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Republican candidate for Governor campaigns in north country

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POTSDAM - Gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and congressional hopeful Matthew A. Doheny toured Northern New York together Monday, talking to business owners, local leaders and members of the public about their platforms.

At a public meet-and-greet at Sergi’s in Potsdam, Mr. Astorino condemned the direction the state has taken in the last few years. Earlier in the day, at Slack Chemical in Carthage, both men blasted the state’s and nation’s poor business climate.

“We can’t just tinker at the edges. This is a state that is spiralling downhill.” Mr. Astorino said at Sergi’s.

Mr. Astorino is Westchester County executive. He announced his campaign last month.

He said lower regulations and lower taxes are necessary to bring new businesses to New York. He brushed aside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s existing economic initiatives, like the Regional Economic Development Councils and Start-Up NY, as “gimmicks” that will bring little real change to the economy.

“We don’t need gimmicks in this state. We need sound fiscal policy,” he said.

This requires making the state more business-friendly by reducing regulations and property taxes, he said.

In Carthage, the same message came through as Slack Chemical officials talked about the high cost of compliance with regulations, both state and federal.

Compliance officer Thomas Williams told the candidates that the business, which has 95 employees and distributes chemicals to businesses ranging from heavy industrial to pool supply companies, is subject to regulation from several state and federal agencies, including the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We have no quarrel with following the rules and regulations,” owner Robert R. Sturtz said. “What we do ask for is some training, some idea of what to expect.”

Slack Chemical employs two full- and one part-time compliance officers who, according to Mr. Williams, struggle to keep up with the myriad regulatory changes that occur every year as well as the different agencies with which the company has to comply — agencies that often do not talk to each other, though they purport to enforce the same laws.

Mr. Astorino said that the number of regulations with which companies now have to comply is holding back business, turning the government into a “huge obstacle” and also “a majority partner” because it forces businesses to hire so many compliance officers — a measure that can force some small firms out of business, according to Mr. Williams.

Of all the regulatory agencies cited by Mr. Williams, only the DEC is a state agency and subject to influence from the governor.

If elected governor, Mr. Astorino said in Potsdam, he would balance the budget by identifying bloated or unnecessary programs to cut. He pointed to the need for Medicare reform as a specific example. He said he would cut Medicaid expenses by eliminating fraud and waste while still providing help to those in need.

“You can’t just continually perpetuate programs just because they’re in the budget,” he said.

He also said he would curb the many unfunded state mandates that raise costs for local governments. He said Gov. Cuomo uses these mandates to indirectly raise taxes while shifting the blame to local municipalities.

“For all intents and purposes it’s a state property tax right now,” he said.

Mr. Astorino criticized controversial initiatives like the Common Core education standards and the SAFE Act, saying he would do away with both if elected.

He said he opted his own three children out of Common Core testing. He advocated a local approach to testing standards, making education more rigorous without a top-down mandate.

As for the SAFE Act, Mr. Astorino said the hastily-passed law turns law-abiding citizens into criminals.

He said he would not focus on limiting guns, but instead on bolstering the mental health care system to give troubled individuals the care they need before they become dangerous.

Asked for his take on the public financing of campaigns, Mr. Astorino said he was opposed the measure and that leaving such decision to “political bureaucrats” would do nothing to reform the current system or root out corruption.

When asked about the ongoing debate over whether to build a rooftop highway through St. Lawrence County, Mr. Astorino said he is aware of the debate but has yet to familiarize himself with the pros and cons.

“There’s a lot of issues,” he said. “I’m still learning if it makes sense.”

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