October 31, 2008
Seward, Barber outline plans for change
State senate candidates differ on spending, call for support of SUNY system
With voters going to the polls Tuesday, state Senate candidates James Seward and Don Barber differ on how the state controls spending, but agree alternative fuels are worth pursuing.
Seward, a Republican from Milford, has served in the state Senate since 1986, representing the 51st District. The district comprises seven counties, including Cortland.
Barber has served for six years as supervisor for the town of Caroline. He has also owned a small construction business for the past 25 years.
Barber said Wednesday his opponent has inadequately represented the working class and stood idle as the state budget deficit worsened.
Gov. David Paterson said Tuesday that the state budget deficit is expected to reach $47 billion in the next four years. The current deficit is $1.5 billion.
Barber said he bases much of his state spending policy from his experience as a lifelong farmer.
“I come from a practical private sector my whole life, and you have to look for unintended consequences,” he said.
Barber attributes problems with the state budget to the state simply overspending.
“The Legislature should go on a belt-tightening exercise,” he said. “As a farmer, when things would get tough, I don’t pay myself.”
Seward said the state has to take charge to relieve the budget strain by taking a closer look at the necessity of some programs.
One possibility he suggested would be consolidating the state Thruway Authority and Department of Transportation.
“Do we need an expense of a whole Thruway administrative office?” he asked.
While both Seward and Barber believe the SUNY system is integral to the state, they differ on resolving recent college budget problems.
State aid to schools has dropped significantly this year. SUNY Cortland’s state aid was cut by 10 percent between April and August.
“I disagree with Governor Paterson’s handling of the SUNY system,” Seward said. “He is treating SUNY like any other state agency, and it’s not.”
Barber’s plan is to have the burden placed on the Legislature and expand tuition assistance.
The current annual cost for in-state student tuition at SUNY Cortland is $4,350.
Seward said a steady tuition increase policy would be more effective than long periods of flat rates. His approach would be to raise tuition gradually by about $100 each year.
This way, the campus would get the revenue and families could plan their finances more effectively, Seward said.
Barber said it is the state’s responsibility to keep state funding to schools from changing too much.
“The state needs to tell educational institutions how much they can spend, and stick to it,” Barber said.
Barber said the quickest way schools can save money is to focus more on energy conservation, and less on expanding their facilities. He said he wants college and school administrators to be able to decide for themselves what they can do to keep costs down.
“Schools need predictable funding,” he said. “It’s much more effective when workers decide for themselves how to be more effective.”
Seward also has a plan for encouraging independent cost-saving techniques, which is focused more on state workers.
Both Seward and Barber have similar standpoints on alternative fuel sources.
Seward said the cost of pursuing new fuel sources is impossible to ignore, but that it should not discourage the industry.
“We have so far to go in this area,” Seward said. “We need the industry (for producing it) and people to be able to buy vehicles, not to mention a distributing system for fuel.”
For a start, Seward said he wants to eliminate a sales tax for hybrid vehicles, which would save buyers thousands of dollars. Barber said he would like the state to invest in as many alternative energy sources as possible, so that no single source becomes dominant.
“Solar power is the epitome of decentralized electric generation,” Barber said. “You have no companies controlling it, the energy is abundant and lasts forever.”
Seward said alternative fuels are worth exploring, but the cost needs to be considered.
“The key to financing this is by having an expanded economy,” he said, adding that tax cuts would spur more business activity, which would provide more revenue for the state.
Barber is Seward’s first opponent since 2000, when the 22-year incumbent faced Green Party candidate Roy Chamberlin.
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