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Molinaro, Riley talk economic priorities at Binghamton Chamber forum

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Candidates in the 19th Congressional District discussed their vision for transforming the Southern Tier’s economy at a forum hosted by the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce Thursday. The forum was the first time the two candidates appeared side-by-side at an event, though Riley participated via Zoom call. Organizers said Riley did so as a precaution, due to several COVID-19 exposures amongst his campaign staff.

Both candidates agree this transition largely hinges on attracting manufacturing and other businesses that will be relevant in the future, such as the battery and semiconductor industries. They also both agree a four-year degree shouldn’t be a prerequisite for a career in those fields.

Democratic candidate Josh Riley, an Ithaca-based attorney, said he wants to build those opportunities by leveraging federal funding through the Workforce Opportunity and Investment Act, a regularly renewed piece of labor legislation, to fund workforce programs through the region’s community colleges.

"One of the things I want us to do with that bill is scale up our apprenticeship and vocational programs, particularly using the amazing community college system that we have here, so that folks are getting those skills; one, two-year program, maybe even shorter,” Riley said.

Riley’s opponent, Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said the state needs to take steps to make the atmosphere more conducive for businesses to set up shop, including fewer regulations, lower property taxes and other changes to reduce cost of living.

He also differs from many Republicans in calling on the federal government to invest in expanding childcare as a way to remove barriers for people to work.

“By creating and working, we've done this in my county, we work with our private sector, we work with the public sector to expand capacity for daycare. The federal government can invest in that,” Molinaro said.

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Asked how they would assure affordability for residents and businesses while ushering in a transition to a green economy, Riley said that transition needs to be paired with trade policies that keep jobs local and share wealth with workers.

"We need to make sure that we're creating an an economy and an economic system around it that is lifting everybody up and bringing everybody along,” Riley said. “The best way to address inequality, the best way to address a whole host of economic issues is a really good job creation policy, where we're creating those jobs in the community and keeping those benefits in the community."

Molinaro agrees the transition needs to be made, but said the potential financial impacts on families and businesses can’t be ignored in the process.

“Because this state in particular, but with all due respect to this administration in Washington, both have decided that it is more important to immediately transition to renewables and talk about all the good things that will come of it,” Molinaro said. “They've ignored the reality today."

Molinaro specifically pointed to the energy generation sector. He argues that the U.S. should continue generating fossil fuels and should use them domestically to keep costs lower during a transition to greener sources.

Riley did not participate in a forum held by the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce earlier this week. His campaign said he did not attend due to a longstanding family commitment.

The forum was limited to chamber of commerce members, with a cost of $25 per head to attend.

A full recording of the conversation with the candidates is available here.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.