The League of Women Voters of the Oneonta Area hosted a debate Wednesday featuring candidates for the state Assembly and Senate at Morris Hall at the State University College at Oneonta.
The evening began with a debate between Rep. Bill Magee, D-Nelson, and Republican challenger Levi Spires, a Cazenovia businessman in the 121st Assembly District.
“I really believe I have made a difference,” in the 22 years that he represented the area, Magee said. For about 12 years he has served as chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. “There’s more to be done,” he said.
He said he was hopeful that the success of yogurt producers in the area would result in the expansion of dairy farming.
Spires said he got involved in the race because of the situation in central New York that includes an aging population and the loss of younger residents. They are leaving because of the lack of businesses in the state, including farming, he said. Spires attended Syracuse University after serving in the Air Force for 12 years. While in the military, he managed budgets.
The state has to cut taxes and reduce mandates to become competitive again, Spires said.
The difference between the two was seen when Magee talked about helping farmers. He pushed for a refund for school taxes for farmers and for a tax cap in agriculture districts of 2 percent. Spires said all business should have the same tax breaks — or the government would be in the business of “picking winners and losers.”
On the questions of how government can help the economy, Magee said the state needs to look at more cuts to its budget and consolidation of agencies.
Spires said it is a “long-term problem” that starts with cutting unfunded mandates.
Spires said he was in favor of the proposed Constitution Pipeline for transporting natural gas through the area. Questions about where it is sited should be addressed by local government first, he said. Magee agreed it is a local issue that would help the economic development of the area.
Spires said that while he would like to see the state begin the process of hydrofracking, he is not a scientist. If the majority of people are against it, “we need to listen,” he said, adding that if the Department of Environmental Conservation says it could be done, he would support it.
“We need to be extremely careful,” Magee said, and make sure the DEC has staff and expertise to monitor the process if it happens.
In the contest in the 51st Senate District, Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, debated Democratic challenger Howard Leib, an entertainment lawyer who lives in Ithaca.
Leib said he is running because when he voted two years ago, there was no one running against Seward.
“That’s not democracy,” he said, adding that he wanted to make sure the issues were debated if he had to run.
As a lifelong resident of Otsego County, Seward said his roots have helped him understand the needs of constituents.
This has led to him helping secure funded for area hospitals, colleges and other important employers, he said. He said he has also worked to create a program for businesses that has helped create countless jobs.
In response to a question about the proposed privatizing of Otsego Manor, Leib said the problem is funding, with the costs exceeding Medicaid payments at the facility. He would look at public-private partnerships, but government has a significant role to play in providing healthcare, he said. Seward said he has reached out to all parties to see what can be done. He wants to ensure that the home’s residents are fully protected, he said.