No new taxes. Even next year.
So said the state Senate's No. 2 official at a meeting in the state office building on Washington Street with north country business leaders.
“That was exactly the message that we conveyed,” said Sen. Thomas W. Libous, a Binghamton Republican. “And they're on board.”
In town to attend a fundraiser for Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, his freshman colleague, Mr. Libous expounded on what he sees next for New York's economy in an phoner with me a little while ago: Despite turmoil at the federal level, Mr. Libous said, he's hopeful that the the Senate GOP's promises – including a budget with no new taxes – will result in an economic rebound for New York, with a little help from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mrs. Ritchie, whom he effusively praised.
“We're very pleased with Mrs. Ritchie and we hope she's in the conference for a long time to come,” Mr. Libous said.
It was the second time I've spoken with Mr. Libous in my life, and it's the second time he started out with praise for Mrs. Ritchie. (Three makes a trend: When Sen. John J. Flanagan was in town from Long Island, his overarching message, he wanted me to write in my little notebook, was that Mrs. Ritchie is just superb.)
And it's no doubt that when he calls Mrs. Ritchie a “welcome addition,” he means it. Her victory helped give Senate Republicans a 32-30 edge in the chamber, and effective control over its comings and goings.
With that control came a promise from the chamber that the 2011 budget would not include tax hikes to fill a $10 billion budget gap. With a cooperative governor, the promise overcame the objections of Assembly Democrats, labor unions and liberals who wanted to extend taxes on the rich. Senate Republicans, Mr. Libous said, would like to keep the "freeze" on taxes going in 2012.
But with a May jobs report that showed New York had lost more than 21,000 private sector jobs, just when will New York become, in the oft-repeated phrase, “open for business again”?
“We certainly hope that some of the things we put in place will put us on a solid fiscal footing,” Mr. Libous said. “The economy is not perfect. We are working to make it better. Certainly what's going on at the federal level is very scary.”
If the nation defaulted on its debt, as it will do if Congress and President Barack Obama do not meet a deficit-cutting agreement by August 2, “That's disastrous for the country, period,” Mr. Libous said. “I think the federal government has to get serious about its deficit.”
Mr. Libous said that hydrofracking could mean “jobs, jobs, jobs” in the north country. The closest extraction points for the controversial practice are in Utica.
Hydrofracking – or hydraulic fracturing – is the process of pumping fluids deep into the earth's surface, creating cracks and allowing the extraction of natural gas.
While business leaders covet the possible economic windfall, environmental activists have raised alarm bells about what the process could mean for the state's water supply, which led to an effective moratorium on the practice. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released a report that indicated the state could hydrofrack safely, with restrictions.
“There's tremendous opportunity,” he said. “The whole environmentally safe drilling can be beneficial to the north country,” with jobs in areas like welding, he said.
“I think you will start to see it soon,” Mr. Libous said of a turnaround. “We have to be hopeful. It's not going to change overnight.”