POUGHKEEPSIE–State Senator Steven Saland, a Republican who has represented the 41st District for the last 20 years, announced in April that he would seek another two-year term in November. The district includes all of Columbia County and much of Dutchess, and this year Mr. Saland is facing a challenge from Democrat Didi Barrett.
Mr. Saland, who says he is as frustrated and angry as his constituents, if not more so, spoke last week by phone with The Columbia Paper, addressing the economy, taxes, schools and government reform in between a legislative session and a committee meeting.
Although there was a brief period earlier this year when the GOP managed to wrest nominal control of the Senate from the Democratic majority, Democrats regained quickly their slim majority in the upper house. Asked whether he can still be effective as a member of the minority party, Mr. Saland said, “I’ve been outspoken and one of the leaders on the floor. My constituents didn’t send me to acquiesce in this tax and spend madness by this one-party governance.”
The way he sees it, the Democrats have turned their backs on the budget reform act passed unanimously by the Senate in 2007, a law that he said provided greater transparency and worked well in 2008 but has been ignored ever sense. He decried the recent budget process under the Democratic leadership in the state as “impervious to public scrutiny,” saying the process leaves out voice of upstate New Yorkers.
“If you’re not from the City or suburbs, you have little or no say in what’s going on,” he said. He accused Democrats of squandering federal economic stimulus money “by overspending. It will create a more difficult situation this year and next when it could have been used to lessen pain.”
The state budget is more than two months overdue, and Mr. Saland said the Senate majority’s budget proposal would increase spending by 10%, or $12 billion, increasing taxes by $8.5 billion.
“The government can’t control the economy; whenever it has attempted to it has failed. The only thing it can do is incentivize or impede job creation. We’re seeing impeding,” he said.
The senator, who served in the Assembly before he won election to the Senate in 1990, said that higher taxes keep business from expanding here, discourage others from moving into the state, and prompt some firms to leave.
The previous budget’s so-called “millionaires’ tax” didn’t raise much money, he said. And he believes a proposal for a new stock transfer tax, a plan that NYSUT, the large teachers’ union, believes would yield money for schools, might actually lead financial firms to depart for New Jersey.
While public education costs have increased well over the rate of inflation for a number of years, Mr. Saland is proud that during the six years he served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, the state did not adopt any unfunded mandates. He called the real property tax system “not related to reality,” and urged the use of income and sales taxes to generate future income for schools, with a tax cap as a possibility.
He said state government need reform, and he faulted Democrats for not making good on promises to adopt reform measures.
Asked about the short-lived and politically unpopular legislative coup staged by Senate Republicans leaders, Mr. Saland said, “My initial reaction was I wanted no part of it. If you lie down with dogs you get fleas.” But he said he agreed to the tactic to achieve “some form of balance” in the effort to impose a new payroll tax for all businesses in Dutchess and 12 other counties. The tax is intended to help fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “With one vote we could have stopped the MTA bill,” he said.
He said Columbia County is fortunate not to have become part of the MTA service area. It will not be affected by the new tax.
Looking at the difficulties ahead for a state facing a $9-billion deficit, Mr. Saland said, “I won’t abandon the ship simply because it’s in troubled waters. I have made a commitment to my community and my region. I have devoted a substantial part of my life to this work. I refuse to throw in towel just because times are difficult.”
And though he said Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for governor, had plagiarized the jobs bill in his platform from a GOP proposal, he praised Mr. Cuomo for his commitment to a state spending cap. Mr. Saland said that no matter who is elected governor in November, the state’s new chief executive will be someone who “gets it.”