Spreading the word

JAMESTOWN – Gov. Andrew Cuomo is spreading the word about his plans for the year.

Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development and a member of Cuomo’s administration, visited the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown on Friday.

During an informational session, Hoyt explained the administration’s top goals for 2014 and reiterated Cuomo’s State of the State address, which took place Wednesday in Albany.

“This message is far too important to be heard by just the people who were in (Albany),” Hoyt said, further explaining Cuomo had “dispatched” representatives statewide in an effort to spread information and key points of the speech.

Hoyt began by explaining the past three years and the once-fundamental structural problems, which had been growing for decades, he said.

New York state’s spending outpaced income growth and caused the state’s taxes to be the highest in the nation.

Also, over a 30-year period, 23 budgets were late by an average of 50 days.

But now, because the state started exercising fiscal discipline, every New Yorker pays less in taxes than they did three years ago and the middle class tax rate is the lowest it’s been in 60 years, Hoyt said.

“Our financial restructuring of the state has paid off,” he added. “We have gone from a $10 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus.”

In order to further reduce taxes, the governor has proposed business tax cuts to promote economic growth, a property tax freeze, property tax credit and estate tax reform.

Property taxes are the largest tax burden in the state with income tax at $40 billion and property tax at $51 billion, Hoyt said.

Nationally, Chautauqua County is one of the 15 highest-taxed counties in terms of property taxes paid as a percentage of home value. According to Cuomo, this is because of the high number of local governments, of which there are 10,500 statewide.

Cuomo said consolidation of local governments along with shared services between municipalities will help lower taxes in the future.

“We also need additional property tax relief for low-income households and renters,” Hoyt said. “We propose a new property tax credit based on ability to pay.”

As for economic development, Hoyt said 380,400 new private sector jobs had been created in New York since 2010, ranking the state no. 2 in jobs created since the recession.

“We have the most jobs in our history,” he said. “Unemployment is down in every region of the state.”

As for capital projects, 100 bridges statewide will be repaired with “state-of-the-art flood-resistant construction” at a cost of $16 billion, the most massive rebuilding program the state has ever undertaken, Hoyt said.

Next, he touched on the subject of establishing a program allowing up to 20 hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana to patients being treated for serious illnesses.

“There’s been a lot of talk about what’s going on in Colorado,” Hoyt said. “Let me tell you, that is nothing similar to what we’re talking about here.”

Furthermore, he said research suggests medical marijuana may help manage the pain and treatment of cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

In other matters, he said Cuomo wants to make New York safer by increasing penalties for drunk drivers.

Hoyt said 47,000 drivers with three or more drunk driving convictions are still on the road.

“I think it’s outrageous,” he said.

Anyone convicted of drunk driving twice in three years would lose their license for five years. After three violations, drunk drivers would lose their licenses permanently.

Also, teen drivers and anyone younger than 21 caught texting while driving would lose their license for a year.

“This is something I think the governor is passionate about,” Hoyt said, adding that Cuomo has three teenage daughters and he himself has teenage sons. “Behavior that has become so second-nature to teenagers needs to end.”

Another round of Regional Economic Development Councils will also be awarded in the coming months.

“Last year we launched StartUp NY – 68 tax free zones – to make New York state the least expensive place in the U.S. to locate a business,” Hoyt said, adding that marketing the program globally will attract businesses from around the world to New York.

As for tourism, the administration has spent $40 million in an effort to bring people to the state.

“What the governor has said and what I think most people in this room realize is that we have extraordinary assets,” Hoyt said. “But if we don’t market those assets, people aren’t going to come here.”

He added that tourism spending is up $4 billion, nearly twice the national rate of growth. Also, tourism jobs have increased by 25,000.

In order to further promote tourism, the Department of Motor Vehicles will release an “adventure license” which is an all-in-one document indicating the owner’s license to boat, hunt, fish or trap.

“We in New York can lead the way,” Hoyt said.

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