RYE, N.Y. – Senate candidates Bob Cohen and George Latimer dove headfirst into issues of corruption in Albany, unfunded mandates and state financial stability at a debate Monday night at Rye Middle School hosted by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook, and Port Chester.
Latimer, a Democratic Assemblyman for the 91st District, and Cohen, a Republican businessman, are running for the 37th District seat of retiring state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer. Cohen is making a second run for the seat after losing to Oppenheimer in 2010.
The 37th encompasses Rye, Harrison, Mamaroneck, New Castle, New Rochelle, Scarsdale and White Plains. The hotly contested race is viewed as pivotal in deciding which party controls the state Senate in the next legislative session.
The two argued back and forth throughout the debate on Latimer’s refusal to vote for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent property tax cap, which was signed into law in 2011. Latimer argued that he was standing on the principle that the cap would harm local governments and school districts and suggested residents read the bill (A.8518) for themselves then ask their local representatives how the mandate has affected the municipality.
To alleviate the burden of unfunded mandates, Cohen proposed giving the option of a 401k-type program to educators to choose what is best for their retirement. He also suggested shifting Medicaid costs back onto the state and away from local counties. Latimer said school districts should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding pensions.
Both candidates were asked what they would do to address corruption in Albany in the wake of several highly publicized jail sentences for lawmakers. Latimer said, “We need cops on the beat. We need more enforcement of existing laws.”
Cohen said corruption in state government has reached “epidemic proportions” and agreed with his opponent, adding his support for term limits. “We need people who will go to Albany, spend their time to solve our problems, then return to the private sectors,” he said.
When asked about long-term fiscal stability, Cohen said residents and lawmakers must realize fiscal problems are problems “we have created ourselves.”
“We have enacted these laws that have put us in this position where we’re spending and we’re taxing more,” he said before suggesting, “One proposal is to have a state spending cap that will increase each year as our Gross Domestic Product increases.”
Latimer said he voted for cuts in the last two state budgets and added that cuts must continue. But he said they must be wise and address the economic needs of different parts of the state and not undermine schools, transportation and safe streets. “There’s a moment in which everybody reacts to taxes. There are not just costs, there are values,” he said.
Latimer and Cohen meet next at a debate on Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 5 to 6:15 p.m. at 800 Westchester Ave. in Rye Brook.