The candidates running for the Republican line in New York's new 115th Assembly District see the state of the North Country's economy quite differently.
Janet Duprey, R-Peru, the incumbent Assemblywoman, sees improvement, while her opponents - Plattsburgh educator Karen Bisso and Cadyville businessman David Kimmel - see a poor unemployment rate and too much reliance on government dollars. They will face off in a primary election on Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in numerous recent visits to the North Country, has said he believes exciting things are happening in this region. He often cites the Regional Economic Development Council and other regional initiatives as evidence that the North Country has strong economic prospects.
Republican Assembly candidates (from left) David Kimmel, Karen Bisso and Janet Duprey
"There is an energy in North Country that I've never felt before," Cuomo said in Keene last month. "I feel the North Country coming together in a way they haven't come together before, coming up with regional partnerships and regional strategies, with a new economic future (and) a new thrust. The relationship between the state government and the North Country, I think, has never been stronger."
Duprey agrees. She commended Cuomo for establishing the economic development councils, and she said she's pleased that the North Country one was awarded $103.2 million in December 2011.
"The money awarded to a wide variety of outstanding projects is a direct job stimulus, as the companies must create new jobs (and) retain current jobs in order to receive their funding," Duprey said. "This is a great boost to our North Country economy, and I am cautiously optimistic that the council will once again submit a proposal worthy of top funding for this second round of grants."
Duprey said she believes the economy is improving.
"Although we have more to do, as I tour companies speaking with owners, supervisors and employees, there is an optimistic attitude about the future," she said.
Bisso resoundingly rejected the notion that the North Country has strong economic prospects. She said the unemployment rate is still too high - more than 11 percent in some parts of the Assembly district - and she called the Regional Economic Development Councils a "scaled-down version of the failed Obama stimulus plan.
"When did the taxpayers become a bank?" Bisso said. "Bombardier gets $1.9 million while companies like Jeffords Steel and Tri Town Packing invest their own money to stimulate the economy. I, unlike the current Assemblywoman, understand that grants aren't free money. They are taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. The only way to improve the state of the North Country as well as the rest of New York is to lower taxes and eliminate unfunded mandates, which can't happen with New York state constantly raising taxes so that it can hand out frivolous grants."
Kimmel said the North Country has strong economic prospects because it has "great people." He said economic policy should focus on creating an environment that lets people thrive and "fully realize their economic potential." He said his platform, which includes expanding rural broadband Internet, reforming state health insurance mandates, easing the burden of state mandates on local governments and improving transportation infrastructure, would do that.
"I certainly don't fault the governor for being optimistic," Kimmel said.
The unemployment rate is a big problem for all three candidates. Kimmel said no single lawmaker deserves the blame for the high figures, but finding solutions "clearly are within their purview.
"Unemployment has doubled during the incumbent's tenure," Kimmel said. "She has been ineffective in addressing this problem, largely because the economy hasn't received an appropriate level of her attention. Realistically, synchronizing the governor's optimism with reality on the ground cannot occur if we return the incumbent to Albany."
Bisso said the biggest barrier to getting people back to work is the state's "horrible anti-business reputation.
"In industry, New York is considered a dirty word," she said. "Why is it most of our elected officials cannot grasp the concept of lowering taxes, eliminating - not passing - regulation, and presenting New York in a positive light for both domestic and foreign investment?
"Once elected, I will target and eliminate legislation which only lends itself to supporting New York's bad image. I will also work to make sure that the power that is generated here is available for our use at low cost. Furthermore, I will take a hard-line stance on (state) agencies which stifle development and business growth like the (Adirondack Park Agency)."
Duprey said the number of unfilled jobs in the North Country has a big impact on the unemployment rate. Reports indicate that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 unfilled positions in the region. U.S. Rep. Bill Owens has also placed some blame for the unemployment rate on the number of unfilled jobs, although Duprey has publicly endorsed his Republican challenger, Matt Doheny, in that race.
"At some level we have made it too easy for people to collect social service benefits instead of earning a wage, and that issue that has gone on for generations should be addressed more aggressively," Duprey said.
"One of the biggest barriers to some people getting jobs will be the terrible decision of the state Education Department to eliminate the local diploma for students who cannot pass Regents exams," she added. "Without a diploma, most jobs will not be available for students, and the cost of obtaining a GED will be increased next year, making the exam unaffordable for many."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.