the need for balance and common sense in pursuit of the overriding goals for New York’s energy future. There absolutely must be a meaningful analysis of the costs versus the benefits of these actions and the impacts they will have on our energy system’s reliability as well as affordability. The CCIA, CLCPA and CAC fail in this regard. New Yorkers already pay the ninth-highest gas tax in America at 46.19-cents-per-gallon, according to the Tax Foundation. If the proposed gas tax of 55 cents were added, New York would have the highest overall gas tax in America. To add to the alarm, home heating costs, even without this additional action, are already projected to increase by upwards of 25% to 40% this winter. If the environmental extremists have their way, homeowners will not be able to burn wood or pellets to heat their homes and will have to convert their natural gas, propane or heating fuel oil furnaces to electric at estimated costs in excess of $30,000 per household. New York’s tax climate has long been noted by the Tax Foundation as one of the nation’s worst. Instead of raising another tax or fee, Governor Kathy Hochul should immediately suspend the state’s gas tax, as our Senate and Assembly Republican conferences have recently called for. Ignoring the realities, New York’s downstate-controlled Democrat supermajorities enacted a state budget this year raising taxes by nearly $5 billion. It looks like they will just go on looking for more tax dollars to afford more and more of their out of control and out of touch, so-called “progressive” agenda. Along the way, every New Yorker will pay the price at the pump, to heat homes, and in a lot of other ways and places with across-the-board price increases on everything from food to toilet paper. The ongoing implementation of these regressive taxes will leave lower- and middle-income families and workers, motorists, truckers, farmers, small businesses, manufacturers and many other industries, and seniors among the hardest hit. t’s the pursuit of a future looking more and more like New York being left stranded by the side of the economic road while having no discernible impact on the global climate.
  11. New York State governors continue to be full of surprises. Governor Kathy Hochul is the latest. Early last week, she abruptly announced that the Southport Correctional Facility in the Southern Tier, the Willard Drug Treatment Campus and the Rochester Correctional Facility in the Finger Lakes, two North Country facilities, and a prison in the mid-Hudson Valley are slated to close on March 10, 2022. Six correctional facilities in total impacting and uprooting more than a thousand state correctional officers and thousands more employees of our state prisons, and their families and communities. Officials at the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) will call it a cost-cutting action, that the state will look to reopen and repurpose the facilities, and that DOCCS “does not anticipate any layoffs due to these closures.” While we intend to hold Governor Hochul to her word on all of the above – if we’re unable, first, to convince her that these closures are misguided, dangerous, and should be rescinded – we also know that we’ve heard this recording before from the previous governor. We know that previously closed facilities, including the former Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility in Schuyler County, still sit vacant as local eyesores. These new, fast-tracked prison shutdowns are just the latest in a long string of prisons that New York State has shuttered over the past decade of a steadily declining prison population – a declining population, especially over the past several years, as the result of so-called “progressive” policies enacted by Democrat governors and legislative majorities that, in the view of many, are pro-criminal, politically driven moves at the irrational and irresponsible expense of public safety and security, and victims’ rights. In particular in the legislative district I represent, Governor Hochul’s unanticipated and certainly unexpected decision to close the Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County comes as a great shock to this community and region. It arrived with no advance warning to any of us and, obviously, no meaningful local input or outreach to local officials or the correctional officers union. It upends hundreds of local correctional officers and prison staff, which means hundreds of local families and a devastating toll on already hard-hit local economies. Additionally, the shutdown of the Willard Drug Treatment Campus will have yet another, destructive impact on lives and communities throughout the Finger Lakes region. I fully share the concerns of my colleague, Senator Pam Helming, who directly represents the Willard campus, about the wide-ranging consequences this closure will have on employees and the community at large, including on badly needed drug abuse treatment programs and services at such a heightened time of need. Overall, with this action, state-level government leaders continue to show a disregard, to say the least, for Upstate New York’s communities. Furthermore, it turns a blind eye to an increasingly violent crime wave throughout this state, as well as a currently explosive and dangerous prison environment that threatens correctional officers and prison staff. In responding to the announcement of the closures, New York State Correctional Officers Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) President Michael Powers said, “The numbers tell the real story; despite closing over two dozen facilities the past 10 years, violent attacks on our members have doubled and yet nothing is being done to address it. Where is the reinvestment in the facilities to make these prisons safer working environments? My heart goes out to all of the individuals whose lives have been severely impacted by this announcement and know that our organization will hold the department accountable every step of the way. At some point, the State needs to realize that these choices are more than just buildings and tax-saving measures, these are life-altering decisions that upend lives and destroy communities.” In my specific district, Governor Hochul needs to be transparent about her decision to close Southport. What factors justify closing a “supermax” facility like Southport – a place that confines New York’s most dangerous and violent inmates? What will it mean for public safety across this state? What measures are being considered for the future of the facility itself, but most importantly for the employees and their families, and the community at large? There are plenty of unanswered questions. The bottom line is that Governor Hochul should be focused on spreading out the inmate population, decreasing inmate density, and protecting the men and women working in our prisons. Despite the recent trend of lowering prison population, we have not seen a correlating reduction of violence within the prisons. We read weekly of violent assaults by inmates on staff and other inmates occurring at Elmira Correctional Facility, for example. We need to focus on safer prisons. The lower prison population should be capitalized on to spread inmates out for greater safety within the system as a whole. As I noted above, the governor characterizes the closures as a cost-cutting action. The state has recently invested more than $20 million into operations at the Southport facility implementing a step-down program to work with the most violent inmates in the state’s prison system to get them ready for reintegration into the general prison population. How does it make any sense to suddenly close it? That’s not cost-cutting, that’s simply wasteful. I have joined numerous lawmakers to highlight the extreme-liberal, radical, dangerous actions of former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s downstate-dominated, one-party-control Democrat supermajorities that we believe have focused on emptying state prisons for political gain. This criticism now continues into the new Hochul administration. Governor Hochul has, so far, wrongly continued the politically motivated actions of the former Cuomo administration and the Legislature’s Democrat supermajorities to empty state prisons at any cost, especially the cost of public safety and security. We have seen and continue to see action after action, from the disastrous bail reform to a radically lenient Parole Board to weakened prison safety, advancing a pro-criminal mentality over public safety and victims’ rights. They will keep on arguing and trying to make some pie-in-the-sky case that the increasing crime rates we see around this state have nothing to do with their actions. We know better: They have emboldened this society’s criminal element and it’s impacting all of us.
  12. This week’s Veterans Day observance could not arrive at a more important time for our nation -- as a reminder and as a reflection. If there is a single national day of honor on the calendar that can and should serve to unite us, it’s this one. Veterans Day offers a chance to pause to remember the fundamental greatness of the United States of America and those who have made it so, and then to keep pushing forward – pushing forward to find solid ground again during a time that has upended so many lives in so many ways, and to look ahead to a stronger and safer future. In that spirit, then, I will take this opportunity to thank all of the voters across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions who took the time and made the effort to vote in the 2021 elections -- remembering always that our nation’s veterans, above all, exemplify service and sacrifice in the name of protecting and carrying on America’s fundamental freedoms and cherished rights, including the right to vote. In other words, this recollection is important at this moment. According to history.com, “Veterans Day originated as ‘Armistice Day’ on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938…Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime.” On that long-ago November 11, 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, then-President Woodrow Wilson said that it should be a day “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” Across the generations ever since, eloquent words have been delivered on the importance of saluting America’s veterans. Americans have heard President Dwight D. Eisenhower say, “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.” On November 11, 1961, at Arlington National Cemetery, President John F. Kennedy said that “these quiet grounds, this Cemetery and others like it all around the world, remind us with pride of our obligation and our opportunity.” President Ronald Reagan, offering words to commemorate the 40th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1984, said, “We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.” Veterans Day offers the chance every November to reaffirm these sentiments of common purpose, pride, patriotism, responsibility, opportunity, and freedom. In 2005, the New York State Senate established an online Veterans’ Hall of Fame which, including this year, pays tribute to upwards of 500 veterans from every corner of the state. The Hall of Fame recognizes New York veterans for their service in the United States Armed Forces and their civilian accomplishments at home. Later this week, on Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, I will proudly have the opportunity to induct Richard T. “Dick” Gillespie of Penn Yan, a veteran of World War II, into the Hall. A link to Thursday’s virtual Hall of Fame ceremony, which will begin at Noon, will be available on my Senate website, www.omara.nysenate.gov, where you will also be able to find out more about Dick Gillespie and his remarkable service, as well as links to past Hall of Fame veterans, including the seven that I have had the privilege to induct. Senators representing every region of New York welcome this opportunity to salute these lives of service and love of country – it is an important addition to the state’s reflection on Veterans Day. In fact, it is striking to reflect on the landmarks around us every day, standing as reminders of the guiding principles and underlying strengths of our nation: city, town and village halls, county courthouses, churches, schools, police and fire stations, local public libraries, and so many more. These American places still speak to America’s endurance as the world’s leading democracy. We carry it on by honoring the sacrifices and the victories of our soldiers – past, present, and future. We reaffirm our pride in this nation’s servicemen and servicewomen and, of course, we turn our thoughts and prayers to all of the soldiers whom we have lost from here at home, and their families and loved ones. The freedoms we cherish have been hard-won by the soldiers of previous generations and by those of this generation who have continued to serve and make the ultimate sacrifice. They are true American heroes. We are grateful to them and we honor their service. Sacrifice is the fundamental truth of Veterans Day. It inspires our deepest faith, gratitude, and respect. On Veterans Day, we continue to remember in common purpose. We proudly continue to honor our obligation and responsibility to salute the contributions and the sacrifices of our military men and women, living and deceased, past and present and future. We can never tire in honoring these heroes. On Veterans Day, we carry on this essential observance of the United States of America.
  13. In the near future, a New York State Wage Board, established under a 2019 law known as the “Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act,” will revisit one of the key provisions of that law – and its decision could forever impact New York agriculture as we have known it. Specifically, this Wage Board could decide, without legislative approval, to lower the mandatory overtime pay threshold from the current 60 hours to 40 hours. In other words, the future of farming in New York State still hangs in the balance thanks to a law enacted in 2019 that was pushed by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo as a cornerstone of his so-called “progressive” remake of New York government. Throughout the year prior to the enactment of the “Farmworkers Fair Labor Pratices Act,” I joined many opponents, including the New York Farm Bureau, to warn about its consequences. We feared that mandatory overtime pay and other provisions of the new law, especially the creation of a three-member Farm Wage Board granted the authority to unilaterally change the law’s provisions, without legislative approval, could worsen the impact of farm labor costs on farm income at a time when the farm economy is already struggling. We warned that it could increase already exorbitant farm labor costs by nearly $300 million or close to 20%, resulting in an across-the-board drop in net farm income of 23% -- keeping in mind that over the past five years, New York State has already lost 20 percent of our dairy farms. It has been reported that farm labor costs in New York State increased 40 percent over the past decade and that the 2019 law could result in another crippling 44-percent increase in wage expenses. Total farm labor costs are at least 63 percent of net cash farm income in New York, compared to 36 percent nationally. I debated and voted against this move when the Senate approved it in June 2019. The bottom line is that this misguided action by a state government triumvirate of leaders under one-party, largely downstate-based control -- guided on many current issues by a far-left, extreme-liberal governing philosophy -- has profound implications throughout local farm economies across rural, upstate New York, including driving more family farms out of business. And that was the case even before COVID-19, which we now know has taken its own toll on our farmers and the entire agricultural industry, and heightened the burdens. Unfortunately, we could see the worst consequences of this law play out as we feared later this fall. The three-member Farm Wage Board held a series of virtual public hearings in late 2020 that appeared to be paving the way for lowering the current 60-hour threshold requiring farmers to pay their employees overtime. The Wage Board ultimately delayed any changes to the law but is set to revisit it before the end of this year when it could, again without legislative approval, move to lower the 60-hour threshold. That would be yet another economic disaster for New York’s farmers and farmworkers. It is critical for upstate legislators, for whom the farm economy is a foundation of communities we represent, to continue sounding the alarm on a Wage Board still holding the future of so many farmers and rural economies in its hands. This is the worst possible time to risk mandating and regulating more farms out of business, and that is exactly what will be at stake. According to “Grow NY Farms,” a statewide coalition of farmers and other agricultural leaders working to maintain the 60-hour threshold, states, “Farming is truly unlike any other business. It’s dependent on seasonal weather, skilled workers, time sensitive crops, 24-hour animal care, along with a good amount effort and patience. As a state Wage Board plans to consider lowering the overtime threshold, some of the arguments seem to come from those who have never set foot on a farm. But to truly understand the repercussions of this potential change, you have to know the field — and not just our industry, but what it takes to work the land.New York farmers and farmworkers are protected by a 60-hour overtime threshold, a number that lawmakers, farmers and farmworkers all agreed to when a new farm labor law was passed just two years ago. This law that went into effect in 2020 was a significant compromise because work must get done regardless of the time it takes, especially when caring for animals and during planting and harvest seasons. Farmworkers explicitly say they prefer to work more hours to earn more income, especially when the farming season is so short in New York State. Farmers and farmworkers alike have adjusted to a new normal with the overtime threshold. However, this compromise is under threat because a ‘wage board’ has been empowered to decide if the overtime threshold should be lowered to 40 hours. This threat promises to impact your source of fresh fruit, vegetables, and dairy products because New York farmers cannot afford to pay overtime above 40 hours per week and expect to compete in the marketplace where products are coming from other states and countries with much cheaper production costs and far fewer labor protections that New York guarantees.” Grow NY Farms is undertaking an online letter writing campaign that offers the opportunity to voice your opposition to lowering the 60-hour overtime threshold. A link to the coalition’s “Maintain the 60-hour Work Week!” campaign can be found on the Grow NY Farms website, www.grownyfarms.com. In my view, before even considering any changes, the Wage Board must allow adequate time to collect and assess data that would provide a more definitive picture of the impact of the 60-hour threshold on the finances and operations of New York farms, as well as consider additional factors including COVID-19’s ongoing impact on the agricultural industry. Now is no time to make this worse.
  14. Under disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, beginning in March 2020, we witnessed an unleashing of state government by executive order unlike ever before. Cuomo utilized at least one hundred Executive Orders that allowed him to unilaterally change hundreds of state laws, as well as implement rules and regulations and make spending decisions, without legislative approval or local input. Any semblance of legislative checks and balances was abandoned. The same was true for local decision making. We took to calling it “government by Cuomo executive order.” While it began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we were largely facing the complete unknown, the former governor quickly recognized that the Legislature’s Democrat majorities were happy to let him get away with a massive abuse of executive authority. It would end up causing a great deal of harm to local communities, economies, and taxpayers – damage that we’ll be trying to fix it for years to come. Now that we’ve turned the page to a new governor, it’s become fair to ask: Have we turned the page to a new governor? Consider just a few of the actions taken by new Governor Kathy Hochul recently, including: Expanding the state’s mask mandate to cover day care centers and to apply to children as young as two years old. A controversial blanket mandate requiring all health and home care workers to be vaccinated, which threatens to exacerbate New York's preexisting healthcare worker shortage. Thousands of these workers are tenuously hanging on under religious exemptions which are pending Court action. Then there’s Governor Hochul’s ongoing implementation, by executive action, of a new law known as the “Less Is More Act” act whereby hundreds of state inmates being held for so-called “technical” parole violations are being released statewide. The new law doesn’t take effect until next March, however Governor Hochul is moving ahead on her own authority to immediately release inmates, including violent criminals. I voted against and strongly opposed the Less Is More legislation (S1144/A5576) when it was first approved by the Senate in early June. It continues a troubling overhaul of the state’s parole system that started under former Governor Cuomo and the Democrat supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly. It’s the latest in a long string of pro-criminal, anti-police, anti-victim actions that make this state less safe – and it’s being denounced, rightly so, by law enforcement and crime victims advocates. The executive director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police reacted to Less Is More this way, “At some point, common sense has to enter into the equation. Elected officials continue to politicize public safety and gamble with people’s lives.” Well said. There’s no common sense coming out of Albany. There’s hasn’t been for some time with state government under one-party control. On this criminal justice front, that’s exactly right, they are putting far-left politics over public safety, and they are gambling with lives. In other words, Governor Hochul is falling in line with the continuation of what has been disastrous, dangerous, radical parole reform driven by pro-criminal, anti-police, so-called progressive Albany Democrats. Actions like encouraging parole leniency combined with other moves to radically redefine criminal justice in New York -- including a 2020 law eliminating cash bail and pretrial detention, ongoing prison closures, and a growing “defund the police” movement throughout New York government – have helped drive a pro-criminal agenda that has been a major contributor to making the state less safe, putting far too many law enforcement officers in harm’s way, ignoring victims, and emboldening society’s criminal element. Violent crimes in numerous cities across New York have jumped over the past few years. The homicide rate in the city of Syracuse, for example, increased by 55% between 2019 and 2020, while aggravated assaults were up 15%. According to reports, violent crime has surged in the city of Rochester. And in New York City, according to recent statistics from the NYPD, overall index crime rose by more than 30% since April 2020, including a nearly 20% jump in murders and a 35.6% increase in felony assaults. All in all, it appears that Governor Hochul learned well from former Governor Cuomo. She’s not hesitating to push the boundaries of executive authority and power at the clear risk of New York State spiraling out of control in dangerous directions.
  15. New York Governor Kathy Hochul has now put forth one of her administration’s most ambitious public policy proposals to date and, in doing so, gave all of us a good look at her administration’s vision for addressing one of our state’s most urgent short- and long-term challenges: energy. With that in mind, it’s fair to say at this juncture that the Hochul administration is squarely following in the footsteps of the Cuomo administration – which only continues to raise serious and troubling questions for Upstate New York energy consumers (that’s us ratepayers), businesses (particularly manufacturers), and communities who will be asked to bear a heavy burden for the cost of subsidizing New York City, downstate energy demands. Governor Hochul took the reins of a Cuomo-generated renewable energy strategy already in motion and has now advanced specific projects to accomplish its far-reaching aim to extend the state’s energy grid through a significant expansion of wind, solar, and hydropower projects. Overall, the goal remains to meet at least 70% of the state’s energy needs through renewable energy sources by 2030. The statewide goal remains laudable, but utopian. As a longtime member of the energy committees in both the Senate and Assembly, I have said and continue to fully agree that New YorkState should be leading the way in renewable energy development, and we are. At the same time, I continue to stress that it needs to be done in ways that make sure that our residents and businesses have the energy they need right now to live and thrive in New York – and, I’ll add, that every step is taken to ensure that New York-based companies, entrepreneurs, generators and investors are always first in line when it comes to the jobs, revenues, and other economic development benefits being promised by the state’s leap into the so-called “green economy.” Consequently, Governor Hochul’s announcement last week laid bare some troubling directions and a pipeline full of unanswered questions. In unveiling the cornerstones of her plans, Governor Hochul said, “These transformative projects are a win-win – delivering thousands of new good-paying jobs throughout the state and attracting billions of dollars in private investment. They also help us turn the page on New York City’s long-standing dependence on fossil fuels.” It potentially could have been a “win-win” to write home about, except that Governor Hochul gave away one of these wins for New York State. Exhibit A is one of the plan’s centerpiece proposals, the Canada-based Champlain Hudson Power Express. It calls for a nearly 340-mile span of buried cable, traversing land and water, to bring Canadian hydropower and wind from Hydro-Quebec to an energy station in Queens, New York City. First and foremost, the plan fails to detail the costs of what can only be described as a massive and complex undertaking or, most importantly, the extent to which ratepayers throughout the state will be on the hook for covering these costs through higher utility bills. Affordability seems to be a factor completely disregarded in Governor Hochul’s choice of these transmission projects. The other approved project, Clear Path, is to be built 174 miles “underground,” a requirement that will conservatively increase the cost by 10 to 20 times. Equally puzzling, why is New York State gifting to Canada a marquee green-energy project that could help create thousands of good jobs and spark badly need economic development in numerous Upstate communities? Why forfeit this win? Trust me, there are plenty of New York State-based, private-sector generators more than eager for an opportunity like this one. In fact, the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express completely bypasses Upstate New York. There is not even an interconnecting Upstate converter station to allow Upstate power companies to tap into this supply, nor for Upstate electric generators to use this energy highway to get New York State-produced electric to the downstate markets in need of it. The lack of requiring an Upstate juncture perpetuates a bottleneck that has existed for far too long and places far too much reliance on foreign power. Furthermore, it fails to allow an alternative source of needed power in case of a potential drought in Canada eliminating this supply. The Independent Power Producers of New York (IPPNY) reacted to this proposed outsourcing of jobs, exorbitant costs, and the bypassing of in-state generators in a statement. IPPNY President and CEO Gavin J. Donohue said, “In addition to its hefty price tag, the Champlain Hudson line has long brought concerns of outsourcing New York jobs and lackluster emission reductions due to ‘greenwashing.’ While the State’s process will ultimately verify the source of the power on the line, giving this opportunity to a Canadian company rather thanNew York’s generators who have stepped up to the plate time and time again is wrong.” Last week, Governor Hochul reinforced for all of us a vision for the future of energy in New York State that leaves plenty of us wondering about its practicality, cost, and fairness -- particularly for Upstate New York. It’s a vision that we can never afford to have guided by political goals taking precedence over the best path to keeping the lights on for all New Yorkers in the most practical, cost-effective, smart, and fair way.
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