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Adirondack leaders applaud repeal of broadband tax, millions for the park

WRVO Public Media

Lawmakers and advocates in the Adirondacks are applauding legislation and funding that was included in New York State's 2023 budget.

State Assemblyman Billy Jones said while there were some items in the budget he didn't agree with, there is a lot in the budget he's celebrating. One piece of legislation he’s really proud of is the EMS Cost Recovery Act, which he cosponsored. It lets fire departments bill insurance companies for EMS calls.

“That was a huge, huge victory not only in my district and for the North Country, but throughout New York State," said Jones.

Volunteer fire departments around New York have been losing about $100 million a year because they haven’t been able to bill insurers, according to Spectrum News.

Jones, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, is also celebrating the repeal of the fiber optic tax. That tax, put in place by the Cuomo administration, charged internet providers that laid broadband along state roads. Jones said repealing it will help the North Country get closer to universal high-speed internet.

“It’ll help our schools out, it will help our families out as far as education, as far as economic development, as far as recruiting people to the area," said Jones.

His Republican colleague in the Assembly, Matt Simpson, agrees. Simpson, who represents Warren, Essex Counties and parts of Saratoga County, said repealing the fiber optic tax was the right thing to do.

"Every dollar needs to be put forth in a way that we can actually make connections and to tax that in the highway right-of-way, it just made no sense whatsoever," said Simpson.

Simpson is also glad to see some rollbacks to bail reform, which now allows judges to look at someone’s history of gun use or intent to harm when setting bail, but he and many other Republicans think more needs to be done to address the state’s crime problem.

Simpson also said the partial repeal of the gas tax didn’t go far enough. The budget reduces the tax from 33 cents a gallon to 17 cents. That tax holiday will go from June through the end of December.

“In contrast to some of the other things that were funded in the budget, such as the $600 million towards the Buffalo Bills stadium and some of the other projects, I think it’s tone-deaf and left our constituents short," said Simpson.

Simpson also wishes there was more money in the budget for home healthcare workers and a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing homes.

As for the Adirondacks, lawmakers and advocates are applauding the money the state is setting aside for the park. The budget includes $500,000 for the Survey of Climate Change and Adirondack Lake Ecosystems, known as SCALE.

“Getting the funding to support SCALE helps present more actionable data to decision-makers so they can actually make sound public health policy and public policy with regards to climate, water protection and human health," said Aaron Mair from the Adirondack Council's Forever Adirondacks Campaign.

Mair and others are also celebrating the $600,000 to address overuse in the Adirondacks and Catskills, but it’s the $2.1 million for a climate and careers center in the park that Mair is most proud of.

The idea is to bring college students from Brooklyn up to the Adirondacks next summer. Mair said they’ll learn how to protect wild places like the park. He also hopes those students will want to stay and work in the Adirondacks, helping fill a void in the park’s workforce.

“We hope this pipeline will help meet those needs or basically be the precursor by which we can start to meet some of those challenges of having a diversified and inclusive workforce and the Adirondacks," said Mair.

One final big-budget item that would have a huge impact on the Adirondack North Country is the Environmental Bond Act. The state budget upped that fund from 3 billion to $4.2 billion. New Yorkers will have the final say on that bond act when it comes up on the ballot this November.