A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the counties in the 20th Congressional District. The district covers all of Albany and Schenectady counties and parts of Montgomery, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
20th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Republican challenger Jim Fischer are pushing their economic priorities in the 20th Congressional District as they prepare for a series of debates this month.
Fischer, a Republican from Ballston, recently unveiled his economic plan in an acronym — THRIVE. That stands for tax reform, health care reform, regulatory reform, infrastructure repair, vision and energy.
“The economy is the biggest priority for everybody,” he said. “I think people are frustrated with the hyper-partisan nature of our politics, particularly down in Washington. Tonko has been one of the most partisan members of Congress, voting with his party more than 95 percent of the time. That is something I think people are fed up with.”
Tonko, who has served in Congress since 2009, said he is focused on helping small businesses, boosting manufacturing and lowering taxes in an effort to create jobs and grow confidence in the economy.
“We need jobs and infrastructure improvements,” he said. “I have been doing this for a long time and to me it’s about working with the people, developing a sense of trust and sharing a vision. I would like to hear more specifics from Fischer’s campaign, but I am not.”
Fischer, founder of Crystal Clear Communications in Burnt Hills, said he believes the Affordable Care Act should be revisited because it’s “unaffordable” and a “one-size-fits-all plan.” Also, he said the tax code is “out of control” and needs to be simplified.
“What I would like to see happen is for real choices to be created with Obamacare. We need to revisit that, along with a fundamental reform of our tax system,” he said. “We should also lower some of the rates, such as reducing the corporate tax rate.”
If elected in November, Fischer said he would work to take home more federal aid for infrastructure repairs in cities like Amsterdam and areas damaged by storms like Schoharie County, which is still rebuilding after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
That’s something Tonko said he has been pushing for in Congress. He knocked the House majority for failing to invest in infrastructure projects, while Fischer said he believes serving in the majority would provide him with more resources.
“Why we won’t pick up a bill to address infrastructure concerns is beyond me,” Tonko said. “The House majority, which I don’t serve in, is holding that back. We need to rebuild and we need to do it effectively. My opponent talks about cutting government, and I’m talking about investing.”
Tonko said he would like to see more investments in research and training opportunities throughout the Capital Region to better prepare residents for technology and manufacturing jobs.
Fischer slammed Tonko on his record in Congress, arguing that he has achieved “nothing of note.” He pointed to Tonko’s hometown of Amsterdam, questioning why it has not gotten more help.
Tonko said the Capital Region’s expanding high-tech industry would start pushing its way into Montgomery County. Research and development of computer chips at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, formerly known as the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, has already anchored in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica.
“I think that growth potential will only expand and we will have a tech corridor that will be tremendous, with Amsterdam being a part of that,” he said. “People are already being trained at Fulton-Montgomery Community College to be ready for these opportunities.”
Tonko and Fischer will discuss the issues during a series of debates this month. Fischer said he is looking forward to the events because it provides residents with the opportunity to hear from the candidates directly.
The candidates are also planning to talk about the minimum wage, immigration and women’s equality.
“They will get to see our political philosophies and what our stances are on the issues,” Fischer said.
Tonko said he believes his background makes him the most qualified to represent the 20th Congressional District. He served in the Assembly for 24 years before leaving to be president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
The 20th Congressional District is home to more than 700,000 people in all of Albany and Schenectady counties and parts of Montgomery, Rensselaer and Saratoga.
“There are very few engineers in Congress and the character of the district is so technology-focused that having that background is crucial,” he said. “I think I partner very well with the district’s needs and strengths.”