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Assembly Candidates Debate Budget, Marijuana Legalization

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a four-part debate between candidates for the New York State Assembly 150th District.

In working to address New York state’s $13.3 billion budget shortfall, candidates for the 150th assembly district each would pursue starkly different paths.

Republican incumbent Andrew Goodell, during a debate with Democratic challenger Christina Cardinale, said that his method to do so would include the prioritization of state spending, welfare and Medicaid reform, a restart to the economy and selling off state assets in the meantime.

“The governor has $1.7 billion in discretionary spending,” Goodell said. “I would substantially reduce that because we just don’t have the ability to fund the governor’s wish list at $1.7 billion.”

He would also eliminate a Hollywood tax credit, available to movie studios to film movies in New York City, that would save the state $420 million a year. He also suggests the state sell off a ski resort asset that takes up $144.5 million in the budget, eliminate $100 million earmarked for public campaign finance.

“I would eliminate free college tuition for illegal immigrants but I would take some of that money to expand the Tuition Assistance Program,” he said. “I would repeal or reduce regulations that drive up the cost of government, like the prevailing wage law, the Wicks law, scaffold law and streamline … all of which would dramatically reduce the cost of state government and local government.”

He also criticized state leaders for allowing Medicaid spending to total $13.56 billion more than heavily populated states like Texas and Florida.

“Combined, they are twice the size of New York state yet we spend more than both of them combined,” Goodell said, noting that state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported that there were $700 million in improper payments and several million from those who were no longer alive.

“The system needs to be revamped,” he said. “As part of that I have introduced legislation to provide counties with a financial incentive to investigate Medicaid fraud because when we kept the Medicaid expense for counties, we eliminated any incentive.”

Additionally, with education, Goodell suggested that the state continue to pursue school consolidation legislation.

“It’s a combination of cutting costs, stimulating the economy, rebuilding that, buying time and giving more flexibility for our schools to operate efficiently,” he said of his economic suggestions.

Cardinale countered Goodell on the subject of education, however, noting that spending should not be cut from schools because of the 20% holdback that has already occurred.

“Absolutely we cannot even consider any type of cutting or any type of prioritizing the spending of schools because they are struggling in the beginning,” she said. “I can absolutely acknowledge that all teachers in my family, they buy their own supplies, they have been struggling since day one. Schools are an issue that we need to focus on.”

She also criticized Goodell’s position on reducing or repealing a prevailing wage.

“If you want to eliminate a prevailing wage, you’re going to hurt every single union that has ever functioned in America ever,” she said. “As a Republican, who I’m assuming likes less government, I don’t understand this thing against unions. Unions are how the American people redistribute wealth within themselves without the government interfering. I don’t get that. I don’t understand being anti-union and wanting to eliminate a prevailing wage.”

She also was critical of Goodell’s comparison of the state to Texas or Florida with regard to Medicaid and welfare reform.

“New York state is poor,” she said. “Look at Florida, they’re a retirement community. Look at Texas, they’re loaded, they have money. New York state doesn’t have that money so if you’re going to make that comparison to the poverty rate. I don’t feel that it’s fair to make that comparison.”

To raise funds, she suggested that the state “stop banning stuff that sends people out of the state,” and believes that marijuana should be legalized and regulated.

“This is an economic standpoint, whether you are morally against this or not,” she said, noting that Colorado surpassed $1 billion in tax revenue for cannabis since recreational use was legalized in 2014.

“That’s Colorado that has a population that is three-tenths less than New York,” she said. “Right there, that’s the big project to concentrate on to invigorate revenue so we can bail out teachers and we can bail out education and we can focus on everything that we are going to need.”

“I’m not high on legalizing marijuana” Goodell responded, “primarily because of the health and law enforcement impacts. All the county health commissioners, law enforcement agencies all across the state all came out and opposed marijuana legalization.”

In that proposed legislation, an opt-out measure for counties also would have complicated the revenue, he said.

“The governor projects $300 million providing that people opted in, if they opt-out then that effect would be significantly lower,” he said. “That number from the governor in the last year’s budget is similar to Colorado did and if Colorado had made $1.2 billion from 2014, that’s averaging $200 million. That money would be helpful, but keep in mind you need to raise 96 times more to close the budget.”

“Instead of making cuts and doing what we’ve always done, why don’t we introduce something like this?” Cardinale countered. “A cash crop. To invigorate. We’ve never done this before. Don’t you think that now is the time? Instead of trying to cut health care and cut assistance and possibly hurt people that might really need it during a pandemic? Why not introduce agriculture that has never been allowed before.”

Goodell concluded, “The amount you’re talking about in terms of how that would address the budget deficit is very small. It’d account for 1% of less. I don’t think California has ever been considered a conservative hallmark. … When our cost of Medicaid is $13 billion more than two other states that are both substantially larger than us, it’s an indication that you can restructure the program, provide high quality health care and protect the tax breaks.”

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