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Publisher’s notebook: ‘Open for Business,’ blind to reality

Two years ago, state Gov. Andrew Cuomo made no excuses. Benefits and wages of public employees, overlapping local governments and the number of school districts were out of whack. Those forces were key components that drove the high tax and poor business climate in New York.

Fast forward to Wednesday’s State of the State address and not one of those initiatives that hinder upstate job growth were addressed.

What was on the governor’s agenda instead? Hot-button issues of gun control, a lack of immediate funding for relief from Hurricane Sandy downstate and a light-hearted plan for an Adirondack whitewater rafting competition between state officials.

After two years of straight talk regarding spending cuts and plans to reduce the excessive layers of local government and schools, it appears as if Cuomo has all but given up on previous priorities that dated back to his term as state attorney general.

That “given-up” spirit, however, coincides with an election year that looms in 2014. Candidates eyeing re-election know its better to highlight the roses and ignore the thorns if another term is on the horizon.

Consider these initiatives – some unpopular – from his first State of the State address in 2011:

Consolidations of local governments, which have not happened.

A mandate relief redesign team, which included Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi, with major recommendations that have never been implemented.

An emphasis on controlling waste in state Medicaid funding.

$250 million set aside for school consolidation efforts, which hardly any upstate districts used.

Wage freezes for state employees, which were enacted in the early years of new contracts.

A cap on school superintendent salaries, especially downstate where salaries are upwards of $300,000-plus.

“Gone are the anti-business, obstructionist, tax capital, and gridlock mentalities, replaced with an entrepreneurial government that collaboratively works together for the people and partners with the private sector to create jobs and get the economy back on track,” Cuomo said during his speech Wednesday.

But that remark was made almost as though the economic difficulties in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties did not exist. Carriage House is eliminating 375 jobs by closing the Petri plant in Silver Creek and downsizing the Dunkirk facility. Another 174 jobs were lost when Dal-Tile decided to close its Olean facility while moving 60 positions to its location in Gettysburg, Pa. Add in another 60 jobs relocated to Tonawanda in the NRG Energy Inc. mothballing of two Dunkirk units and you have more than 600 jobs leaving the region.

It sounds nothing like the “Open for Business” campaign state leaders consistently boast about.

As we noted in our OBSERVER’s View on Thursday, there is very little for our region to be optimistic about in Cuomo’s agenda for the year. Educational improvements were mentioned, but funding for the current curriculum is already a concern. A minimum wage hike is something that is better handled by the federal government to maintain a level the playing field between neighboring states competing for business.

Cuomo also discussed the creation of legalized casinos – specifically for upstate, not New York City. His hope is once tourists make the trip to upstate, they will want to come back.

But our greater concern, considering the region’s loss of 600 jobs in the past five months, needs to be aimed at helping those living locally remain here and find work.

For now, and over the last 40 years of population decline, state and local officials have had no answer for that.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.