OSWEGO — Two candidates will face off Nov. 3 for the 120th Assembly District seat.
Republican incumbent Will Barclay, is a graduate of St. Lawrence University and Syracuse University College of Law, was first elected in 2002 and as of January is the 2020 assembly minority leader.
Challenger Democrat Gail Tosh, is a graduate of Empire State College with a degree in social theory, social structure and change, with a concentration in leadership.
A hot topic this election is health care. In the midst of a global pandemic, residents of the 120th are reminded every day just how precious health is and how dangerous COVID can be. And though both candidates recognize how important this issue is to the voters, their philosophies on health care differ.
“Everyone needs to have equal access to health services,” Tosh said in a recent interview. “And here in our district, we do not. And over time, that has led to one of the lowest life expectancies in the state, as well as other health issues. So, we’re really struggling here when we talk about health. It’s the number one issue in our district. There are three counties involved (Oswego, Jefferson, and Onondaga), and two of them are extremely poor. So, there’s no money to help take care of the people of these rural districts.
“I am a backer of the New York Health Act,” she said, “and the reason that I back the New York Health Act is because the overall cost to the everyday citizen and businesses is going to be 20% lower than the cost of the health insurance that they have now, because there won’t be certain salaries put in there like CEO salaries, bonuses, stock options. So, the same level of health insurance and health care will be able to be given to the people of New York state for a 20% discount across the board to both the employees and the employers. And that puts more money in everybody’s pocket.”
“It’s a great theoretical thing,” said Barclay. “I think everybody should get health care, and I think everybody that wants health care can get it in New York state. Doing universal health care, however, I think is completely unaffordable in New York state. That’s a $250 billion undertaking when our state budget’s $178 billion. So, economically, to do that, it just doesn’t make sense. We’d have to raise that money. We only take in $90 billion in New York state tax revenue. And she’s never been clear on how you’re going to pay for all that. So, it’s great to have these viewpoints, and they’re good to push policy, but ultimately to institute some of these grandiose ideas, really doesn’t work.”
For one-third of New Yorkers, including many in the 120th assembly district, Medicaid is their health insurance. It is perpetually one of the largest, sometimes the largest, segment of the state budget. Barclay hopes to control that.
For years, Barclay has fought unfunded state mandates, laws that mandate counties pick up part of state expenses, as harmful and unfair to the counties. Medicaid is one of the biggest of those. Oswego is mandated to pay 25% of Medicaid costs, roughly half of what the state as a whole contributes. For Oswego County that comes to roughly $25 million a year. Barclay wants the state to pay that instead. He realizes that’s going to be a difficult ask in these hard-hit COVID times.
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s probably unlikely in this budgetary time, but certainly I’ve advocated, I’ve sent legislation, to do that. One thing I don’t want to see, and it’s been a push by the governor and others, is to have the counties pick up more of the tab of Medicaid. We should provide them with any mandate relief we can.”
This is one thing on which Barclay and Tosh agree.
“You look at other nations across the world,” Tosh said, ‘and their societies are taken care of when it comes to health. We’re one of the few that doesn’t. So, where are our priorities as a government? And passing this down to counties is just the wrong way to go with this. They’re just two steps from making it an individual responsibility at that point. And what are we paying our taxes for? Where are our priorities? I think we should be taking care of the health of our nation, so we can all have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just like we’re told to expect from our government.”
But that’s where their agreement on health care ends.
“It’s always tough decisions we make,” Barclay said. “You’d love to give money to everything, but unfortunately, that pot is limited. You want to fund education, you want to fund all this other stuff, but you can’t do more when more than what you spend completely on the budget is going into health care. And the other thing, a lot of people like their private insurance. People don’t necessarily want to lose it, and these proposals would totally do away with private insurance.”
Perhaps, in general terms, it could be said that Barclay sees money as limited, whereas Tosh questions that as a matter of priorities. Both candidates realize many issues, and how to fund them, are connected. For instance, Tosh easily connects health care, broadband and education.
“We are one of the poorest districts in this state,” she said. “We are suffering on every level, and we are not getting the education help that we need. We have students who do not have access to broadband, who are not in school. So, how are they even getting educated? Where’s the money to get the broadband? What’s going on? It needs to be made an essential utility, and the companies that provide broadband in New York state need to provide it to every household so that we can start to address some of these issues that these poor and/or rural areas are facing. We don’t have enough doctors out here in our district. So, let’s get telemedicine going so that we can address the health crisis that we’re facing. We’re in an existential health crisis. Our life expectancy is low, our infant mortality is high, suicide rates, drug addiction rates, off the charts. Let’s start addressing this by making medicine more available through telemedicine, but we need broadband to make that happen. It is the ticket to success for our district.”
Barclay also sees better broadband as a necessity.
“We have put a lot of money into rural broadband,” he said. “We’ve got to take a look and see why that money isn’t flowing and why they’re not being effective, but like anything else, it would be good to have access. Access is pretty necessary in today’s world. And we do put money in. The question is, why is it not flowing and why isn’t it improving? I think that merits additional investigation.”
Health care may be the hottest topic of this election, but come January, it may well be the budget that’s most on legislators’ minds. How will they deal with that? Here are Barclay’s and Tosh’s answers:
“The budget is probably going to be a mess,” said Barclay, “unless we get a substantial federal bailout. So, I look forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle, trying to come up with a plan that’s not going to wreak havoc on the constituents in central New York and all New Yorkers. That’s going to be the biggest issue next year.
“There’s not any easy solution to the situation we’re in,” he said. “I hope and I’ve advocated and written letters that ask for the federal government to provide some relief, particularly with the COVID expenses we have. I think that’s a totally legitimate thing to ask from the federal government. But I don’t think the federal government’s going to come and bail us out, to try to solve our budgetary problems that we got into before COVID. And again, it kind of comes back to we need a more transparent system, and the system right now is not transparent. It ends up being horse trading between really the governor and then the legislative leaders trying to get whatever they can out of the governor.”
As with many of her policy proposals, Tosh looks at the budget as needing a new set of priorities.
“You elect legislators who are going to fight for the things that you think are important. If there’s not enough money for the schools, you need to get somebody in there who’s going to fight for the money for those schools, and I don’t believe that the person we have in there now has fought for a single dime for our schools. We haven’t gotten anything. So, where are our priorities? We have to back up what we say with the money that we spend. And I know if we went through that state budget, there’s private projects, there’s special projects, there’s special interest money, all kinds of things that don’t need to be there. We can restructure our budget if we get people in there who don’t owe anybody anything. I don’t owe anybody anything, except for the voters who elect me to represent them.”