Deborah Dawson

Deborah Dawson (D) has announced that she is running in District 10 (Village of Lansing, Village of Cayuga Heights) for Tompkins County Legislature.  A Village of Lansing resident, Dawson, an attorney, has worked for the Erie County government, spent 30 years working for the federal government in the Department of Justice, and the last four or five years involved in village government, including serving as a current Planning Board member.  Dawson will run as a Democrat, and is seeking the Working Families Party line on the ballot as well.

"I'm a first generation on my father's side," she says.  "A second generation American on my mother's side.  My parents were lucky to go to high school.  They never made more than $25,000 a year, and I know that because I started doing their tax returns for them when I was 11.  They were dedicated pro-union members.  My Dad only cried twice, according to my mother:  once when FDR died, and again when Kennedy was assassinated.  I pretty much rebelled against everything they tried to teach me, but their political attitudes are my bedrock."

Dawson has a strong background in tax and fiscal policy, banking regulation, real property, consumer protection.  She has been attending Tompkins County Legislature meetings for the past year and a half to learn how the county government runs, and get a handle on major issues the County faces.  Dawson says the top issue is revenues and threats to local government revenue by things like the moratorium on natural gas in Lansing and the devaluation of the local mall and the power plant PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of taxes) agreements.  She says the County should be supporting efforts to revitalize commercial development, particularly along Triphammer Road.

"The mall is a sad reflection of national trends," she argues.  "The national trend is to de-mall  the malls, turn them into mixed use and lifestyle destinations.  I think that should be something that the County would support if that's the direction that mall ownership chooses to go in.  That would go a long way toward addressing the drop in sales tax revenues that we've experienced, and it would also add a new housing option, which everyone agrees is necessary."

Dawson is critical of the kinds of PILOTs and tax abatements the local IDA grants, arguing that they do not provide good paying jobs.

"We're building hotels and apartment buildings with shops on the first floor," she says.  "So what's that going to create?  Retail sales, housekeeping and maintenance.  Those are all minimum wage jobs.  This does not impress me.  This does not add any basis for a vibrant local economy.  People are going to be earning minimum wage.  They're not going to be spending money.  They're not even going to be able to afford to live here."

Dawson says meaningful local economic development is crucial to the economic health of Tompkins County, especially in the current national and state political climate.

"Obviously the current presidential administration doesn't have much interest in us here in Tompkins County," she says.  "I've learned things attending the legislative meetings for the last -- almost -- year and a half that lead me to believe that Albany isn't very interested in helping us out either.  So we're on our own."

An important factor in economic development is the availability of power, and like many Lansing candidates she is arguing that natural gas is a transition fuel that must be available until alternative power sources are available, familiar, and affordable.  Dawson says she has come to agree with Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne's position that the whole county should be subject to the moratorium if a fair resolution is to be found.  She is critical of the County's plan to promote the use of alternative energy sources in part by making a moratorium on new natural gas customers in the Village and Town of Lansing permanent.

"I don't think they thought about the consequences for our part of Tompkins County," she says.  "The tie-in with the power plant, of course, is that in order to make up for the hit that our revenue base is going to take, we're going to have to build something or raise taxes.  I don't see how we can raise taxes.  Our taxes are already burdensome.  I don't know how we build 'new wood' if we can only build a new project with technologies that are more expensive, at least in the short term, and less familiar to developers than natural gas."

"I think the only way we're going to get a resolution to this issue in less than 100 years is if everybody's ox is at risk of being gored," she continues .  "As it stands now I think the City of Ithaca, particularly, is perfectly happy with things as they are, because businesses are moving away from the commercial area on the Triphammer corridor and down to Route 13.  That's great for the city.  I don't think it does much of anything for village and town government, village and town  residents, and the County at large, because one of the trends that I've seen, listening to (Tompkins County Finance Director) Rick Snyder's reports, is that while city sales tax revenues hold steady or increase, sales tax revenues for the County and the municipalities outside the city are tanking."

Dawson's response to state mandates is, "Oy!"  She notes that the Medicaid mandate is forcing some upstate municipalities to dip into sales tax revenue to pay for it because their levy isn't large enough to handle it. 

"The property tax bill that came this year for the County and the Town of Lansing had a pie chart on it," she says. "68% of my county property taxes go to fund mandates.  That's unacceptable.  I don't know what impact I can have, but I will definitely be a loud and consistent opponent of mandates."

Dawson says that she comes from the point of view of an FDR/Bernie Sanders Democrat, but that she studies specific issues carefully before coming to a decision.  She says she likes to base her decisions on research and facts.  In that vein she plans to take her campaign door to door, because she deems that the most effective method of campaigning that also gives a candidate an opportunity to hear what voters think.

"I have worked for Erie County government. I spent 30 years working for the federal government.  I spent the last four or five years working on village government.  I regard government work, whether you're an employee or an elected official as the highest form of public service.  If I'm elected to the County Legislature I will be doing nothing more than continuing that service."