November 3, 2008

Sen. Winner Seeks Support From C.U.

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On Friday afternoon, New York State Sen. George Winner (R-53rd) dined with members of the Cornell community and discussed issues relevant to both the University and the state.
The senator’s visit was the last in a series of informal lunch meetings hosted by the Office of Government Relations with local politicians running for reelection. The lunches have allowed politicians to get in touch with the Cornell community, which plays a role of “great importance” in Upstate New York, according to Winner.
“The purpose is to allow Cornell faculty and staff who interact and have a special interest to hear candidates for election and ask questions,” explained Phillip Johnson, vice president of the Office of Government Relations. “Lunches have been attended by [members of the] administration, faculty, staff and representatives of the assemblies & campus life offices.”
“I’m pleased that Senator Winner as well as the other candidates were able to participate in our dialogues with our staff,” added Johnson.
Held in the Industrial and Labor Relations Conference Center, the lunch consisted of a brief opening statement by Winner followed by an extended question-and-answer session in which community members voiced their concerns about current issues. The topics discussed ranged from agricultural development to recycling compensation — all contextualized in light of the budgetary and financial constraints the state is currently experiencing.
“We can’t shift costs from the state level to the local level, especially in education,” said Winner, who is a renowned proponent for the development of rural education.
Jacqueline Powers, director of the Office of Government Relations, added, “The conversation between the senator and the faculty is what we want — we want discourse on the topics.”
The senator highlighted the important achievements and themes of his last term, most prominently in his position as chairman of the Investigation Committee for the New York State Senate.
As the question-and-answer segment began, the first topic addressed was the issue of agricultural development, which Winner cited as New York State’s top economic activity. Winner emphasized expanding the wine and grape industry, along with infrastructure and marketing for agriculture.
Winner also focused on the development of rural New York’s education system. Having already supported measures such as rural broadband Internet and the establishment of a center for rural schools in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, he plans to continue fighting the local “brain drain,” or the apparent inability to keep educated people in the area.
“We need to definitely focus on retaining human capital, especially from Cornell’s own CALS,” Winner said.
Winner believes that the Upstate New York area has high potential for economic growth, due to its “good workforce, plentiful water supply, natural gas resources and inexpensive housing,” according to Winner. He supports the I-86 construction project, which, he says is a step in the right direction. However, he also warned of the lack of venture capital in the area, stressing the importance of having jobs in the first place.
“It’s a matter of balancing priorities now,” Winner concluded at the end of the lunch. “Community interests, budgetary concerns, state issues — it’s all hanging in the balance.”