The Partial Observer: Adrian Kuzminski
Fate of Home Rule, State Budget
Now Depends on State Legislators
On March 1, the Otsego County Board of Representatives stood up for their constituents in what could be an historic vote. In a welcome show of solidarity, the board voted unanimously to oppose key provisions of Governor Hochul’s proposed New York State budget for 2024, which would concentrate state power at local expense while trampling our constitutional right to home rule. This newspaper, reflecting public concern over this issue, has in effect endorsed the County Board’s action by calling for the need to reaffirm home rule as defined in Article IX of the state constitution.
In a proposed change to Real Property Tax Law (575-b, part N), local municipalities would lose the right to assess solar and wind projects at full value, in effect forcing local taxpayers to subsidize corporate development in their communities. Board Chair David Bliss, according to “The Daily Star” of Oneonta, New York, was directed “to write a letter in opposition to the change and send it to the governor, state legislators on the various committees that oversee the laws, and local state legislators before April 1.”
The other important vote passed unanimously by the County Board opposed the Governor’s attempt to preempt $1.3 million in federal Medicaid money pledged to the county’s social services budget—further impoverishing our communities. Some might call it robbery.
These significant board votes may turn out to be historic first shots in a rebellion against a long series of abuses by unaccountable state and corporate powers extracting our resources and appropriating our wealth.
New York State has been undermining home rule for a long time. Earlier deregulation of the power industry in New York State reduced local control by dividing up the energy pie between private (inevitably non-local, out of state, or even global) corporations, and large state-run agencies (the New York Power Authority). Today even a previously local utility like NYSEG is owned by a Spanish company. The developer of a large proposed solar farm in nearby Herkimer County is a French corporation. The option of municipal ownership and control over power generation (previously established by nearly 50 communities in New York State) has effectively been shut down.
More recently, to implement 100 percent clean, carbon-free electricity in the state by 2040, the state in 2020 created the Office of Renewable Energy Siting, which stripped local communities of the right to evaluate and permit large renewable energy projects. As a result, local governments are by-passed on the most important energy policy decisions of the day. The right of our communities to manage their own energy needs—perhaps the best long-term solution to the energy problem—has been lost, and needs to be restored. The ORES should be abolished and its powers returned to local communities.
Without local control, energy will be extracted from our communities and exported elsewhere. Otsego County will become an energy colony run by distant government agencies and global corporations. Our resources will be taken without our approval and without compensation. The industrialization of our rural landscape will be a net loss to us. The profits generated will leave the community. Solar and wind projects might be necessary, but they are not an economic panacea. They are capital-intensive, turn huge tracts of land into eyesores, and offer few jobs or other permanent benefits to locals.
If renewable energy is to be exported outside Otsego County, it should be done on terms set by the county to ensure that its local impacts are mitigated to its satisfaction, and that any financial benefits be retained locally. Any municipality should reserve veto power over energy projects, especially large projects which are currently exempted. The question is who decides: corporations and state agencies, or the people? If home rule is restored, the people will decide.
This does not mean that large projects will be denied everywhere. They are needed and will be accommodated. Some communities will choose to entertain renewable energy projects in return for the financial benefits. They are more likely to do so if they can be assured of retaining the benefits locally, including profits and power at reduced or free rates. Others will choose to forgo energy projects to retain other assets more important to them. In the end, projects would be vetted by democratic community decision-making to sort out where they will best be located.
The fate of the state budget is now up to our state legislators, including State Senator Peter Oberacker, and State Assemblymen Brian Miller (101st District), Chris Tague (102nd District), John Salka (121st District), and Joe Angelino (122nd District). The New York State budget deadline of April 1 is coming up fast. They and the Governor (call 518-474-8390) need to hear that selling out local communities by overriding our constitutional right to home rule is unacceptable.