Rep. Katko visits Oswego; talks economy

Rep. John Katko stops in Oswego for one of the listening sessions he has held throughout Central New York.  (Peter J. Hanley | The Oswegonian)
Rep. John Katko stops in Oswego for one of the listening sessions he has held throughout Central New York. (Peter J. Hanley | The Oswegonian)

Rep. John Katko held a listening session in the city of Oswego last Wednesday, who along with a group of local panelists, addressed economic development in Oswego County.

Moderator Jim Grimshaw, the director of the Office of Business and Community Relations at Oswego State, opened the discussion by welcoming Katko and the four featured panelists. The panelists consisted of Zelko Kirincich, the executive director of the Port of Oswego Authority, Theresa Himes, owner of Bosco and Geers Food Market and Pat Carroll, business manager at United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 73, and Michael Treadwell, executive director of Operation Oswego County.

Katko then made an opening statement, saying he had made a campaign pledge to make an appearance in the area more often and he wants to maintain that pledge.

“I think economic development is the most important here in Oswego because we know that economic development is not exactly robust here these days,” Katko said. “And we have to change that.”

Katko said he is excited about several things that are being planned over the next few months in the area, including repairing the break wall, dredging the port and highlighting the business of Novelis.

“You’ve got some great things here, but you need more,” Katko said. “And we need more economic development, we need more can-do spirit, more excitement because we are going to change things here. It starts with listening, so that’s why we’re here tonight.”

The first issue that was brought up for discussion was the Port of Oswego and its use.

“I looked at where that port is on a map and realized that this is the first deepwater port in all the Great Lakes,” Katko said. “And why in the heck are boats going past this port going further to other ports when they could unload everything right here? We have the ability to do it right here.”

The congressman said that in speaking with engineers, $1.28 million is going to be applied toward dredging the port and repairs on the breakwater wall will begin in July. There was also talk of the railway system that extends around the port.

“The governor’s trying to push some money this way, but I think we need the federal government to step up and push that button here,” Carroll said. “Don’t forget about the communities above I-90.”

Katko announced that Oswego will host a committee of the Transportation and Construction Committee hearing in August so the committee members can observe the area to see the need for such construction. Katko noted that it’s easier to get funding the district needs if the committee members can actually see the area.

Following the Port of Oswego, the next topic up for discussion was Fort Ontario, a place Katko is planning to give a lot of attention to in the future.

“I took a tour of the fort last summer and I was overwhelmed by its history,” Katko said. “I think, if I’m not mistaken, that it’s the only fort in the entire country that’s been involved in every single war since the French and Indian War in the 1700s. Now think about that. That’s pretty remarkable. A lot of the structures are still standing and the basic structure is still there.”

Rep. John Katko (left) speaks to attendees with Jeff Grimshaw (center) and Zelko Kirinciche (right) regarding economic development in Oswego County.  (Peter J. Hanley | The Oswegonian)
Rep. John Katko (left) speaks to attendees with Jeff Grimshaw (center) and Zelko Kirinciche (right) regarding economic development in Oswego County. (Peter J. Hanley | The Oswegonian)

Along with defense measures, Fort Ontario was also the only Holocaust survivor sanctuary in the United States during World War II.

Katko said he personally believed the area should be declared as a national park and should be preserved accordingly.

“This is something our kids need to know we did,” Himes said. “It was a great thing we have and the fort has been the cornerstone for the community since the community began. If we don’t promote it, we’ll lose it.”

Moving south, the discussion turned to the economic situation in Fulton. Katko acknowledged that as bad as Oswego is, Fulton is probably in worse shape.

“Fulton is a manufacturing town, I’d say,” Katko said. “I’d like to see manufacturing grow again here. And what we hope for in Congress is, there is real talk about fundamentally changing the tax code. And it’s bipartisan talk.”

A lot of businesses have been moving overseas because of the high tax rate for manufacturing in the U.S. According to Katko, the tax rates for businesses in this country range from 30 to 39 percent, whereas Ireland has about half that amount, and the United Kingdom recently lowered its rates to around 20 percent. Katko said companies based here cannot compete with those rates.

Treadwell noted that upstate revitalization funds, a part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 opportunity plan, could be applicable to places like Fulton and the surrounding areas.

“We know we have this tremendous competition coming out of the state of New York in the upstate revitalization funds,” Treadwell said. “There may be an opportunity to structure something, some potential massive project to make that a component to enhance Central New York’s chances in getting some of those funds.”

The conversation then turned to the weather, as there have been questions raised on funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with snow problems in Central New York. Katko was actually in contact with FEMA, saying it didn’t make sense there were no funds for the Oswego area, a place that has a 14.5 percent poverty rate.

“FEMA can go to an area, declare a natural disaster, allow funds for it, and two years later, before the funds are spent, they can pull it back and say, ‘We changed our mind, you don’t need it now and we’re going to send it somewhere else,’” Katko said. “And this is absolutely ridiculous.”

Lastly, the panel discussed that economic opportunity is necessary because it is the thing that keeps a population in Central New York.

“If you want to have the family stay together in Upstate New York, you’ve got to have economic opportunity,” Katko said. “You can’t have kids paying student loans that are double the rate it costs for someone to get a 30-year mortgage on a home.”

Katko said young people shouldn’t have to move away form the area to be able to make a living and pay the bills, but they need to have a reason to stay.

Katko finished off the discussion by vowing to return to Oswego soon and that he will continue working to improve the economic situation in Oswego.

“We’re not going to wave a magic wand and make everything beautiful, but we are going to try very hard,” Katko said.

During the 2015 academic year, surging college costs prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer to launch a legislative bill to increase and expand college tuition tax credit that provides essential relief for Upstate N.Y. middle-class families.

The clause would make more families qualified to receive a tax credit and it would grow savings to up to $30,000 per year.

“A college education is a necessity that is being priced as a luxury–and it is breaking the bank for students and families across Upstate New York,” Schumer said in a statement. “With tuition costs continuing to rise, middle-class families should be able to take advantage of any savings they can get.”

The congressional bill, called the American Opportunity Tax Credit Permanence and Consolidation Act, was proposed earlier this year and affords families the opportunity to take $1 off their taxes for every dollar spent on tuition.

In the fall of 2009, as college costs were steadily on the rise, Schumer devised a similar tax-credit plan of $2,500 that would benefit families that made less than $180,000 per year, according to Schumer’s Office.

“I am introducing the new American Opportunity Tax Credit Permanence and Consolidation Act of 2015, which will provide real relief for families by expanding the number of people who are eligible for this higher education tax credit and increasing the size of the tax credit itself,” Schumer said.

There are more than 500,000 students enrolled in undergraduate programs across Upstate New York, according to a the senator’s office. In a 2012 national survey by the Gallup Institute, a research tank in Washington, D.C., the average American household makes $52,000 per year. As annual college expenses continue to rise, Schumer ensures that the bill could save Americans an upwards of $1.5 billion in savings each year.

“It’s time we update and grow the tax credit to better keep up with the rising cost of tuition, and make it a permanent fixture in the tax code. The difficulty of affording college tuition certainly isn’t expiring,” Schumer said.

Twenty years ago, the average cost of an undergraduate education was $6,562, guaranteeing students a placement in the coveted middle class. However, in 2015, the stakes are even higher, causing students to pay nearly triple this amount over a four-year-span, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences.

Throughout the SUNY system, Oswego State is renowned as a cost-effective academic institution. In 2013, 65.4 percent of graduating students borrowed financial aid to fund their education, according to a study by U.S News and World Report. Sophomore and marketing managing major Isaiah Cox supports Schumer’s new bill to make college affordable. Similar to many Oswego State students, he struggles to cope with the expedited debt he will face in the future.

“It’s stressful. I wonder sometimes if it’s worth it, but it is something you have to do,” Cox said. “I think this is a great idea for college students. I have a lot of friends who would love to go to great, big universities but they can’t afford it.”

Vice President of Activities for the Business Management Club Rose Joseph is in the know about her student loan debt. Raised by a single parent, she understands the fiscal burden of higher education. Joseph agrees with the senator’s plan and hopes it can open opportunities for minority students.

“I was freaking out before I came to school because I know it’s expensive,” Joseph said. “My mom has to work extra hours just to pay for it. If this bill goes through, more people would be willing to go away to school because they can afford it. Not everybody gets financial aid. I know I don’t and it’s hard.”

Freshman and human development major Jasmilly Solares works extra shifts at her job to pay for her monthly college statement. In Solares middle-class household, the financial burden of college is carried by one parent. With less opportunities for financial aid available to Solares, she feels the economic strain of her college expenses.

“I try to help her as much as I can, but it’s not always a lot because I work in the dining hall and I don’t make as much money as I would like to,” Solares said.

Solares added that Schumer’s bill will destroy fiscal inequities and will help students attend the college of their choice.

“It’s better to make college more affordable because not everyone can afford to go to college,” Solares said. “There are a few people I went to high school with who wanted to go away to college because they were not able to afford it.”

While freshman zoology major Cayla Turner is attending Oswego State on a full ride, she watches the economic hardship of college plague her friends and family. Turner explains that the bill will help extinguish monetary disparities.

“Some of my friends have to pick up one or two jobs just to afford to be here,” Turner said. “I think it’s wonderful that he is making college more affordable. In today’s economy, not many people can go to college because their parents don’t make enough money to afford it.”

Since 2009, Schumer has fought for the disparities of the middle-class and hopes to make higher education accessible to U.S citizens.