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Health costs, fracking keys to 110th Assembly District race

Health costs, fracking keys to 110th Assembly District race

The two candidates hoping to replace retiring Assemblyman Bob Reilly agree on shifting the local cos

The two candidates hoping to replace retiring Assemblyman Bob Reilly agree on shifting the local costs of Medicaid, oppose a pay raise for state legislators and want to raise the minimum wage, but that’s about it.

Democrat Phil Steck and Republican Jennifer Whalen say they offer starkly different options for the approximately 80,000 voters in the 110th Assembly District, which covers Colonie, Niskayuna and part of Schenectady. The two are squaring off in a rematch of sorts, as they met in a four-way race for the Independence Party nomination in September.

“I’ve already beaten Phil Steck once,” joked Whalen, who points to her victory on the Independence line as evidence of her independent voice. “I’m not part of the go-along-to-get-along gang.”

The 45-year-old attorney lives in Colonie and manages her own real estate firm. She previously worked for the state, serving as an assistant state attorney general and then an assistant counsel for the New York Racing and Wagering Board.

In 2010, Whalen came within about 500 votes of beating the Democrat Reilly. In that case, though, the enrollment statistics favored a Republican and through redistricting the district now favors a Democrat. Because of that shift, Steck says Whalen’s conservative ideals are out of touch with the demands of the district.

Steck, 53, who serves on the Albany County Legislature and practices civil rights and employment law, says he is the best candidate because he is the only one offering solutions besides simply cutting taxes.

He stressed that he has a pro-choice and pro-gun control attitude that is in line with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the people in the district.

His major proposal is shifting the county’s cost of Medicaid to the state. Steck said this idea will drastically lower local property taxes and give local governments more room in their budgets, which could go toward economic development.

Because he has dealt with the burden of Medicaid and other state mandates, Steck said that in the Assembly he’ll know what weights to lift from local governments. He highlighted this as a real-life experience that his opponent is lacking.

Whalen is also a proponent of ending the local cost of Medicaid, arguing that the state should be responsible for figuring out how to pay for all the benefits it wants to give out.

This idea is in keeping with her general philosophy of rolling back state regulations, like the Wage Theft Prevention Act, and taxes.

On education, Whalen is a proponent of ensuring dollars get to the right place. She doesn’t want to see money wasted on requirements like the WICKS law governing construction contracts and wants districts to save money by sharing services and costs.

Steck says the entire state funding formula should be scrapped in exchange for a non-partisan awarding of school money to ensure stability and fairness for districts. He also wants all state lottery revenue to fund education and doesn’t want it diverted for other government expenditures.

Whalen also states that hydrofracking can be done safely in New York and that it would be good for the economy. Steck is opposed to hydrofracking, citing a previous debate concerning the threat to the environment and questioning the economic benefits.

Steck argued that Whalen doesn’t understand the real problems and Whalen said that Steck has a spending addiction.

Both candidates have voiced opposition to a legislative pay raise, which could come up in a special session after the November 6 election. Both candidates support raising the minimum wage, although Whalen wants it to be tied to tax breaks for small businesses.

Steck won the Democratic primary against three other candidates, in a race where he was outspent, and he warded off a write-in candidate for the Working Families bid. Whalen didn’t have a challenger for the Republican or Conservative nominations.

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