SENATOR BACK IN ALBANY
2020 Session To Start Wednesday
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
If marijuana is legalized in the state legislative session that begins today, it won’t be with the help of Otsego County’s delegation.
“It’s not my issue,” said state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who said he is “responding well” to cancer treatments, and expected to be in his Albany office on opening day.
“I would hate to move forward on that, particularly with those advocating for the increased revenues — $300 million,” said Seward, now in his 32st two-year term. “It’s not worth it, because it would cost us a lot more in different ways.”
For his part, Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, who represents Oneonta and Cooperstown, said there’s a “50-50 split” on legalization of marijuana. “I would vote against it,” he said.
“From a healthcare provider standpoint, I would vote against it. There are a lot of unintended consequence,” said the freshman assemblyman, a 30-plus year respiratory therapist at Community Memorial Hospital, Hamilton.
“I saw the effect on the chronic user. A lot of lung damage. Impacts on mental health. E-R admissions are up,” he said. “Have you seen that billboard south of Utica? It’s warning people against driving while smoking marijuana.”
He added, “It’s going to cost us. No one’s taking a look at the problems legalization will create. No one’s given us any firm figures so far.”
Governor Cuomo was expected to deliver his State of the State speech at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Empire State Plaza, signaling the beginning of the 2020 session. His executive budget reportedly will come later.
The two local lawmakers also share a concern about the $6 billion state budget deficit that emerged after the Democratic-controlled state Legislature purported to have passed a balanced budget last year.
The cause: $4 billion in Medicaid cost overruns, both men said.
“One of my priorities,” said Seward, “will be to deal with this deficit without resorting to new taxes, or cost shifts to local government, in particular, the counties.”
Noting the latest Census figures putting New York State among the top five counties in outmigration, the senator declared, “It’s a spending issue,” and the deficit and high taxes “just exacerbate that.”
Last time those costs burgeoned, Governor Cuomo convened a Medicaid Redesign Council to address them. It’s time to revive that council, Seward said.
Coming out of a healthcare career, Salka said “I’m afraid the wrong people are going to get cut.” In particular, “this is a government that hasn’t been very friendly to the disability committee.”
As Salka explained it, last year the Cuomo Administration facing a $1.7 billion Medicaid deficit, simply pushed it into the next year, pretending it doesn’t exist. “It’s now ballooned to $4 million. When you don’t pay your bills on time, a lot of extra costs are incurred.”
Seward also said he’ll be watching the new NYDOT capital, due to be released at the end of March. “I’ll be looking for parity with the MTA capital plan,” which funds New York City projects.
“I want to make sure every region of the state is getting its fair share,” said Seward, whose 51st District includes parts of 10 counties.
“I’m ready to hit the ground running,” said Salka. “The people pay us to solve problems, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.” In less time, he added: Because Democrats adjusted the state’s election calendar to match the federal one, the session is being cut short so legislators can get home to campaign in primaries.