By Matt Spillane
Citizens across the country are concerned about the nation's high unemployment rate, and those concerns, which are undoubtedly shared by many Lewisboro residents, are being heard loud and clear by the town's political delegates.
Lewisboro's representatives at the county, state and federal levels recently spoke to The Ledger about their goals and priorities for the next year, and employment was their first topic of discussion.
"The number one theme, of course, is job creation in our Hudson Valley and across the United States," Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, 19th District, said this week.
Ms. Hayworth said that there are a number of ways in which she and her colleagues are working to promote job creation.
"We want to bring the federal government down to the right size," she said, "by cutting spending in the right ways."
In addition to cutting spending, Ms. Hayworth said that it is crucial to construct "an economic climate that is welcoming to business."
"We need to make sure that our job creators -- the small businesses -- are not excessively burdened," she said.
That can be accomplished, Ms. Hayworth said, by scaling back rules and regulations that hamper small businesses. As an example of how she is helping to do that, she noted this past spring's repeal of part of President Barack Obama's health care reform law: an April bill repealed a provision that would have required small businesses to file 1099 forms for purchases of at least $600.
"They affect small businesses disproportionately," Ms. Hayworth said of regulations such as the 1099 provision. "They [small businesses] don't have big departments to deal with these things."
At the state level, Senator Greg Ball, 40th District, is advocating for immediate action; the state legislature does not return to session until January, but Mr. Ball said he has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to consider a one-week special session in September or October that would be held specifically for the topic of job creation.
"When it comes to job creation I don't believe that we've moved forward aggressively enough," he said last week.
Mr. Ball said he is taking several steps to tackle unemployment, including creating a "One Stop Career Center" Web site that will offer help with résumé writing, filing for unemployment insurance and finding information about job fairs and other workshops. The site is set to launch on Sept. 30.
Job creation was also the first issue mentioned by Assemblyman Robert Castelli, 89th District, who said this week that state legislators want to make economic development a priority this year. Last week Mr. Castelli attended Gov. Cuomo's Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council's workshop in Harrison that was meant "to gain input and aid in the creation of the council's five-year strategies economic development plan for the Hudson Valley," according to a press release from Mr. Castelli.
While tackling the unemployment issue is important, it is not the only task on the legislators' to-do lists.
Relief of unfunded mandates was another point of emphasis from the federal level on down to the county.
County Legislator Peter Harckham, District 2, said last week that one of his goals is to find money for an unfunded mandate from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for phosphorus remediation. The mandate costs $150 million and requires 10 towns in the Croton watershed to remove phosphorus from its reservoirs, he said.
"Working with our state and local partners, we have been able to cobble together the first $50 million for five years," Mr. Harckham said. "It's the mother of all unfunded mandates. The longer term goal is to assess how we can get the remaining $100 million. When we speak about unfunded mandates, this is the poster child."
Unfunded mandate relief is also a focus of Mr. Castelli, who said that the progress the state legislature made in that area last year "was a drop in the bucket; it was not significant. In order for the [property] tax cap to work it has to be coupled with mandate relief, and we did not see that."
Mr. Castelli said that a short-term goal of his is to repeal the Triborough Amendment, a 29-year-old addition to a state law that prohibits public employers from altering any part of an expired union contract until a new contract is reached.
Over the long term, Mr. Castelli said, he plans on working to create a Tier 6 pension plan for public employees and teachers. The combination of a Tier 6 plan -- which would require new employees to contribute more to their pension plans and raise the minimum retirement age -- and the Tier 5 plan that was implemented a couple of years ago would save the state $90 billion over the next 30 years, Mr. Castelli said.
Another bill that could be repealed is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) payroll tax, which Mr. Ball said is "a real job killer for our area."
A bill repealing the tax, which was enacted in 2009, was passed in the Senate this past spring but has not been up for vote in the Assembly. The payroll tax was part of a 2009 MTA bailout that instituted a tax of 34 cents on every $100 of payroll in New York City and seven suburban counties.
Lewisboro's representatives said they are also concentrating on the environment, with Mr. Ball and Mr. Castelli planning action against hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which is a controversial method of acquiring natural gas from shale.
Mr. Ball said he is going to ask Gov. Cuomo and state legislators to join him on a two-day tour of Pennsylvania "to see the devastation of hydrofracking."
Mr. Ball said that he visited areas of Pennsylvania this summer to see the effects of hydrofracking and that the experience "really opened my eyes."
Both Mr. Ball and Mr. Castelli said that they would like to see a moratorium on hydrofracking so that legislators have time to get feedback from environmental agencies, such as the DEC and the Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the public.
Ms. Hayworth is working on a different environmental issue -- the PACE Protection Act. She is one of three House members behind this bill, which she said would allow "homeowners to make energy-saving improvements to their properties and finance them over time."
The PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program allows people to make energy-efficient upgrades to their homes and pay the costs back over time. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac oppose the legislation, however, making it "nearly impossible for people who have mortgages backed by the federal government to participate in PACE," she said.
This bill would prevent penalties and restrictions on PACE participants, though, and would be a "win-win," Ms. Hayworth said. "It creates local jobs and saves energy costs."
Mr. Castelli said that he is proud of the job done by legislators last year, but that there is still a lot of work left to do.
"The good news is that we were 100% better [in 2011] than the year before," he said. "The bad news is that gets us only 50% of where we need to go."