Paterson’s duty a balancing act

Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s city-by-city series of upstate economic development announcements never got aro
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Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s city-by-city series of upstate economic development announcements never got around to the Capital Region, and it’s not clear just when we can expect the incoming governor, David Paterson, to stop by local cities such as Schenectady, Amsterdam and Gloversville.

Nor is it clear if Paterson will follow Spitzer’s policies on education funding or on taxation.

It’s not that the new governor, who will be sworn in Monday, has politics or priorities much different from his predecessor. But Spitzer, who announced his resignation last week after being caught in a prostitution scandal, is leaving his successor a $4.5 billion budget gap at a time when the state and nation seem to be falling into a recession, which limits any governor’s options. The budget is due April 1.

Empire State Development Corp. spokeswoman Stefanie Zakowicz said not all of the city-by-city projects announced by Spitzer in 2007 — including Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, Syracuse, Utica and Plattsburgh — required new funding. But those that did will need to get it out of the 2008-09 budget, specifically the proposed $1 billion upstate revitalization package.

“A second phase of this initiative would be implemented should the budget pass,” Zakowicz said in an email. “… At this time, no specific projects have been identified, nor were any previously identified, for the second phase. Once the upstate revitalization package is approved, we will start to evaluate projects for consideration, including those in Schenectady, as well as those in other communities.

“Right now, ESD’s focus is on helping Governor-to-be Paterson maintain stability and continuity as well as provide information through the transition process,” she said.

Zakowicz said the ESDC’s upstate development czar, Dan Gundersen, has not spoken to Paterson since the Spitzer scandal broke but hopes to stay on in the new administration. Gundersen was traveling Friday and not available for comment, she said.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, head of economic development for Schenectady County, said potential projects for the state to fund include bike trail extensions and rehabilitating the Foster Building on State Street in downtown Schenectady. He also wants the state to give up ownership of a former bakery in the Rotterdam Industrial Park, putting it back on the tax rolls.

But Gillen said Schenectady did pretty well in terms of state funding last year, despite not being included yet in the city-by-city program. It got, for example, $5 million to help induce General Electric Co. to establish a wind energy operation in Schenectady, and that funding is not dependent on anything in this year’s budget negotiations.

When asked Thursday what his top priorities were, Paterson listed reviving the upstate economy first. That may indicate he will support the city-by-city and other upstate investment programs — although most of the focus has been not on the Albany area but on more depressed central and western New York.

Education a concern

The second priority Paterson listed Thursday, both at a news conference and in an interview on Talk 1300 radio, was improving the schools in New York City. (His third priority was addressing the subprime mortgage crisis.)

More money for the New York City schools was the goal of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s long legal fight against the administration of Gov. George Pataki, a fight that Paterson supported when he was a state senator representing Harlem and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

But in recent years, the CFE has had a statewide partner, the Alliance for Quality Education, that advocates boosting funding for high-needs school districts throughout the state, including in upstate cities such as Schenectady. Last year’s budget, Spitzer’s first, changed the education funding formula and increased spending enough to win the support of CFE and AQE, although they criticized his proposed budget this year.

Paterson’s statements about the upstate economy and New York City schools sounded like an attempt to provide regional balance. But Errol Cockfield, Spitzer’s press secretary and a Paterson spokesman, said the incoming governor is concerned about education throughout the state, not just in New York City.

That has been Paterson’s record, said AQE Executive Director Billy Easton. He also said the Assembly’s one-house budget this year is much preferable to the Senate’s, which he charged directs too high a share of funding to downstate suburban districts and “totally shortchanges upstate New York.”

The Senate budget does, however, increase funding for the education formula by $47 million beyond what Spitzer proposed. Easton said the Assembly budget increases it more.

The Assembly’s budget includes $1.5 billion in revenue from a temporary income tax surcharge on people making $1 million or more per year. Easton said AQE supports that tax hike. Republicans oppose it, as did Spitzer, but Paterson did not rule it out last week.

While Paterson has been as or more liberal than Spitzer on most issues, the Alliance for School Choice issued a statement Friday praising his views on education reform and voicing enthusiasm that Paterson will work to improve educational opportunities for low-income New Yorkers.

greeted by optimism

Paterson’s liberal record on criminal justice issues may have moderated in recent years. On Thursday, in response to a reporter’s question, he said he does take seriously the issue of the recent increase in paroles granted to violent offenders.

The state Catholic Conference put out a statement praising Paterson, saying “we have had strong areas of agreement and strong areas of disagreement.” One of the latter is embryonic stem cell research, for which Paterson was assigned responsibility by Spitzer.

As a state senator, Paterson was pro-choice, against the death penalty and supported same-sex marriage rights.

Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, said Paterson understands upstate, noting that he was one of the few New York City legislators to buy a house in the Capital Region. Paterson still lives in that Guilderland house when he’s in the area.

Paterson, said Breslin, “is one of the most understated, smartest persons I’ve ever known.”

Robert Farley, R-Glenville, minority leader of the Schenectady County Legislature, said that despite Paterson’s liberalism, his willingness to listen and a more conciliatory temperament than Spitzer’s bode well for budget negotiations.

Categories: Schenectady County

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