Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, stopped Monday in Oneonta as part of a town hall discussion tour of the 121st District, which encompasses all of Madison County, part of Oneida County and most of Otsego County.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig introduced the assemblyman to about a dozen attendees in the City Council chambers, commending Salka for sponsoring a prescription drug collection campaign earlier in the day at Nader Towers.
More than 50 pounds of drugs were collected, according to Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, a “larger than normal” amount than typically collected by the department on similar occasions.
As a “newbie” and member of the Assembly minority, Salka described his plans to establish himself as “someone who’s willing to listen, and someone who understands the cultural divide” between upstate and downstate New York.
“The needs might be different in Oneonta than they are in Queens,” he said.
Salka expressed his disappointment with the passage of the farm labor bill, sponsored in the Assembly by Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, which grants overtime pay, the right to unionize and other labor protections to New York farm workers.
“Most of the larger farms I talked to said ‘fine, I’ll just automate. Then they’ll all be out of work,’” Salka said, “and the smaller farms said ‘I don’t know how I’ll be able to survive.’
“When a piece of legislation comes up that threatens a very important element in my district, I’m going to vote against it and I’m going to debate against it as hard as I can,” he said.
Herzig asked Salka if he would advocate for a more equitable distribution of state aid to municipalities, like the city of Oneonta, which have maintained the 2% property tax cap but received no increases in state aid for a decade.
“Absolutely,” Salka replied.
He discussed the declining populations upstate and the increasing tax burden on residents that remain, and opposed what he described as the governor’s adversarial stance on small towns and villages.
“Our job is to stabilize upstate New York,” Salka said. “I think we’re spiraling.”
Salka decried the state legislative process as inefficient, one that is intentionally skewed to bundle together pieces of seemingly unrelated legislation and rush them for approval at the eleventh hour.
The state’s $175 billion budget — what should serve as a purely financial document, Salka said — was spread across 11 bills and ended up being more of a social document, he said, and included provisions that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and expand abortion rights statewide.
“What we have here is a dysfunctional Albany,” he said. “The legislature is controlled by downstate. There’s a divide in whether or not they understand what our needs are, and being the ones that control the purse strings.”
Salka discussed his involvement with Riverside Apartments, a low-income housing development proposed last fall by Rehabilitation Support Services that faced significant opposition from many Sixth Ward residents.
“The process did not go as well as it should,” Salka said. “I’m told other RSS projects have been quite successful, but this project just didn’t fit. We have to keep our neighborhood intact.”
Salka said he intends to host at least two town halls a month during the legislative recess. He will hold mobile office hours at Huntington Memorial Library on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“My answers come from the heart,” Salka said at the end of the session. “I’m not going to pass any landmark legislation, being in the minority of the New York State Assembly, but we’re going to take care of our constituents.”
For more information, contact Salka at his Oneonta district office at 607-432-1484 or email@example.com.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.