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Apr. 10—PLATTSBURGH — Addressing members of the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh during their virtual meeting Wednesday, State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) covered topics ranging from the budget and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's future to the environment and the Adirondack Park.
Stec said he was displeased with the state's recently-approved $212 billion spending plan because he does not believe it is sustainable.
He added that there are parts he is pleased with, but criticized both tax increases on millionaires and corporations as well as the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund, which will provide assistance to people who lost their jobs during the pandemic but did not qualify for benefits, such as undocumented immigrants.
"I'm not saying that they're (undocumented immigrants) not people, that we don't have a moral obligation to you know, to find solutions," Stec said.
"But on the other hand, I've got a hard time turning to the taxpayers that are working their tails off and saying, 'We're going to raise your taxes even though we don't really need to and we're going to have a record budget that's bigger than Texas and Florida's budget combined and I'm going to take $2 billion of that and I'm going to give it to people that broke the law and are coming here, worked off the books and didn't pay into unemployment because somebody in New York City thinks that's the right thing to do.'"
PROBLEMS WITH PROCESS
Stec also bemoaned how, once again, the budget bills were finalized and became law without taxpayers having three days to review them.
"Another thing that we do every year — we did a little less of it this time — was putting in stuff that doesn't belong in a budget, policy stuff that should be its own stand-alone legislation," he said, pointing to criminal justice reform.
Stec does not support legalization of marijuana, citing how he was raised and conversations with law enforcement and those in addiction treatment. He also expressed uncertainty about its potential as a large revenue stream.
"But if there is a part of the marijuana legislation that I liked, that I'll give a thumbs up to, it's that they did it outside of the budget."
On Cuomo's future, Stec remarked that the governor has been greatly weakened politically by ongoing scandals, as was evidenced by this year's budget process.
While Cuomo used to be the "brake" on progressives' agenda, this year, the majorities saw and took the opportunity to steamroll the governor, Stec said.
He believes Cuomo is entitled to due process, noting both the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into the nursing home scandal as well as state Attorney General Letitia James' probe into sexual misconduct allegations against Cuomo.
That said, Stec does not think that criminal culpability is where the line is drawn for whether or not someone is morally fit or capable of leading as governor.
"We know enough, there's been enough admission on either one of those two scandals that I think he should resign."
The governor has said he will not step down, though Stec believes the results of the two investigations may change his mind.
"Until that happens, I think he's going to try to ride it out."
Since the budget process is over, the senator wants to focus on coming out of the pandemic, responsibly reopening schools, businesses and the U.S.-Canada border, a process he said is about managing risk.
Speaking specifically about the U.S.-Canada border, he noted that U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik is also anxious to lift restrictions, "but in a responsible way that's based on doing the right thing from a health perspective, but part of that also has to be the economy.
"I mean, I said earlier on in the pandemic, and I said it kind of glibly, but I think there's truth to it that poverty kills, too," Stec continued.
"We can tamp down so much because of COVID, that, in other ways, we're hurting ourselves."
Asked about environmental challenges of importance to him, Stec pointed to invasive species, and water and wastewater infrastructure, the latter of which he said is also an economic challenge.
He would have liked more infrastructure spending in the budget, adding that may come down through a federal package.
Echoing prior comments on the subject, Stec said his concern with bills that seek to address climate change is that they will both hurt the state's economy and, in the long run, not benefit the environment as companies leave New York for another state where current regulations are not as strict.
"It does more harm than good. No one's opposed to clean air, clean water, it's just the devil is in the details."
Though Stec prefers to use the phrase "high use" rather than "overuse" when it comes to recent traffic levels in the Adirondack Park, he said there is no denying there are more hikers in general.
He believes the solution needs to involve more efforts on trail work, expansion of parking and the potential of technology to help notify people about busy trails.
Stec is leary about proposed reservation and permitting systems, but said he does not have objection to the current pilot reservation program at the Ausable Club.
He noted that the budget includes $800,000 for a shuttle bus operation run by Essex County, but contended that shuttles work better for short day hikes.
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