Smullen Hopes to Bring New Ideas to Rural Regions of New York State

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R,C-Mohawk Valley and the Adirondacks).

I want to send a clear message to my constituents and our residents throughout the state: this legislative session, I will be bringing new ideas to the table and fighting for changes to make New Yorkers’ lives better, especially in more rural regions. During the past few months, I hosted rural equity forums around New York State, to get a sense of what people are thinking in Upstate New York. In the coming legislative session, I hope to change disturbing state budget trends that work against the real needs facing rural communities and businesses.

Upstate New Yorkers are looking for a breath of fresh air this year. They want to see our lawmakers take back control of our state’s economy as many cannot afford to remain in New York and do not feel secure in their homes. They want their voices to be heard from every corner of the state, especially those in rural areas who feel their opinions and ideas are being drowned out by the dense urban area around New York City. More than anything, New Yorkers want their state government to be fair to them, and that is exactly why I intend to fight for rural equity in the months ahead.

Specifically, I wish to spark much-needed discussion and action about the state budget and how it affects Upstate New York communities in particular. I want to see that this year’s state budget is not wasted or misused, avoid tax increases to alleviate pressure on New York families and businesses, thus making our state more affordable so residents are not driven to migrate out of state.

New York has roughly the same population as Florida, yet our budget plan is nearly double. And what do we have to show for this overspending? The same issues that repeat themselves year after year, due to spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need. We are entrusted by our citizens to ensure taxpayer dollars are handled with the utmost care, and Upstate New Yorkers consistently agree that the state is failing to do so.

I want to see five main points to improve rural equity in our state discussed so necessary changes can be made and long-overdue action can be taken. These five points, discussed in great detail at my five rural equity forums last year, include:

  1. Creating the Rural Equity Assistance Program, which will better connect rural communities with available economic and community development grants;
  2. Increasing tax credits for first responders; to ensure community volunteers continue to serve their communities and save them money on services;
  3. Improving rural school transportation services for students, avoiding the 8 billion dollar Electric School Bus Mandate;
  4. Expanding access to broadband and increasing cell coverage in rural areas; and
  5. Establishing the "EmpowerED" Act to provide opportunities for rural students to cross-enroll in classes offered by local schools outside of their home district and expand BOCES services.

Our rural communities are connected economically and culturally—there is a sense of community in our towns, villages and small cities that welcomes people from every corner of the state and encourages residents to work together. Our people, our schools and our small businesses in Upstate New York look out for one another, and now it’s the state’s turn to help look out for them. These five takeaway points will lay the groundwork for improving rural equity and revitalizing our state.

Our constituents have been upfront with their concerns and ideas for a better future in our state, and my fellow assemblymembers and I have heard them—now it’s our turn to act.