Race for the 54th: Five key issues heading into November’s election

Now that a winner has been crowned in the Republican Primary for New York State Senate’s 54th District, focus can shift from counting to deciding

While Canandaigua Supervisor Pam Helming won her primary battle against Ontario County businessman Floyd Rayburn – it was just that, an absolute battle. The mailers, argumentative tone, and overall idea that Helming is a representative of the corruption in Albany is something that she, as well as her party will have to deal with in the coming weeks.

Mere weeks remain before the November 8th election, which will feature Helming and Rose Supervisor Kenan Baldridge. While many will be quick to point out the number of registered voters in the the 54th District, and how those figures reflect a distinct advantage for Republicans – there is a lot to be said for the division within the party at the local level.

Whether Helming will be able to unite Republican voters in November remains to be seen. However, the end of the primary season means that voters and candidates will need to pivot from issues important to their own party – to the issues that concern the largest majority of voters in the district.

Here are the most-discussed issues impacting voters in the 54th District:

New York lags behind with one of the worst business tax systems in the U.S.

It’s no secret that taxes are a burden in New York. The Tax Foundation evaluates every state in the U.S. each year to determine the best and worst tax climates for businesses. , New York ranked 49th  – with New Jersey being the only state to finish worse in the ranking.

While the Tax Foundation maintains that New York has made mild improvements in the last year, those slight changes have done little to impact the overall bottom line. The Foundation points out that, “The states in the bottom 10 tend to have a number of afflictions in common: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates.”

Interestingly, many of the states that fall into the top ten for being the best for business – go without one of the three major tax revenue generators to make doing business more appealing. These categories include, the corporate income tax, individual income tax, and sales tax. The foundation also points out that states don’t need to eliminate one of these to make the top ten, since there are multiple states in the top ten – that levy all three taxes.

Heroin is a major problem … and an expensive one, too.

Police forces are battling the heroin epidemic, as public health officials work to come up with viable solutions to the addiction problem wreaking havoc in the Finger Lakes. While changes have been made by officials to correct the prescribing problems, which lead to greater addiction. There has been a conscious effort made by those campaigning to represent the 54th District to acknowledge the problem.

Dealing with the problem will be decidedly more difficult. The expense associated with housing inmates at local correctional facilities, who are dealing with addiction – as well as the overall burden on police forces, who are working overtime to address the growing movement of drugs – like heroin, cocaine, and prescription pills throughout the Finger Lakes.

Schools are taking greater measures to protect students, but ultimately the addiction problem impacts those from every walk of life. Discovery Place estimates that the overall economic impact of heroin, which only accounts for roughly five percent of addiction – costs $21.9 billion.

Corruption in Albany is costing Upstate New York too much.

In 2015, Politico called New York the most corrupt state government in the U.S. According to the report, the biggest problem with government in New York is that money flows into campaigns, which breeds challenging circumstances for those looking to create change.

Every candidate running for the 54th District has promised change. Those changes will hinge on the promise of ethics reform. Whether a first term state senator will have the power, relationships, or political collateral to generate real change remains to be seen. However, it’s change that is entirely necessary after dealing with decades of corruption, which has undoubtedly contributed to the financial woes in this state — to some degree.

Upstate New York is losing population, while New York City continues to grow.

Balance between Upstate and Downstate interests is obviously a crucial part of governing in New York. That said, Upstate New York is losing population at a faster clip than Downstate is gaining, which could spell disaster for the long-term economic sustainability of the state.

According to the Empire Center, Cayuga, Wayne, and Seneca counties all saw losses in overall population of more than one percent. Wayne and Cayuga counties were hardest hitting — seeing losses of 2-4 percent in overall population.

The same figures showed two counties in the 54th District gaining population, as Ontario and Tompkins counties grew dramatically. Interestingly, those increases are the types of improvements that those throughout the district would like to see. Harnessing the types of improvements that have been seen in Ontario and Tompkins County — and executing them throughout the district could help improve Upstate life.

Schools are declining in Upstate, and students are paying the price.

While discussion about eliminating Common Core has been a hot topic over the last several years, the overall level of production seen in education has declined. Students aren’t performing as well, teachers are being held to standards that are far from ideal — putting them in tremendously difficult situations — and the overall system is being stressed more by challenging financial constraints.

When it comes to reforming education, the problem is really a national one. However, there remains a great deal that New York State can do individually to make the burden less difficult for small, rural communities to overcome.

One major point with the education debate: If the economic issues within New York are remedied, then some of the burden in the education space can be corrected, too. It remains to be seen how the next representative of the 54th District will handle this issue.

Check out Canandaigua Supervisor Pam Helming and Rose Supervisor Kenan Baldridge’s appearances on Inside the FLX where they discussed their races, as well as a variety of issues in the race for the 54th District.

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