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New York GOP lawmakers and advocates rally for rural communities

New York State Assemblyman Robert Smullen speaks at the capitol in Albany
Lucas Willard
New York State Assemblyman Robert Smullen speaks at the capitol in Albany

As the session nears its end, Republican state lawmakers and advocates for New York municipalities rallied at the capitol Wednesday to support rural communities.

The state legislative session in Albany is scheduled to conclude next week. In the final days of the session, Republican state Assemblymember Robert Smullen of the Mohawk Valley and Adirondacks convened a press conference to advocate for rural communities.

“Our citizens deserve a fair share of attention and the resources that come from New York state to ensure that our families, our communities, and our businesses get what they deserve from their state government,” said Smullen.

Before the start of the session in January, Smullen organized several community forums focused on rural equity, and is supporting a slate of legislation that includes emergency services, energy, broadband access, and transportation.

In a state of more than 19 million people, the lawmakers said more than 4 million New Yorkers live in rural areas.

Joining the lawmakers was Executive Director of the New York State Association of Towns and outgoing Republican Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle.

Koetzle spoke in support of Smullen’s legislation to create a Rural Equity Assistance Program. The bill would help local governments access state funding and grant programs.

“A lot of people forget how much time and effort it takes to administer grants. So, this program would help communities that don't have the time the resources or the money to make those investments to better their communities. So, we're very, very supportive of this legislation,” said Koetzle.

Republican Assemblymembers joined in to advocate for their bills written to benefit rural communities. As the lawmakers spoke on the Million Dollar Staircase, a rally against Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza boomed from a floor above.

Matt Simpson, a former Horicon town supervisor who represents the 114th Assembly District in the Adirondacks, promoted home heating legislation that would exempt wood burning from any restrictions under the state’s 2019 law known as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“Remember, when we were all called crazy for calling out the CLCPA proposals aimed at banning gas stoves? Sure, the stoves weren’t ripped from our homes, but that very ban was put on the books last year and they will begin being phased out soon. It's only a matter of time. Don't think we forgot about the call to ban wood-burning heat sources upstate either,” said Simpson.

As part of meeting New York’s climate goals, school districts have until 2035 to convert their school bus fleets to electric vehicles.

Republicans want to “pump the brakes” on that implementation. They point to statistics from the fiscal conservative think tank the Empire Center for Public Policy that say the cost to convert all school buses in New York could be more than $8 billion – far short of the available state and federal funding for districts.

132nd District Assemblymember Phil Palmesano of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes region said the state mandate on school districts is hypocritical.

“Do you know what the timeline is for the State of New York to convert their heavy duty and medium fleet? 2040. So, we’re asking our school districts to take on this experiment and complete a full transition a full five years before the State of New York has to do so. That screams of hypocrisy. Oh, and by the way, the State of New York has an out if it’s not feasible to do so. Our school districts do not have that luxury,” said Palmesano.

Republican Joe Angelino of the Southern Tier co-sponsors a bill with Palmesano that would extend more tax relief to volunteer firefighters and EMS.

Angelino said rural emergency departments are disappearing due to lack of volunteers. Brisben, in Angelino’s 121st District, was forced to disband its volunteer fire department on January first.

Angelino supports a $2,500 tax credit for all volunteer firefighters in good standing.

“If we don't start attracting new members to our volunteer departments, we could look at facing a bill that would be in the billions of dollars for similar service. Right now, I, in my heart, I believe the last volunteer fireman has been born,” said Angelino.

It is unclear what Republican priorities will pass before the session concludes. Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.


Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.