Maybe it was the setting or maybe it was the candidates running for the 150th Assembly District seat, but Wednesday's town-hall debate was more like friends talking politics around a kitchen table.
Democrat Nancy Bargar and Republican Andrew Goodell met Wednesday at SUNY Fredonia's Thompson Hall before campus and community members, including students getting credit for attending.
Both candidates answered submitted questions along with several from the floor after giving three-minute opening statements.
"My campaign has been comprised of a commitment to clean up Albany and to try to get our fiscal house in order to clean up Albany, (we need) somebody who is independent, fresh and I feel I have that to offer," she stated. "We also need to make cuts in all of our spending. No one will probably be immune to this. We have talked throughout this campaign season about cuts to Medicaid."
She cited outgoing Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch's report on what needs to be done to make the state have less of a generous plan.
"We have a situation here where the long-term care benefits are really hurting us on the expense side of administering government," Bargar said. "I have come out in favor of a property-tax cap as have both the candidates for governor, I'm not sure whether it's a hard or soft cap. ... I am for not extending the sales tax increase from Chautauqua County.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Candidates for New York state’s 150th Assembly seat met Tuesday at SUNY Fredonia in a town-hall debate. Republican Andrew Goodell (left) and Democrat Nancy Bargar each had plenty to say on their plans to change Albany.
"I favor all of what has been recommended by the Lundine Commission ... it has many, many reforms in it, particularly smaller government and merging school districts and things that we're very slow to do in our backyard."
Bargar said both she and Goodell had signed the New York Uprising pledge that calls for equal pay for all legislators.
"You would stop undue influence by the three main people in the government who give you extra money if you're the chairman, extra money if you do this and that," she explained. "It's a form of bribery that I think has corrupted our system for some time."
Goodell began by saying he was running because he's frustrated with the state spending more than it can afford.
"You've seen the budget deficit, you've seen the budget trouble and it's gotten worse and worse over the last few years and it affects each and every one of you," he stated. "There's not a single candidate that ever runs that says they're in favor of taxes and I'm not going to break that trend. As students of government you need to know that talk about tax cuts is nothing more than hot air unless the candidates identify how they're going to cut spending."
Goodell then talked cuts, saying they had to be made where the spending was.
"The number one program in New York state is Medicaid and welfare. We spend more on Medicaid than Texas and California combined. ... We need to bring the coverage level on Medicaid in line with the health insurance you would expect to get in the private sector. ... The problem with the current program is having unlimited benefits for those who are on welfare; that traps people in poverty because they cannot leave the welfare system and accept a private sector job without losing health benefits.
"We should bring coverage in line with the private sector, take the savings, give a huge tax cut back. That will stimulate the economy to create the jobs that these people need."
The state's administrative overhead was next for Goodell.
"About one-fourth of the entire state budget is paying people who make over $100,000 a year, almost 24,000 people. There are over 1,000 people who make more than our governor," he stated. "We need to bring those administrative overhead costs in line."
Backdoor borrowing through public authorities also has to go, according to Goodell.
"It circumvents our constitution. Currently, $.17 out of every tax dollar goes just for debt service. It's unsustainable and it has to stop," he stated.
The first question was about the state's high taxes and how to cut them.
Bargar was first to reply, citing Albany reports emphasizing the loss of state population to neighboring states. She said people have basically given up because of the tax burden.
"We have looked to other states for how are they handling this. New Jersey just passed a soft tax cap which is a little different than a hard tax cap, it doesn't include equipment," she said. "Massachusetts has had a hard tax cap, 2 1/2 it's called and has been fairly successful. California, less successful
"There are no guarantees but my contention would be that we cannot continue doing the same things and expect different results, which are taxes or anything else that's broken about New York state government."
She added she would be open for discussion on a 2 or 4 percent tax cap.
Goodell continued with his economic analysis, saying priorities needed to be straightened out, citing an increase of 10 percent on welfare spending while education funding was cut 5 percent.
"That's the wrong priority, we need to straighten it out. I think it's not the right signal when people on Social Security get no raise and those who don't work get a 10 percent raise," he stated. "We need to cut unfunded state mandates. These are programs passed by the state legislature that require local governments to raise taxes to run."
Pension reform, unemployment reform were cited as necessary by Goodell before he talked tax cap.
"A cap slows the growth. Chautauqua County has the sixth-highest property tax rate in the nation," he began. "We don't need to slow our growth, we need to cut our taxes and the biggest way to cut taxes is to cut expenses. Eighty-seven percent of our county tax levy goes for welfare and Medicaid. That's where the big money is and that's where we have to cut."
He added the per capita tax in the state has increased $414 per person in the last two years, the highest increase in the nation.
Questions followed covering issues from tuition, welfare reform, environmental concerns, higher education and gay marriage, which Bargar said she supported. Goodell said he was opposed to discrimination of any kind but saw a difference between marriage and civil unions.
"Marriage has a religious connotation, my church is not for that conduct. Civil unions is a different matter altogether," he explained. "I am 100 percent for it, insuring equality regardless of the arrangement and insuring there is no discrimination of any kind. I wish the language were changed, though."
The candidates closed with two-minute statements. Goodell was first, saying he was running to change Albany.
"I don't like the direction we've been going. I don't think it's the right direction and I'm determined to make a difference. I have a detailed platform and I encourage all of you to check out my webpage, andrewgoodell.com," he said. "In my opinion, we need to dramatically cut spending so we can cut taxes so we can make New York state more business friendly, so we can create better, higher-quality jobs so we can meet our commitment to education."
He added a tax structure that plans and builds for the future is necessary for progress.
"What I bring to the table is the proven ability to do that. As the county executive, we cut taxes. The tax rate when I left was 10 percent lower than when I started," he stated. "Our job count in Chautauqua County was the highest in our history when I left and it was that way for six years. We're talking about the future of this state.
"We need to start running this state as though we're planning for the future, not searching from crisis to crisis responding to a problem."
Bargar closed by saying she probably has some political baggage, including the failed effort to consolidate Lakewood into the town of Busti. She also touted her 10 years as a county legislator and her service on its finance committee.
"I do think that I'm not afraid to take on public policy questions and to present them to the public," she said. " ... I feel I have the temperment to work with other people in different walks of life, which is what it's going to take in Albany. We're one of the most diverse states in America."
Political Science Department Chairman David Rankin put together the debate.
"I think it went well, I think it was an opportunity for our campus and community members to hear more about where these candidates stand on some of the critical issues," he said afterwards. "I'm pleased that they were able to join us here today. It seems like there is a lot of interest in this election from campus and community members judging by some of the questions they asked.
"I imagine it will be a very interesting race to follow down here to the wire."
Nov. 2 is Election Day, the only poll that counts in the final analysis.
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