Two years ago April 17, when I was first sworn in as a member of the New York State Assembly, I promised my constituents that I would work full-time for them as their state legislator, that I would be their voice in Albany, and that I would be a passionate advocate for our home, the beautiful Hudson Valley. It has been a pleasure to keep those promises and an honor to represent this district, so rich in natural resources, history, culture and agricultural traditions.
Truth be known, my favorite part of this job is traveling throughout the district — not actually being in Albany. I love meeting with constituents, visiting farms and local businesses and working with arts groups, tourist sites and social service organizations to brainstorm on how the state can better support them. I have made it my priority to talk directly with local families and businesses, going to their neighborhoods and communities whenever possible. We are now on our third annual “Diner Stop Tour” and to date we have met with literally hundreds of constituents, from one end of this district to the other, over a mug of coffee at their local diner. The Hudson Valley has some of the best and most iconic diners in the country and I can’t think of a better way to catch up with folks and hear their thoughts and concerns first hand, while at the same time supporting a local business.
Our “Where the Jobs Are Tour,” now in it’s second year, has been a terrific way to support local businesses, as well. We have visited scores of Hudson Valley businesses — from large institutions like IBM and the Culinary Institute of America to small family farms and craft distilleries, and many in between. We have talked with local employers and their employees, learned about their businesses and listened to their concerns. These ongoing tours have allowed me to speak directly and honestly with the families and businesses I represent, and in many cases have informed the legislation I’ve sponsored and supported in the state Assembly.
For two consecutive years, I’ve helped pass on-time, fiscally responsible state budgets that address our priorities. Both budgets reduced the tax rate for hardworking families and provided tax relief for small businesses and manufacturers in the Hudson Valley. Both budgets have worked to phase out the burdensome 18-a utility tax on commercial and residential customers. And in the most recent budget we secured state funds for Dutchess County that allowed for the repeal of an unpopular tax on home heating fuel.
While it is crucial to have a fiscally responsible state budget, it’s also necessary to make smart investments in our future – and the most important investment we can make is in our children. This year’s budget includes over $160 million for schools in our community, funding that will help educators have the resources to provide the best possible education to our kids. I fought for the budget to include Gap Elimination Adjustment restoration as well as a series of reforms to address the flawed implementation of Common Core, including a ban on standardized testing for students in grades K-2, a delay in using test scores on students’ permanent records in grades 3-8, and a “Parents Bill of Rights” that will safeguard sensitive student data.
In many ways, farmers are the heart and soul of our community, and I’ve worked hard to make sure their voices are heard in Albany, too. Across the Hudson Valley, this year’s budget includes almost $3 million for important agricultural programs that benefit local farmers, including apple and tree growers. The budget also reforms the estate tax by raising the income threshold from $1 million to $5.2 million over the next four years, which will provide relief for many farmers whose property and structures are often valued above the former threshold. In addition, my bill to provide a tax credit for tolls paid by farm vehicles that must travel on the Thruway to get to downstate markets has passed the Assembly again this year.
In conversations with individuals, families, farmers and business owners across the Hudson Valley, one of the most common concerns expressed is for preserving the unique beauty of our region. Putting this at risk is the threat of “monster” high-voltage transmission lines that would cut through our communities, farms, historic sites and homes, destroying our viewsheds, damaging our local economy, and putting our health in jeopardy. From the beginning I have spoken out against these power lines and I will continue to seek alternative solutions for this “Energy Highway.”
Together, we’ve accomplished a lot over the past two years. But there’s still more work to be done to strengthen our community, support local farms and businesses, provide a great education for our kids, and ensure the Hudson Valley remains the beautiful and unique place it is today. As always, if you have questions about these, or any other community issues, please feel free to contact my office at 845-454-1703 or by email at BarrettD@assembly.state.ny.us.