Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series on an OBSERVER/Post-Journal debate between Republican Andy Goodell and Democrat Nancy Bargar for the 150th New York State Assembly seat. The candidates answered the following question: Expensive state regulations and other factors contribute to a stifling business climate in New York. How do you propose changing that?
Though the objective may be the same, there are different avenues to combat Albany's red tape, according to candidates Andy Goodell and Nancy Bargar.
"There are a number of very specific ideas I have on dealing with expensive state regulations that stifle business," Goodell said.
The most costly service is health insurance statewide, which Goodell made a partisan criticism of the current lawmaking body in Albany. The state now collects $4.2 billion in taxes from health services, he said, and last year alone the Democratic-led state Assembly voted for an increase of $700 million. He added this figure affects the businesses that try to provide coverage as well as employees that have to contribute.
''Doctors and hospitals are paying these expenses and passing them on to the consumer,'' Goodell said, "and one of my objectives is to make these taxes public, and to work diligently to highlight them and cut these costs to make health care more affordable for everyone in New York state."
Next on Goodell's list is unemployment insurance, and he said: "The program design itself does not make sense because it punishes both workers and employers."
The basic benefit remains $405 per week, which has not kept up with inflation, he said, and a prevailing problem under the current system is that a person securing part-time employment loses a full day's benefit. This hinders New Yorkers to actively pursue the type of work which can actually lead to permanent, full-time employment.
"The solution is to allow people to take part time work, and allow them to keep a substantial portion of what they make," Goodell said, "and use part of what they make to reduce the (unemployment) program cost."
Ms. Bargar responded with her ideas about what hurts small businesses the most.
''The state sales tax remains a stifling detriment to commerce within our borders,'' she said, ''and a proposed increase in this tax from 7.5 percent to 8.25 percent will represent a $9.75 million increase in taxes that our smaller merchants will have to collect from consumers.''
But Albany should not turn to fees and regulations every time the states projects a deficit, either.
"Regulation should not be used to primarily increase revenue, but rather to produce the type of behavior that you want an entity to follow,'' Ms. Bargar said.
She also said the state is not encouraging public and private partnerships. Bargar said she has seen how state universities, like the State University at Fredonia, have given up on local partnerships because it requires passage of a legislative bill.
"We are talking about an institution that has a $120 million budget," she said, "and we are discouraging partnerships with the private sector here in Chautauqua County."
Goodell returned to attack climbing tax rates in New York, looking at the recent tenure of the Democratic majority.
"You take the high tax structure, combine it with the high regulatory structure," he said, "and it is driving out people and business."
Goodell pointed to recent studies showing the statewide tax rate levied from Albany as well as those within New York City mean that downstate business owners pay the highest income tax rate in the nation, for any locality. And since 2000, the state has more people moving outside its borders than any other state.
"My mission is to cut the spending in New York State dramatically," he said, "because the only way we can cut taxes dramatically is to cut spending dramatically."
A property tax cap, favored by both candidates, is not enough, he said, and Goodell said consolidation of services within the school system and other local entities would reduce tax across the board.
Ms. Bargar said the tax base could be strengthened if the state tightens the reigns on exempt properties.
"It's been too generous, she said of the Real Property Tax Law that grant exemptions. "When the nonprofit starts to engage in collecting properties or unfairly using their tax exempt status to compete on an unlevel playing field against legitimate, private tax-paying entities, that's an abuse that needs to be taken care of statewide."
She took issue with Goodell's reliance on figures within the two years, and his omission about how the opposition party led when it was in charge. She referenced data from the Cato Institute which showed how spending increased during Governor Pataki as well as his Democratic descendants.
"It's well known that through Republican as well as Democratic administrations that the growth of the state budget has increased at over twice the rate of inflation," Ms. Bargar said.