ONEONTA — The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce hosted a convergence of local, state and federal elected officials representing Otsego County for its annual State of the State luncheon at SUNY Oneonta on Friday, Jan. 24.
“It’s emerged as a great tradition for us in Otsego County to have this event early in the year to talk about the year ahead,” state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said of the forum.
“Thank you to the people of this region — this is my 34th year, my 17th term — for giving me the great opportunity to serve you and to represent you,” said Seward, who announced the previous week he will not seek re-election after this term. “I’ve never forgotten the very sacred trust that has been bestowed on me and I will continue, until Dec. 31, to stand up and speak out on behalf of the great people that I represent.”
Seward received a standing ovation from an audience of more than 150.
Each of the elected officials in attendance preached bipartisanship and the importance of collaboration across different levels of government.
“Whether it’s the town halls or whether it’s the small businesses, or whether it’s the advisory committees that I’ve created — the point is to soak up all the information and to make sure I am best positioned to represent your interests,” said Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck. “That is irrespective of party.”
“Unfortunately, we are living in some rather partisan and divided times, where democratic norms like mutual toleration are eroding,” he said. “Rather than accept our partisan rivals as countrymen, we treat them as though they are traitors or enemies, forgetting that we are all American.”
“We need to work together,” said Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie. “The Empire State is supposed to be the greatest state in this country. We are first where we should be last, and we are last where we should be first.”
Tague and Seward criticized the budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“As we start the year, we’re staring at a $6 billion deficit, and we’re losing population at a record pace,” Seward said, noting that New York leads the nation in out-migration. “It guts our communities, it hurts our local schools in terms of enrollment levels — the list goes on and on.
“We need to balance the budget without simply resorting to new taxes and fees,” he continued. “The state cannot simply just shift more costs onto the backs of local governments. In my mind, to do otherwise would exacerbate the trend with people leaving the state of New York to seek a more affordable place to live and a state with more economic opportunities.”
State and federal representatives pledged their commitment to address issues facing the region, including broadband expansion and economic development.
“My priority in Congress every day is to amplify your voice, and that is to create a feedback loop between the discussions that I have here at home and what I do in Washington,” Delgado said.
He discussed his proposed appropriations amendment to prevent the award of federal funding for broadband expansion by census block, arguing that the same model has not been effective for private telecommunications corporations and “the government ought to fill in those gaps.”
“The businesses help hold our community together; they provide jobs,” Tague said. “Most of our businesses and our businesspeople — they give to our communities. Without that, we have nothing.”
Several of the panelists addressed the recently enacted criminal justice reforms affecting the state’s bail system and evidence discovery process.
“Everyone on this panel agrees that no one, because they are poor, should spend an hour longer in jail than someone of means,” said Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield. “We all agree to that, and we’re all working hard to make sure that we come up with some kind of solution, but bail reform just didn’t hit the mark.”
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh and Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig discussed the collaboration between the two municipalities and the greater Otsego County region.
“I consider Mayor Tillapaugh a partner,” Herzig said. “ A strong Cooperstown makes for a strong Oneonta, and a strong Oneonta makes for a strong Cooperstown. We’re in this together.”
“We appreciate all the support we have received from our legislators and neighboring communities,” Tillapaugh said. “Just as Cooperstown is an economic engine for our region, our successes are everyone’s successes, and working together, we know we can improve upstate New York.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.