By Nicole A. Elliott Staff writer
Working to enrich opportunities in education and for the middle class and bringing "quality" jobs to the region are among goals Rep. Richard L. Hanna, R-24, Barneveld, plans to work on in 2012.
The freshman congressman spoke to business and political leaders during the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual "Meeting with our Congressman" breakfast at The Beeches this morning.
Hanna summarized his accomplishments and what he had been working on during his first year in office, which included closing 13 case files, answering between 57,000 and 58,000 e-mails and letters from his constituents and dozens of meetings with local businesses and economic development agencies. He asked constituents to call. "We have developed a ‘Go To’ office" that tries to turn around queries within 24-48 hours. It is "not the big bad federal government for the 24th district. We are workaday people."
Hanna also highlighted his track record for 2011, having 95 percent more bills in the House than any other freshman.
Over the last year, Hanna said his office has also hosted several employment and business workshops, derived a six-year highway bill and has given support to the Home Energy Assistance Program, with upstate New York paying 40 percent more in energy costs than any other part of the nation. And when Tropical Storms Irene and Lee ravaged through the area, causing severe damage to homes and businesses, Hanna said he was able to get federal funding to support area rehabilitation "in a matter of a week or so."
Hanna emphasized his hope to help the middle class, first by sponsoring a bill that helps farmers who hire temporarily legal immigrants.
"We want people to know that what we’re doing day-to-day is helping the economy of this region," Hanna said. "Right now we’re turning farmers into criminals because they have help, because they need the help, but they have to hide it."
The congressman said the new bill would allow farmers to staff temporarily legal immigrants for up to three years, with one-year intervals at a time, as opposed to the current three months.
Turning to another path, Hanna said previously it was required to have at least 50,000 people residing in a municipality in order for it to have a say in how money slated for highway and infrastructure improvements was spent. Because of his legislation, that number has been dropped to 10,000 to accommodate the majority of municipalities that make up his district.
Mayor Joseph R. Fusco Jr. asked the congressman why funding for infrastructure improvements were not appropriated more fairly to municipalities who have a reputation for having long-range plans to maintaining its infrastructure as opposed to those who have largely neglected it.
Hanna explained that difficulties lie with 60 percent of federal transportation monies going to New York City, with only 40 percent coming to upstate and the majority of that being dedicated toward mass transit as opposed to road improvements.
Hanna said he will also continue to work toward supporting development at Griffiss Business and Technology Park and see through the completion of the permit process for Marcy Nanocenter.
He said he knew and understood how Rome and the local economy were dependent upon the future success of Griffiss and the Nanocenter.
"My idea for Rome is not to play defense anymore, but have more of an up-hand on the issues," he said, referring to current military consolidation efforts. As part of his economic growth plan for Griffiss, Hanna is also working toward having the base chosen by the federal government as one of its test sites for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs.
"There’s six sites now, and we’ll be able to compete for one, and we have a good chance of getting one," Hanna said. "We have 6 million acres at this park, and we are in a great position to grow our assets. We can offer a lot of open land without a lot of air traffic."
Identifying himself as a supporter of the middle class and more so in education, Hanna said there’s been much talk about job growth but little understanding on what all that talk really means.
"The fundamental point is the quality of jobs," Hanna said. The congressman said that is why he has been working with Mohawk Valley EDGE, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo "hand in glove" to get the Nanocenter up and running in Marcy.
He said there are not 13 million but rather 24 million unemployed in the country. And job growth does not cover population growth. What is making for a struggling middle class today is lack of opportunity, and Hanna said opportunities can be won through education to keep the American Dream alive. To be competitive in the global market, the congressman said the nation needs to focus on the "value of our product" and what the country produces for the world as opposed to identifying as a "service industry." Without making a valuable product, the nation would continue to be unable to "grow its middle class," he said. "...Our most significant right is to be upwardly mobile and to transcend from our parents."
A key into jump-starting the nation’s economy is also through tax code reform, Hanna said. As part of his American Competitiveness Act, Hanna wants to lower the corporate tax from 35 to 25 percent over a two-year period so that jobs are not "out-sourced," and that Americans choose to start companies in their own country, rather than going overseas.
"If we’re not producing here, then we’re losing the middle class," he said. "We’re losing our manufacturing and losing the matrix we used to have."
As for the Great Recession, "This time we’re going through a great bubble, and it’s going to take some time to get through it," Hanna said.
Rome Area Chamber of Commerce President William K. Guglielmo asked Hanna who he felt would come up victorious in the Republican primary process.
"I like Huntsman," Hanna said of the Republican presidential hopeful. "But it looks like Romney has the lead right now. But it’s kind of early to tell. Stranger things have happened."
Throughout his address, Hanna also emphasized how he encouraged constituents to contact his office with any questions or concerns.
"If you call the office with a question, someone will get back to you with an answer within 24-48 hours," he said. "We work for you. This is not the big bad federal government here in the 24th Congressional District. The office is working for you."
Asked by a high school student who plans to get a degree in art followed by a Masters if there should be more student aid, Hanna said that he did not mean to discourage the student, but "No". Getting his degree, Hanna said he installed aluminum siding and roofing during the school year and worked summers to pay for it. He said if you work to get something, then you should expect to pay for it. "People have to be accountable for the debts they occur," adding, you also have to have learn something at school that will allow you to pay it back. Hanna said that people he meets say "I’m an American", so they deserve something. Hanna disagreed, "Being an American is the prize. At the end of the day we are all the product of the choices we make. We are sitting here having made bad choices." He added that students should be mad at the debts their parents leave.
Summarizing his first term so far, Hanna said, "It has been a great experience in a disappointing place." He dislikes the Washington practices, explaining, "Convincing that you are better than the other guy is what is regularly done." Instead, he said, "I’m looking for ideas." Looking forward he said, "You have to have compassion. The big elephant in the room is healthcare."
Hanna closed, remarking, "I like to think. I like to read. I like to work."