Palmesano ready to face new issues

Mary Perham

State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, was looking past Tuesday’s election to issues his district is expected to face next year.

Palmesano, who ran unopposed for 132rd Assembly seat, will face the challenge of representing new constituents, a Democrat-controlled state Assembly and continuing economic woes.

The new district was formed earlier this year in response to the 2010 U.S. Census, which showed a decline in population in western New York. Steuben County -- the largest section of Palmesano’s original district -- was carved up by the state into three separate districts, with Palmesano keeping the central and eastern sections. Towns west of the new district went into the 133rd district, while several towns in the southeast were annexed by the 148th district.

In turn, Palmesano kept Yates County, added all of Schuyler and several towns in Seneca and Chemung counties.

The western section of Steuben County has been divided into the 133rd and 148th Assembly districts.

Palmesano, well-known in local Republican circles, doesn’t expect it will be difficult to represent the new district.

“I know most of the local leadership there,” he said. “And you have the same issues -- jobs, the economy, education funding.  Obviously from my perspective you represent four towns, or any new areas, the way you represent the whole district.”

That sense of the unity of needs also is important to Palmesano in the state Assembly.

“Some people like to claim not in party in control can’t get anything done,” he said. “I don’t buy that. We’re the conference of ideas... the reality is it takes both sides of the aisle to get things done.”

What may be more important to the Assembly is the influx of new members, Palmesano said.

Two years ago, 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats joined the legislative house as freshmen. As many as 15 new members will be added in January, he said.

Those more recently elected tend to be less tied to party machinery and more interested in solving common issues, Palmesano said. “You can compromise on policies, without compromising on principles,” he said.

A key issue for the state next year is building fiscal strength while reducing the crippling mandates it imposes on local governments and their taxpayers, according to Palmesano.

County officials have complained for years the state forces them to pay for programs they don’t need or want, in turn reducing the amount spent on road repair and other local services.

Medicaid, which includes every available optional service, now absorbs half of Steuben County’s levy.

Palmesano said he was among the state legislators pressing Gov. Andrew Cuomo until the governor endorsed last year a gradual takeover of annual Medicaid increases. That takeover would effectively freeze the local share of the low-income health services program -- but still keep local costs exceptionally high.

Medicaid reform needs to be an ongoing effort, with state reps required to lobby for reform and mandate relief, Palmesano said.

Palmesano said he maintains close contact and good relations with local government officials and the state Association of County leaders.

He also is proud of state leaders’ efforts to rein in spending in Albany.

“You know, people will say to me you should be proud, you got the budget in under deadline. Two years in a row. Well, that’s our job,” Palmesano said. “But three years ago, we were looking a deficit of $63 billion. Now it’s $1 billion. I call that something.”