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Assemblyman Jones: Budget Works for North Country Families, Economy

From the office of Assemblyman Billy Jones

Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) announced that he helped pass a $153.1 billion 2017-18 state budget that will improve North Country roads and bridges, invest in public education and close the skills gap to get people back to work.

“We’re investing in opportunity, supporting those who need a helping hand and securing a brighter future for all New Yorkers,” Jones said. “This budget is really going to move hardworking North Country families forward.”

Spurring economic development in the North Country

A key feature in the final state budget is the Empire State Apprenticeship Program, which helps young adults become skilled workers in high-demand fields such as nursing, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and information technology. This will help young people launch careers, while also closing the skills gap that is creating a critical workforce shortage for businesses. It helps solve several major issues, including high young adult unemployment and poverty rates, and a persistent skills gap, Jones noted.

“The North Country has good-paying jobs that can lift New Yorkers out of poverty,” Jones said. “But we have a severe shortage of qualified candidates. This apprenticeship program funnels young adults who have in-demand skills into businesses who desperately need them. It’s a win-win.”

The budget includes $100 million in capital funding for SUNY campuses, including SUNY Plattsburgh. This funding will go a long way toward sparking economic growth and creating better facilities for students.

In addition, the budget includes $140,000 for the North Country Chamber of Commerce for operation costs. It also provides $200,000 for the chamber toward the North American Center for Excellence in Transportation to help produce railcars and buses, which creates jobs in Plattsburgh and Champlain.[1]

Further, the budget also includes $70 million for the I Love New York program. This will help promote state attractions, such as Adirondack State Park, which brings hundreds of thousands of tourists to our area every year for hiking, skiing, camping, kayaking and dozens of other recreational activities.

“Our mountains, lakes and streams are truly world-class,” Jones said. “It’s important that we take advantage of all they have to offer and encourage others to do so as well.”

Bringing ride-hailing to the North Country

Companies such as Uber and Lyft will now be able to start operating in in upstate New York starting in July, which will be a huge step forward for the North Country’s transportation needs, Jones noted. Expanding ride-hailing is anticipated to bring in $16 million in revenue for the state general fund through a 4 percent tax.

“There is a huge demand for ride hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, in the North Country,” Jones said. “It’s convenient for residents, helps hardworking families earn a little extra money, boosts our economy and could even reduce the number of DUIs we see.”

Improving roads, bridges and water infrastructure

“Our infrastructure is at the heart of the North Country community and economy,” Jones said. “This budget makes significant investments to protect the safety and reliability of our roadways and bridges so people can go about their daily lives safely.”

The budget increases funding for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Program (CHIPs) and Pave NY by $65 million to help local governments pay for road and bridge improvements without burdening local taxpayers. This will help ensure the safety and reliability of our infrastructure as well as create good-paying jobs in the North Country.

The budget also provides $2.5 billion for water infrastructure, including:

· $1 billion for the 2015 Water Infrastructure Improvement Act;

· $150 million for inter-municipal infrastructure grants;

· $245 million for water quality improvement grants;

· $75 million for septic and cesspool replacement; and

· $100 million for municipal water quality infrastructure programs.

Investing in agriculture

As a former dairy farmer, Jones understands how important the North Country’s agricultural industry is. The final budget includes a 25 percent tax credit for food farmers donate to food banks, which helps them save money while giving local families in need access to local, healthy food.

Jones also fought to restore $215,000 to promote maple syrup. This will be a boon to Clinton County, which is the leading producer of maple syrup in the state.

“Agriculture is a vital part of the success of the North Country economy,” Jones said. “That’s why I’m making sure we support our farmers, preserve farmland and encourage folks to eat healthy, local food.”

Giving direct care workers a much-needed raise

Direct care workers are carefully trained to help the most vulnerable members of our community. They devote themselves to others, working tirelessly day in and day out to help individuals with developmental disabilities live better healthier lives. Unfortunately, many are forced to leave the field and the people they so nobly care for due to low wages.

The Assembly fought to ensure that the final state budget dedicated $14 million in 2017-18 and $146 million in 2018-19 to fund a two-year, living wage initiative for direct care workers with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

“This is critical for the North Country, which is predominately rural and struggles to retain its workforce,” Jones said. “Direct care workers often leave for better paying jobs, or to industries where the pay is the same but the work is easier. This will help reduce turnover, fight a staffing crisis and make sure the families who depend on it get the care they need.”

Combating the heroin epidemic

Despite increased media attention and legislative action, the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to rage in communities across New York State and it has hit the North Country hard. The 2017-18 state budget increases funding by $33 million over last year – for a total of $203 million – to fight the heroin epidemic and increase access to treatment for New Yorkers struggling with a substance abuse disorder.

“Our communities have been crushed by the toll of the heroin and opioid epidemic,” Jones said. “We have to get people the help they so desperately need and this funding is a major step forward.”

The funding supports a variety of treatment and prevention programs, including family support navigators, peer supports, recovery clubhouses, community coalitions and 24/7 crisis centers. The budget also includes $10 million in additional capital support to increase the number of beds in in-patient treatment facilities.

Providing funding for local municipalities

The budget includes funding for several programs that have been a top priority for Jones, including $150,000 for services and expenses of a road salt study in the Adirondacks. Many constituents and local officials have expressed concerns that salt has contaminated streams, lakes and water supplies, and this funding will delve into the issue and address concerns.

In addition, Jones secured $250,000 in the budget for Older Adults Technology Services to help seniors use technology to improve their quality of life and become more civically engaged.

$2 million was also appropriated to the Towns of Ellenburg and Plattsburgh to assist with the maintenance and repairs of cemeteries and mausoleums. “Senator Little advocated strongly for this and I was happy to support her initiative in the Assembly,” Jones said. “This much-needed funding will go a long way to help the towns in this effort.”

The budget also includes an increase in funding for Aid and Incentives for Municipalities (AIM) funding without the consolidation agreement much to the relief of many North Country residents.

“The North Country spoke up and Albany heard,” Jones said. “But we have to keep fighting to make sure our land is protected, our water is safe and our community is taken care of. That’s a fight I’ll never back down from.”

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