HILLSDALE — In the race for the State Senate seat in the 41st District, 20-year-incumbent Republican Senator Stephen Saland faces off against Democrat Didi Barrett, a longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations and community activist.
The 41st District is 100 miles long from the top of Columbia County in the north to the Dutchess/Putnam County line in the south. It encompasses western Dutchess County, including the cities of Poughkeepsie and Beacon, and all of Columbia County. The state senate seat is a two-year term.
The great majority of registered voters in the district live in Dutchess County, which has nearly 200,000 people eligible to vote compared to fewer than 40,000 in Columbia. Democrats hold a plurality in registration, outnumbering GOP registered voters by a few thousand, based on the number of “active voters” listed by the state Board of Election.
The two biggest issues for voters in Columbia County, Ms. Barrett told The Columbia Paper, are property taxes and jobs, but “we cannot fix Main Street until we fix State Street” in Albany.
“The people who brought us into this mess are not going to lead us out,” she said, noting, “We need fresh commitment to make reform happen.”
Property taxes in the state have cast a dark cloud and made the climate inhospitable to businesses, young families and seniors. What needs to happen immediately is “a short term solution to bring relief–a circuit breaker,” she said.
In the longer term, the problem needs to be addressed and focused on in a thoughtful way. There has to be a concerted effort by people who have no vested interest, to come to the table and make it a priority, the candidate said. These impartial people are academics, economists and people in government from other states. We have to cap our spending, do things within the government to curb the spending hemorrhage, said Ms. Barrett.
On the jobs front, Ms. Barrett said she likes the notion of “working regionally.” She mentions the Empire Zone concept, but said somewhere along the way “it got complicated.”
She said that local lawmakers need to work with federal representatives to bring federal resources to the 41st District. No one on the ground has taken on the position of “point person” for regional opportunities. Instead of the longstanding partisan bickering, we need to work together.
“We need the markets in New York and they need our farms,” said Ms. Barrett.
She identifies local agriculture as one of the area’s biggest economic engines, noting that agriculture-related businesses like slaughterhouses and a business started by a Kingston firm that quick-freezes fresh produce are smart ideas and should be given incentives.
Cultural tourism is another resource with the area’s rich historical sites such as Olana, the Fishkill Supply Depot, the great houses on the Hudson and the Shaker Community in New Lebanon.
“We have enormous riches here,” she said. “Agri-tourism could be tied to cultural tourism to make the area a destination and promote job creation in hospitality, construction and transportation,” she said, adding there are “so many maritime opportunities” as well as the need for a shuttle system to get people to their jobs and reduce reliance on cars.
Other job-growing opportunities are in the fields of renewable energy, she said, citing examples of Local Ocean, SunDog Solar and businesses that provide “wind products.” She also sees promise in the exploration of nano-technology following in the district’s “IBM legacy.”
Ms. Barrett was instrumental in the creation of the Dutchess Girls Collaborative, an alliance of local programs, supporters and providers that address the needs of young women; helped launch and serves on the board of the North East Dutchess Fund (NED) of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which focuses on allocating funds to improve life in Northeastern Dutchess County; she helped create the NED Corps program; and is founding chair of Girls Inc. of New York, an organization which helps young women realize their value and potential.
Ms. Barrett has owned a home in Millbrook for 23 years. She and her husband, David, have two children, Alec and Annabel.
Mr. Saland, a lawyer who served in the state Assembly for 10 years before being elected to the Senate two decades ago, sees the need to reduce spending, taxes and to offer incentives for job creation in the private sector.
“We have endured a horrific two years” with 124 different taxes raised amounting to a $14 billion tax increase and spending up by the same amount during this period that some refer to as The Great Recession, he said.
Instead of bolstering incentives for jobs, the party in charge has progressively reduced job incentives by a $1 million, a move the senator calls “imprudent” at best and total “lunacy” at worst.
What government should be doing to turn things around because the “status quo is too painful to continue,” is to come up with a job creation plan, tax credits, business tax cuts and to relieve the burden of excessive regulation on small businesses and farmers.
“I think the state needs a spending cap and I support a property tax cap,” said Senator Saland, noting that both the National Federation of Independent Business and the New York State Business Council have given him “high grades” on his business stance and endorsed his candidacy.
The senator said he has offered a concrete proposal, like the one adopted in Washington, to give tax breaks on payroll taxes to people who create jobs and further tax credits to employers who hire people and take them off unemployment rolls.
Mr. Saland offered his record of accomplishments at the local level to illustrate his support of district businesses and employment.
He has worked with both Columbia-Greene and Dutchess County Community Colleges to secure funding to train and re-train local employees, nearly 11,000 employees connected with 200 businesses over 15+ years, he said.
“It’s a win-win situation, which enhances employee value and a person’s status as a wage earner and helps makes businesses more competitive,” he said.
He assisted in avoiding the closure of the Hudson Correctional Facility to preserve jobs; provided $3 million in funding for the construction of the Professional Academic Center at C-GCC; has secured funding for capital improvement projects and equipment purchases for Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, a major area employer; worked with Columbia County Fair officials to get the funding for fairground improvements and secured funding for the development of the Gerald Simons Commerce Park.
“We need to overcome the agony of the past. We need to get people back to work and encourage people and businesses to stay in New York. We need to stop the outward migration and provide incentives that attract people and business back,” he said.
Senator Saland lives with his wife in Poughkeepsie. They have four sons and four grandchildren.