The state Republican Party has tapped Senator Rich Funke to give the GOP response to Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
The Senate majority leader typically delivers the GOP's response, but Majority Leader Dean Skelos asked Funke, a former radio and TV broadcaster, to do it this time.
The assignment is a boost for the rookie senator's profile, and could be a signal that the party is already working to keep him in that seat come the 2016 elections.
“Rich Funke and the entire freshman class were instrumental in returning Republicans to the majority in the State Senate, and they will play a key role in helping us implement an agenda that cuts taxes, encourages the private sector to create new jobs, and improves the lives of hardworking New Yorkers," Skelos said in a press release from Funke's office. "We’re pleased that Rich will be delivering the Senate Republican message to the people of this state.”
Over the past week, Cuomo has rolled out several initiatives that will probably figure prominently in his address and his accompanying budget proposal. His 2015 Opportunity Agenda touches on several areas, including student loans, economic development, poverty, and broadband Internet.
Funke spoke to local media this afternoon, and he shared some of his thoughts on the governor's proposals. In general, he said that state Republicans are eager to work with the Cuomo on proposals that cut taxes or create jobs.
And while the governor's Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force proposal is short on details, Funke agreed that the problem deserves serious attention. Rochester should be known for more than being one of the poorest cities in the country, he said.
"Poverty's not just a city problem," he said. "It's an everybody problem."
But Funke is cool to some of the governor's other proposals.
The governor has proposed a student loan assistance program
, where graduates who stay in New York and earn less than $50,000 a year can receive state assistance with loan payments, as long as they meet some other qualifications.
"I'm not entirely sure how we're going to pay for the project," Funke said.
Cuomo also wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.50
an hour for Upstate and $11.50 for New York City; it'll increase from $8.75 to $9 at the end of 2015. Funke said that the state should wait to see how the $9 wage works out, and that state officials need to talk to businesses about the effects of a higher minimum wage — that way officials can avoid "unintended consequences."
"There's a sort of snowball effect," Funke said.
Funke also repeated his criticism of Cuomo's proposed Upstate Revitalization Competition
. The initiative is modeled after the Buffalo Billion, and will pit seven Upstate regions against each other for three $500 million awards. He said that he's confident that the Rochester-Finger Lakes region can compete and win, but it shouldn't have to. Rochester should get the same investment that Buffalo did, he said.
"In terms of economic development, it's our turn," Funke said.