Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series covering the League of Women Voters debate held at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House. This article focuses on the state Assembly race.
For the first time in nearly three decades state Assemblyman William Parment was not a part of a debate held in October. Instead, two looking to fill the soon-to-be vacated seat squared off in a League of Women Voters Debate at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House on Thursday night.
Candidates for state Assembly, R-Andrew Goodell and D-Nancy Bargar discussed topics of family values, the Marcellus shale, the Farm Labor Bill, education and a property tax cap among other things during the three-part debate.
Goodell began with answering the question about what the most urgent problem was facing New York state and how would they correct or resolve the issue.
"My mission if elected assemblyman is to dramatically cut the cost of state government and the cost of your taxes on both the state and local level. The area I'm going to start my focus on is the area where we had the highest single expense in the state budget and that's Medicaid. New York spends more on Medicaid than California, or Texas, or California and Texas combined.
California and Texas combined. ... We spend about $1 billion a week on Medicaid and the problem is that the Medicaid program offers almost unlimited benefits for those who are on welfare," Goodell began. "Not only is that bankrupting New York state but it also traps people in poverty because anyone who is on welfare who wants to get a private sector job will lose health care coverage. My recommendation is simple - bring the Medicaid coverage in line with the private sector so that someone can afford to leave welfare and go to work."
OBSERVER Photo by Michael Rukavina
Candidates for State Assembly, R-Andrew Goodell and D-Nancy Bargar square off during a portion of the League of Women Voters debate at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House Thursday evening.
Bargar began her opening statement and answer by noting that for 10 years she voted up or down for the residents of Chautauqua County and for her area of Lakewood and Busti as a county legislator.
"The most urgent problem facing this state is we have a closed system and I want to go there and open it. You need somebody with guts; someone who not just talked about smaller government but has made sure we've gone in that direction," she said. "Under my tenure in the county legislature we combined the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch service, I've been consistently for downsizing the county legislature and I will work hard to institute the recommendations of the Lundine Commission for smaller government."
A Sherman resident questioned how our leadership supports and protects family values, like the sanctity of marriage and how they feel that an uncontested divorce is now an option for New Yorkers.
Bargar said she does favor gay marriage, and also said she was unfamiliar with the details about the uncontested divorce so could not supply an answer at that time.
Goodell said one of the things that really frustrates him is that many of the policies in the state of New York actually discourage marriage and discourage families.
"Over 50 percent of the live births in New York are now single moms. These are not single moms raising a family after they had a divorce. New York ranks second in the nation behind only Mississippi, and one reason for that is because our welfare program pays people to have babies. They get a cash bonus once they become pregnant," he said. "The system is not designed to encourage abstinence; it's not designed to encourage family unity, and it's not designed to encourage people to get married and stay married. That's a system that is designed to fail. We are spending a small fortune to encourage and pay people to do things that in the long term is counter productive. We need to go to Albany and start looking at these programs and redesigning them to encourage and foster positive and constructive behavior rather than the other way around."
PROPERTY TAX CAP
Both were asked their stance on a property tax cap and why they approve or disapprove of the possibility.
"Chautauqua County has the sixth highest property taxes in the nation. A property tax cap slows the growth. ... We don't need to slow the growth of our property taxes, we need to cut the taxes," Goodell said. "Eighty-seven percent of the county tax levy is directly related to Medicaid and welfare and that's why I've been focusing on major reform to those programs so that we not only cut the cost at the state level but we cut the property tax on the local level. I don't think it's enough for us to accept slower growth when we're already way too high."
Bargar said she has seen a good example in Massachusetts, which is now going to a property tax cap.
"If we keep doing the same things in this state, the reform side is wonderful and I support reform in Medicaid and welfare, but this is not a time to tax ourselves out of the problems in New York state," she said. "I will not carry an additional sales tax to Albany; I won't be that messenger. I think we have to do different things to get different results. The school districts are not favoring this but I feel we have to give it a chance."
FARM LABOR BILL
The Farm Labor Bill, passed in the Assembly and defeated in the Senate, was a topic close to many Chautauqua County farmers. If it came up for a vote again the candidates were asked to make their stance known.
Bargar said the more she learned about the bill the more she found that most farms in Chautauqua County are family-owned and operated and that they could not manage appropriately for the types of farms that this district has.
"It's not a good time to do something like this and I would not vote for it in the state Assembly," she said.
Goodell said he has always been adamantly opposed to the Farm Labor Bill, stating it would devastate Chautauqua County.
"The support in the Assembly for the bill was one of the key reasons I decided to run, because if you have an Assemblyman who is supporting legislation that would devastate your local economy it's time for a change," he said. "When it's time for harvest and you have to get your grapes in, you have to get them in and it's not at all unusual for people in this area to be working 18 hour days ... and the problem is if you just start mandating overtime without regard to the cost or the impact you have to keep in mind that we're competing in Chautauqua County with other areas of the nation as well and we can tax ourselves out of existence."
The candidates were asked what is the number one problem with the schools and the number one problem faced by our schools?
Concluding on a previous question, Goodell pointed to the lack of direction and priorities in Albany and how they are directly impacting schools.
"Fredonia school district, for example, saw huge property tax increases, and it wasn't because their spending went up dramatically. It's because state aid went down. This last year state aid for education went down 5 percent. Well, the basic welfare grant went up 10 percent ... that, my friends, is the wrong priorities for this state," he said. "We need to invest in our education and plan for the future. We need to focus on the success of this state and we need to change these priorities and if I get into Albany I am going to work hand-in-hand with local officials as a positive partner with them to cut expensive state mandates, reduce the cost of our health insurance programs, and cut back on pension costs."
Goodell also noted the state mandates that drive costs up, as well as the statutory and regulatory impediments for doing things in a more cooperative way. Both candidates discussed the mandates handed down by Albany, which school administrators and boards are forced to deal with.
"I believe we have to reduce on the administrative side of the cost we have for supervision and that would again come back to the Lundine Commission," Bargar said. "It's not pleasant to say that one of the items in the report was to have the state education commissioner, if districts don't do it on their own, actually mandate mergers. But 18 school districts I think is indefensible in terms of administration and that money has to come down closer to where the students and the teachers are working together."
She also noted the tax on college tuition as being goofy.
Both candidates support the current moratorium on hydrofracking, but Goodell noted that progress must be made as the resource could play a vital part in the growth of the state economy and that can not be put on hold for an extended amount of time.
Also a part of the debate was supposed to be candidate for state Senate Michael McCormick and incumbent Cathy Young, but an hour prior to the start of the debate Sen. Young called and had to cancel due to her mother being ill.
McCormick, a farmer/businessman and a Democrat spoke on his own during the debate on the same issues and questions.
He served on the Andover Town Board for 12 years and spent four years on the Allegheny County legislature. On the topics of Marcellus Shale, McCormick felt there were a lot of possibilities and noted that natural gas is good clean energy, but also warned that as issues arise they need to be dealt with.
With regard to the Farm Labor Bill he sounded rather in favor of the bill, especially in the right for farm workers to organize and generate overtime for 40-plus hour work weeks.
Coming Sunday: Candidates for the House of Representatives Leonard Roberto and incumbent Brian Higgins square off.
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