October 22, 2021

State Assembly nominees face CNY issues

Summarize how you would make health-care affordable — to individuals, businesses and governments alike — in one minute.

Explain how you would improve education, or help small farmers, or bring broadband internet access to the rural parts of the 126th Assembly District. In one minute.

John Lemondes and Dia Carabajal tried to do exactly that Wednesday night, in a virtual forum moderated by the League of Women Voters as the two seek to succeed Assembly Member Gary Finch (R-Springport), who will step down after 10 terms representing parts of Cortland, Cayuga, Onondaga and Chenango counties.

Here’s what they had to say:

The minimum wage

“Working people deserve a living wage,” said Carabajal, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Cayuga Community College. She is also a former Auburn City Council member and member of the Auburn Enlarged City School District board. “If you are working three jobs in a gig economy, you do need to make enough to live on.”

“Raising the minimum wage I would not do,” said Lemondes, a retired Army officer and sheep farmer from Lafayette. It contributes to business costs, combined with taxes, utilities and other expenses. “All of that contributes to an environment that’s crippling to business.”

Policing

“The entire law enforcement community has to know their elected leaders have their backs,” Lemondes said. “Public security is No. 1. If we’re afraid a brick is going to come through our window and our business is going to be destroyed, we can’t employ anyone in our economy.”

“There is no anarchy in our streets,” Carabajal said, and suggested improving community policing efforts, instead. “Police are guardians, not warriors.”

Health care

“Health care is a human right,” Carabajal said. And to pay for it? “I’m a believer in tax the rich.”

“We need to look at what our priorities are: health, education. These are important issues and should not be cut.

Maybe they need to be, Lemondes said.

“I don’t think anyone is turned down for emergency room visits,” he said. “In the environment we find ourselves in, we have to maintain or curtail services. … Taxing, taxing, taxing is driving people away.”

Helping small farmers

“They need capital so they can grow,” said Lemondes, president of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of New York. He also advocates restructuring the farm credit system, and said the state needs to increase its capacity to process meat so farmers can bring more meat to market.

Carabajal suggested adding breakfast to farm-to-school programs, which help farmers provide local food to children. She also supports increasing the farm work force credit to $1,200 from $600, supporting agricultural districts and expanding farmers markets.

Education

“The formula is broken,” Carabajal said. State aid based on property values underfunds small-city and small-rural districts, like those of the 126th District.

“What we’ve been doing isn’t working for us,” Lemondes said, and the school aid formula needs to be revamped.

Higher education

“I’d like to see enhancements in BOCES for kids who want to go into the trades,” Lemondes said.

Boost community colleges, said Carabajal, a community college professor. “Our community colleges have had flat funding for 15 years.”

Taxes

“One of the biggest tax burdens property owners have is the school tax,” Carabajal said. Refine the school aid formula to be more fair and tax pains will ease. “Property taxes have to be lower,” said Lemondes, advocating cuts to unfunded state mandates.

Rural broadband

“I know this problem first-hand,” Lemondes said, noting difficulties in getting broadband to his Lafayette farm. “This must be done and it must be done quickly.”

“Treat it as a utility,” Carabajal said, because it’s critical to both work and education, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.