Lawmakers brief business on progress, or lack of it

GREENPORT–National and statewide polls say voters don’t much care for the job lawmakers are doing these days. But more than 100 people filled the tables at the annual Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast at Columbia Greene Community College Thursday, April 1, listening politely to six elected officials who discussed how federal, state and county governments intersect with life and commerce here.

Representative Scott Murphy (D-20th), who ran the Glens Falls office of a venture capital firm before winning election last spring, said he was an entrepreneur at heart, and emphasized that small businesses create jobs in this country, not government or large corporations. “Big companies buy small businesses” in order to grow, he said. He called for government to focus its direct job growth on traditional public sector functions like roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

He then segued into his four-point plan for helping the economy of the 10-county district. He said that most of the district’s 137 municipalities need some type of large capital improvements, and government should help. Federal economic stimulus funds are already designated for Hudson’s new sewage treatment plant.

On his second point, education, he told the audience at the college student center that the recent health insurance reform law includes a provision designed to end what he called “subsidy for banks” that made student loans, a move he said would save taxpayers $80 billion over the next decade, money that can be invested in colleges like Columbia Greene.

He also touched on developing new sources of energy before he returned to his theme of support for small businesses. Mr. Murphy said that with private lenders still reluctant to extend business credit, the federal Small Business Administration is now making more loans with fewer fees, something he called a “a great public-private partnership.” He said this program will pay for itself as the loans are repaid.

He supports a small-business exemption from the federal capital gains tax, with farms qualifying for the break. He praised the business skills of farmers, adding that any farmer who wasn’t business savvy went out of business years ago.

Then he turned to the healthcare law, reminding his listeners that he had voted against the initial House bill last year. “I thought the president’s bill was much better,” he said. And while there was no time for questions at this session, he anticipated one when he said that the new law does not include a mandate requiring small businesses to provide health insurance for their employees. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from coverage requirements, and other small businesses are eligible tax credits to buy insurance.

The health insurance exchanges that will be created under the law will allow employers and individuals to have a choice of plans in what Mr. Murphy called “a free-market-driven solution.” He also used the opportunity to assure his audience that the law requires members of Congress to use insurance exchanges just like everyone else.

Mr. Murphy said that he waited to announce his support for the final bill adopted by Congress and signed by President Obama until he had he had read the legislation. “I thought the bill was actually going to bring costs down,” he said.

Chamber President David Colby reminded the audience that the forum was for office holders and that the organization’s policy was not to recognize candidates. But at least two candidates were present: Chris Gibson, named only the day before by Republican county leaders as their choice to run against Mr. Murphy in the fall, and Didi Barrett, picked by Democratic leaders to run against state Senator Steve Saland (R) in the 41st District. Mr. Saland did not attend but did send a representative.

Next to speak at the breakfast was Roy Brown (R-Germantown), chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, who announced that recent sales tax revenues showed a decline but revenue from the mortgage and transfer taxes has increased. He said that officials here are “beginning to look at different forms of county government around the state,” and he briefly alluded to “bold” changes that would lead to a “more productive and professional county government.”

Assemblyman Tim Gordon (I-108th), who represents the northern tier of towns in Columbia County, said he found it “alarming” that the state budget proposed by Governor David Paterson would eliminate programs designed to support agriculture, one of the state’s largest industries. Mr. Gordon said he and other lawmakers were trying to restore funding for programs like the Farm Visibility Institute.

Mr. Gordon also mentioned a measure he supported that allows net metering for businesses. The new law now permits companies that produce surplus electricity through alternative methods, like wind or solar technology, to sell that power back into the power grid. On taxes, Mr. Gordon said he supports a cap on property taxes with a sliding scale based on homeowners’ incomes.

“We ought to be in Albany working on a budget,” said Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro (R-103rd), referring to the recess taken by the legislature even though the state has not adopted a budget by the April 1 deadline.

Mr. Molinaro, whose district includes Hudson and much of central and eastern Columbia County, said government in Albany is in the grips of “an institutional paralysis,” with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle failing to address the state’s $9.5-billion deficit. This inaction prevents businesses from growing, and meanwhile, the state has been “dismantling” its economic development programs, he said. He called for restrictions on borrowing and spending, reduced regulation and investment in infrastructure, particularly high speed Internet service.

Assemblyman Peter Lopez (R-127th), whose serpentine district includes five towns in the southwest corner of the county, had an equally sobering appraisal of state capitol politics, calling government there a “feudal hierarchy.” He said that after generations of abundance the state now has to learn to live within its means.

Also speaking was County Clerk Holly Tanner, who urged the audience to use the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles office on Warren Street, because the county treasury retains 12.5% of each transaction fee. She said that comes to nearly $600,000 a year in revenue for the county.

Although there were no public questions at the breakfast, Mr. Murphy did plan to hear from constituents here as he hurried off to his next stop, a Congress on Your Corner event at Stageworks in Hudson.

To contact Parry Teasdale email .

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