By Lucian McCarty
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, toured his enormous North Country district last week -- a district that cuts across the northern half of Saratoga County and stretches from Lake Ontario to Vermont and all the way up to the Canadian border.
The newly redrawn 21st Congressional District replaces the 23rd, which did not include any portion of Saratoga County.
As two Republican challengers are embroiled in a primary race that will decide who Owens faces in November, the incumbent congressman visited The Saratogian office last week for a brief interview to allow Saratoga County voters to get to know him.
What do you want Saratoga County voters to know about you?
The questions I get asked most frequently are about jobs, and the second question I get asked is, "Why can't you folks get along down in D.C.?''
I have a history going back to the mid-'80s of being involved in economic development in my community. I think that's a key part of what we're going to do. It means getting involved in the communities to figure out what their assets are and then market those assets -- in other words, figuring out who they're going to sell them to.
One of the things we do is, you have a prospect here in Saratoga County and the economic development folks get a hold of me and I might call the CEO of the company and tell them we'd really like to have them in our region. That frequently has a huge impact on folks.
From that perspective, it's the kind of on-the-ground, hands-on economic development activity.
There are some policy things we can do. Certainly what's happened in New York with regional economic development councils is very good. We need to follow along with that and work with the governor to make that work better.
There is a lot of conversation about bi-partisanship, but not a lot of action. About 35 percent, a little more than that, I vote with Republicans. I am talking the talk and walking the walk. I work very well with Chris Gibson, Paul Tonko, Peter Welch, Rich Hanna -- we look at things on a regional basis. We had that very much occur during Irene when we worked hard to put pressure on FEMA, put pressure on the state office of Emergency Management. And ultimately, through legislation we were able to get enacted, we were able to ensure FEMA had adequate funding.
Obviously, you are going to be new to some of the voters around here. How is this portion of your district going to play into the rest of it?
The district grew by about 2,000 square miles from 14,000 to 16,000 and I now represent 40 percent of the New York state landmass. It requires a lot of driving, obviously, but it also requires us to use some other modes of communication. We send staff out for mobile office hours. We do a lot of telephone town halls and a lot of on-the-ground town halls in order to be able to get out and meet people.
You've talked about simplifying the tax code. Are you talking about businesses or individuals?
Both. I think we can dramatically reduce the complexity. That doesn't mean that I don't believe we don't need to increase revenue, but we can do that with a simplified tax code. My view is we need some additional revenue in order to significantly make a dent in the deficit and the debt.
There is $1.1 trillion in tax credits and loopholes and deductions that we can do some dramatic work on. If you took 20 percent out of that, that's $220 billion.
I think we also need to cut. I think it's very important we have a plan to cut federal spending, and those things have to go hand-in-hand if we are going to be serious about making a dent in the deficit and the debt.
I think Democrats have pretty consistently said we need to be in a position where people are paying their fair share. In my view, I think we should let the Bush tax cuts expire for people making over $250,000 or $500,000. I'd be more comfortable with the $500,000. Then, I think we need to reach into the corporate world and do that through the closing of the tax expenditures -- that $1.1 trillion.