By John Emerson
ALBANY January 5, 2001 Assemblyman Jake Gunther liked what he heard coming out of Governor George Patakis mouth Wednesday at the governors annual State of the State Address, especially concerning one item that is near and dear to Gunthers heart.
State Senator John Bonacic liked what he heard from the governor during the speech and was particularly pleased that the Catskills were specifically mentioned as the site for a new economic development zone.
Were finally getting some attention here in the Catskills, said Bonacic. These two issues are directed to the Catskills and Sullivan County in particular.
Among a number of new programs and expansion of not-so-new current programs, Pataki specifically mentioned that the state should begin reimbursing municipalities for loss of revenues from the state Forest Tax Exemption, a program designed to improve and encourage the forestry industry. Since he took office in January 1993, Gunther has annually submitted legislation that would force the state to reimburse local government for the lost income.
I think he hit a home run, said Gunther. Property owners have had to carry the burden for too long. Revitalizing the Catskill regions economy has always been a top priority for me.
Patakis address, which ran for more than an hour longer than usual for this governors State of the State speeches covered a number of issues that will impact both local government and people. One of the main topics he lingered on was upstate economic development. In addition to creating six new Empire Development Zones, one of which is targeted for the Catskills, Pataki asked the legislature to double the size of the zones from two square miles to four square miles. He also called for the final elimination of the gross receipts tax to reduce energy costs and proposed new county tax reductions for senior citizens and farmers.
The new program, which he called Co-STAR, is based on a similar program that was started a few years ago to reduce the impact of school taxes on the elderly and others. He said the success of the STAR program for school taxes would carry over for county taxes in the Co-STAR program.
Significantly lacking in the governors speech were any references to issues relating to the states transportation systems. Last fall, the so-called Transportation Bond Act that appeared on the November ballot was soundly defeated by the states voters despite heavy support from the governor and many members of the legislature.
The key to the entire program that Pataki outlined in his speech, however, will be where he places his spending emphasis when he presents his proposed budget later this month. Once the budget is presented, lawmakers will have an opportunity to see whether Wednesdays speech was merely lip service to various locations throughout the state or the serious commitment of a governor who, at the moment, looks like he will be running for re-election.