August 2010 CUP Political Spotlight – Senator Betty Little

What motivated you to get into politics?

I left a teaching career to raise a family of six children.  Like most stay-at-home parents, I was busy volunteering for many organizations and developed a strong interest in being a part of something I knew would help others.  That included volunteering on the campaigns of local candidates, which gave me a sense of what it took to run for office and win.

Like a lot of people, I would read the morning paper and consider the decisions of local elected officials and think, “I would do that differently.”  When my youngest child entered kindergarten and I had more free time, rather than just think about how things may be done differently, I decided to actually try to do things differently.

My first campaign was for a seat on the Warren County Board of Supervisors in 1986.  I was one of five candidates and the only female running.  I put into practice what I had learned, and with the help of family and friends, succeeded in winning and have held elective office ever since.

From what you have experienced so far in Albany, if you could change one thing what would that be and why?

Lines in the sand have become canyons in Albany.  There needs to be more thoughtful discussion and less discord, which is tough to achieve in a highly partisan and acrimonious political climate.  I have some very strong beliefs, as I know all of my colleagues do.  New York State is diverse.  Reaching a consensus on many issues is challenging.  But the outcomes can be better for the state as a whole if there is more of a focus on long-term planning and finding common ground, rather than accentuating and exploiting the differences.

What are some of the challenges facing your district?

Like all of New York State, the two most pressing issues in the district I represent are high taxes and lack of jobs.  The national recession has hurt the North Country.  We have lost some major employers and thousands of good-paying professional jobs.

Representing the Adirondacks is a privilege.  It is, as most people recognize and appreciate, an environmental and historic jewel.  But those living within the Adirondack Park face some unique obstacles, particularly ones created by stringent land use regulations which protect the environment but make job creation and development difficult.

A major concern for me is the sustainability of communities.  The Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project (APRAP) report issued May 2009 provided a detailed picture of the Park.  Compared to other areas of New York State, we see a steeper decline in school enrollment, a rapidly rising median age, lower household incomes and an alarming out-migration of young families.  Approximately 40 percent of the homes in the Park – an area that represents one-fifth of New York’s total land area – are owned by people whose primary residence is outside of the Park.  There is an impact on the social fabric and economic stability of Adirondack communities that can’t be ignored.

How are you working to address those issues?

Government needs to operate more efficiently.  Having experience in state and local government, I’ve seen many ways we can do things better and save tax dollars.  I’ve put that knowledge to work by sponsoring laws and programs that encourage efficiency.

I have opposed tax increases, particularly those enacted the past two years which, in my opinion, have stifled job growth and business investment.  A plan I supported this year, which was not included in the final budget, would offer $2,500 to $5,000 credits to employers for every new job created.  This would be a form of stimulus to help small businesses, including those in the Adirondacks.

The APRAP report has been a useful tool for me and my colleagues that represent the Adirondacks to educate others about the need for an emphasis on the Park’s economy.  We have something special, and the beauty and natural resources is not only a draw for those visiting the Adirondacks, but for those who call it home.  But those living in the Park have a need for good-paying jobs, quality and readily accessible health care, broadband and schools.

If New York State spends millions of dollars to add land to the state’s forest preserve than millions can and should be invested in economic development programs that make capital and incentives available to assist Adirondack businesses.

What is the outlook on your five-year plan?

Five-year planning in an institution that faces an election every two years is a challenge.  Looking ahead, I think the most important thing is to learn from the recession.  We need to spend and tax less.  A stronger business climate benefits everyone.  I would like to see fiscal discipline adopted in the form of a cap on state spending and a property tax cap, coupled with mandate relief.