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mikesigler2013_120Mike Sigler announced Monday that he will run for County Legislature.  Sigler served as Lansing's representative to Tompkins County from 2006 to 2010, when he was defeated by current Legislator Pat Pryor.  Sigler says taxes were a major issue when he served before, and will continue to be if he is elected, saying taxes went down by 17% when he was on the Legislature.  He will be running on the Republican and Independence Party lines.

He and his family have lived and worked in lansing for ten years.  His daughter will enter third grade at next Fall.  He says Lansing will grow, and defending the character of the town while facilitating growth is a major challenge.  Sigler dropped by the Lansing Star Tuesday to talk about why he wants a rematch with Pryor and what he thinks is important right now for Lansing.

Lansing Star:
Have you done much in politics since you lost that election?

mikesigler_30Mike Sigler: I've really been focussed on my daughter.  You look at these things and sometimes they're a blessing in disguise.  At that point my daughter was four.  And you know those are pretty good years to focus on her.  So that's what I did.  I did some things in the Town that I wanted to do and just enjoyed being with my family.

What convinced you that it was time to run again?

mikesigler_30 I had very disperate groups come and ask me.  I would see Steve Kuramoto.  He ran for school board, but he didn't know he was running.  He was the write-in and he got a hundred forty-six votes, I think.  I thought it was amazing: here was a guy that didn't even know he was running.

He went around and got signatures with me for the Independence Party.  So I got that line.  There's somebody I thought did really well and is very well respected by a lot of people in the Town.

Scott Pinney came and talked to me.  Here's someone who was a staunch Democrat for years, asking me to run.  He's bringing in Democrats to vote for me.  So far I've got independents, I've got some Democrats, I have Republicans... I thought I had a pretty wide base there, so I said 'why not?  It's a good time for me to run.

I think I have a different viewpoint than my opponent on a lot of things.  I don't know, we'll see what people think.  If they think that I'm right, great.  It they think Pat's right they'll vote for her.

staronly_30 There are a lot of things facing the Town right now.  There are a lot of things facing the County as well.  What are the issues you want to hammer going in?

mikesigler_30 Sewer is obviously the thing that everybody's talking about.  It's not really a County issue per se.  It's going to get voted up or down one way or the other eventually by the Town.  Then the County's job will be to facilitate that one way or the other at the COunty level where the County's involved.

I think last time a lot of people didn't think I was involved enough in the Town.  That's fine.  I can fix that.  I'll go to more town meetings.

But then again you have to remember the town and the county issues are very different.  Where the County can help, great, but I'm not going to come in and 'bigfoot' the Town.  If the Town wants certain things it has to let me know, but I have to communicate what the County can actually do for you as well.

With the sewer, sure, we have planners, avenues to get maybe some funding, and we can help facilitate the relationship with the State that will be needed.  But it's always going to be a town project.  It's not going to be a county project.

What about county issues?

mikesigler_30 The elephant in the room that is a county issue is the power plant.  And that is something that impacts the Town the greatest, too.  They are the largest taxpayer in the Town.  They're one of the largest taxpayers in the County.  If that power plant closes that really harms the Town of Lansing.  I don't think people know how much they pay in school taxes.  It seems to me right now what the power plant is saying is if they don't convert to natural gas they're going to close because they won't be able to make a go of it.

staronly_30 NYSEG wants to close the plant and spend a rate hike on their power distribution system, and the plant wants to spend a rate hike to convert to natural gas to become competitive and remain open.  It looks black and white -- somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose.

mikesigler_30 Anything the County can do to facilitate that.  I have a good working relationship with the congressman (Tom Reed).  I have a good working relationship with our state senators.  Obviously Barbara Lifton will also be involved in the process.  If we can get that plant converted to natural gas that would be a great accomplishment for the Town.

So that's something else I'm going to focus on.  There were protesters up there against natural gas.  I understand where they're coming from except for the fact that we still need power and I consider natural gas a good way to get that power.  It's much better than coal.

I hope people understand that power plant is a big part of Lansing.  They've been a community member for a long time.  And they've been a good community member. They fund a lot of different things in the Town beyond just taxes.  You go to them for money for certain events and projects and they're there for that.  I'd like to see that continue.

I don't know if you saw my interview with the high school principal, Eric Hartz...

With the school and why he left.

staronly_30 Right.  The big thrust of it was onerous unfunded mandates coming from Albany.  This is something I've heard (Legislature Chair) Martha Robertson talk about quite a lot over the past many years.  She says the state is imposing so many mandates that the county is finding it hard to fund programs that local people want.  Is that one of your issues?

mikesigler_30 Unfunded mandates have always been a part of New York State.  Martha Robertson talks a good game about it, but frankly the largest unfunded mandate that the County has is Medicaid and Medicare.  Paying that 25%.  The feds pay 50%, the State pays 25% and the County pays 25%.  That's an enormous burden.

Are we talking about moving all those people onto the affordable health care plans that are going to be coming October first?  I don't think that's a discussion we're having at the county level.  I'm not a party to those, but is that something we are considering? Are we considering moving our county pensioners onto affordable health care plans?  Because some places are.

You go out to Chicago, Illinois.  They're considering it. Detroit is certainly considering it.  Is that a discussion we're having?  You don't hear much about it if we are.

Frankly I don't think that keeps with the promise that we've made our pensioners.  Oh we're going to switch you to this other health care plan that, frankly, isn't as good as what you have right now.

When I was on the County Legislature a big part of the job for me was to try to cut the staffing levels and to do it in a way that we weren't actually firing people.  We had some success with it.  But there are still over 700 people working for the County.  This county only has about 100,000.  You go to places, even in Virginia -- northern Virginia with big money -- they don't have near those kind of staffing levels.

The problem is that for ever person you have on staff that is a life-long commitment pension-wise.  I know that doesn't really sound like the unfunded mandate issue, but that is it.  That is the unfunded mandate in the room.  We have to pay our retirees.  Is it unfunded?  Well, we have to pay into it.  The State isn't picking up the entire tab for that.  And that's what's going to cost you the money.

If you look down the road your pensions and those health care costs are what are really going to dig into every tax dollar.  It's going to get to the point where every tax dollar leaves and goes to pay your pensioners.  And then what's left?

We're not going to be able to do these programs that people want in this county no matter what you tax people.  There's not going to be enough money.  That's what Rhode Island is facing, Stockton California... they're starting to fall and I don't want New York State, and I certainly don't want Tompkins County to be the one... even if you're the last one to fall you're still going to fall.

staronly_30 The argument against unfunded mandates is that they are paid for by the property tax, an unprogressive tax, not income tax which is progressive.  So as a legislator would you push back against Albany on some of these mandates?

mikesigler_30 I think we're always pushing back against Albany.  I'm amazed at what goes on there.  The whole place is dysfunctional.

The fact that Shelly Silver is still gaining support from Barbara Lifton -- I find the whole thing to be ridiculous.   I hate sending our money to Albany.  You have leadership in the Assembly that is covering up sexual harassment.  We have our Assemblywoman who says -- it's not fine, I guess, but she doesn't do anything about it.  She doesn't say Shelly Silver needs to go.

Shelly Silver needs to go.  There you go, everybody.  It's just that easy.

And then maybe we can start anew.  Sure, unfunded mandates are always a problem.  There's a reason things get mandated.  There was a mandate once about doors in the gym, because a boy was crushed right down here at Ithaca High School.  And they mandated that that kind of door needed to be changed.

The state didn't come up with money to do that. They just said, 'do it.'  And that came out of your property taxes.  So there you go.  That's the hidden unfunded mandates.  Will the State ever pick up the total costs?  No, the State doesn't have any money either.  They can shift it to the  income tax all they want, but the income tax isn't exactly low in New York State.

You have to face the fact that New York State is out of money.  You keep having people leave and where are you going to get that money from?

Then should there be mandates?

mikesigler_30 I think the State needs mandates.  There are certain things that are going to be mandated.  The problem is the State doesn't have the money we need to do it.  Does that mean we need every single regulation that's out there?  No.  I don't think you need that.

But certainly people want to have safe food and safe water and these things need money.  OK, how do we do that?  How do we pay for those things?

I get releases from Governor Cuomo's office at least once a week talking about all the wonderful things he's doing, but some of them seem like smoke and mirrors to me.

Such as?

staronly_30 The two percent tax cap is one of them that promises but does not deliver on property tax relief.  I was visiting family in Florida and saw an ad on TV claiming businesses should move to New York State because it's the most business-friendly state in the country.  Those are just two examples.

mikesigler_30 That ad is just money wasted.  All the people in Florida are from New York!  There's a reason that they're down there!  The people have already voted.  They've voted with their feet and they're gone.

The last two I saw said he is cleaning up Albany.  Do you think that's happening?

mikesigler_30 I think he's done some work there.  But the problem is that you've got the same leadership in the Assembly.  The Senate leadership seems a little more focussed.  The problem with the Senate -- not even a problem.  It's probably not a bad thing: the Senate is so evenly divided that the leadership can change depending on the election.

But the Assembly: I just don't understand how you negotiate with Shelly Silver t this point.  And this is not a new thing.  I mean, Bragman tried to get him out.  He failed miserably.  I think it was Bragman from Syracuse, right?  This was when Assemblyman Luster was still in office.  They couldn't get him out.  They couldn't unseat the guy.

Cleaning up Albany... there seems to be a lot of corruption.  A lot of guys taking money that they're not supposed to be taking.  is that ever going to end?  I don't know.

staronly_30 So going back to the County Legislature -- in some ways you have a similar issue to the Assembly because in this county the Legislature is, has been and probably always will be largely Democratic.

It will be.  That's not going to change.

staronly_30How did you work with that in your last term and how would you work with that gong forward if elected?

mikesigler_30 I thought when we didn't go into big national issues we did OK.  A lot of these issues are just bread and butter issues.  If you come forward with a plan...

It's like Martha Robertson.  She's running for Congress now.  She's thinking we should convert that power plant to natural gas.  OK, that's a very opposed view to Carol Chock, for example.  She thinks that plant should just be closed.

So from a Republican standpoint, or even an independent standpoint, I guess... I would like to see that power plant stay open.  I'm in the majority of the Legislature there.  So on the big issue of the day, even county-wide, I think we'll find consensus.

But there are some very, very liberal people.  I don't even think they're liberal -- I think they're more ir-liberal.  Because they're not open to any idea that they don't think is right.  If you want to convert the power plant to something else I would like to hear it.  I don't see how you do it other than natural gas.

At this point.

mikesigler_30 I just don't.  Natural gas is it.  People say it's not a bridge fuel.  Well, yeah it actually is. It's kind of the only thing out there.

It's like with T. Boone Pickens... he's great on wind.  But the back half of that equation was that every car in America was going to be converted to natural gas.  This was not just a 'lets do wind' kind of thing.  It was how do we get at the heart of the problem.  I don't know why people forget that.

staronly_30 I'm going to go back to something you said at the beginning.  When you lost to Pat people were saying you were not good at communicating with the Town.  That's something that Pat -- whether you agree with her philosophically or not -- has excelled at.  She comes to every Town meeting to give reports on what the Legislature has been doing.  She was the first legislator to bring Joe Mareane to the Lansing Town Hall to explain the county budget in its early stages.  She has has an email list and all kinds of ways she reaches out to tell people what is going on.

You said that's something you could fix...

mikesigler_30 Right, I think if people didn't think I was as involved in the Town as I should have been... You can go to my facebook page now.  It's going to be up every week with what's going on in the campaign.  I plan to use that as a main driver.

It's like Tom Reed.  He's around a lot.  Gosh, I read his stuff every day and he's some place new every day.  I'm going to model it somewhat after him.

He's got a 50-50 split district and it seems he communicates really well with both sides on issues.  he doesn't change his opinion to fit the audience, because that's not who he is.  And that's how I always was, too.  I didn't change my viewpoint on issues just to fit the narrative.

To me it seems my opponent is not addressing the issues that are most pertinent to the Town.  I think broadband is important.  (Pryor is chairwoman of the County Broadband Committee.)

I have broadband at my house.  I have to pay money for it.  I think my broadband is cheaper than what the guys coming in are going to charge by about $15.  It's like you're doing something and it sounds great, but you can already do it.  The technology's already surpassed where you want to be.

There is no guarantee of that.  I'm not saying it was time wasted.  And maybe once they put it in the prices will go down.  That would be great.

But let's face facts: the power plant's a giant issue.  The sewer is a giant issue.  And where do you think the Town should gro?  How do you think it should grow?

I have a kid in third grade.  We're worried about her education declining, not getting better.  She's had an excellent education to date, and it concerns me.  We plan to stay here at least until she graduates and I'm sure beyond that.  That's the kind of thing I want to protect.

Frankly the thing I would like to do, more-so than communicating more with just the Town, is communicating more with the school board and the school district.  For Lansing, that seems to be the main driver of the Town.  The schools are what people move here for.  That, the beauty of the town, the rural nature of the town... whatever we can do to protect those.

When people talk about growth and things, well that's great but that's not why you moved here.  You didn't move here because they said there was going to be a town center.  I'd love a town center, but it's not why I moved here.

That's something that's been brought up, that maybe I wasn't as involved in the Town.  That's fine.  They meet once a month.  I'm more than happy to come and give a report on the County.

Like I said, I didn't want to 'bigfoot' the Town.  I get reports from other towns where they feel that their county legislator (is interfering).  You have a town supervisor.  She's in charge.  if she has an issue I would hope that she'd come to me or vice versa.

When I had issues that impacted the Town I went to (then Supervisor) Scott Pinney and I said 'Hey, this is the complaint I'm getting.'  Or a guy down in Ludlowville called me and said the bridge wasn't safe.  I had to figure out is it a county bridge or a town bridge.  How do we get it fixed?  That's the kind of thing that the County can do.

What have we gotten for all this extra communication?  Has it been a good thing?  It wouldn't be a bad thing, but has it advanced the cause of our town at all?  I don't know.  I'll have to ask people.  That's kind of what a campaign is for.

What are you going to do going forward with the campaign?

mikesigler_30 I'm going to go door to door like I did last time.  That seems to be the most effective way to get out and meet people.  I think this time we're going to have a lot more coffees and things like that.  We're going to go and meet people in a more intimate setting than we did last time.

Are you going to have a booth at Lansing Harbor Festival again?

mikesigler_30 Yes, I always have a booth.  I'm going to have an ad in the Lansing Star and if that doesn't get me votes I don't know what will!

I've got my lawn signs ordered.  Everything you do for a campaign.  It's not like I haven't done it before.

The last time I figure I lost by seven.

By seven votes?

mikesigler_30 By seven votes.  But I didn't lose, really by seven.  I feel like I lost more by 200 because if you look at the election before that I think I got 780 and I think Hurf Sheldon got about 700.  The next time I think Pat Pryor got about 550 and I got seven less than that.  There was a 400 vote drop-off of people who just didn't turn out for both sides.

It wasn't just Republicans who didn't turn out.  Both sides didn't turn out.  Now I had several issues that have all cleared themselves up since then.  I had to work hard to get those issues taken care of.

You mean personal issues?

mikesigler_30 When I ran the second time I was just getting pulled into different directions.  There was a lot going on in my life and those things aren't going to be issues any more.  When people came (to ask Sigler to run) that was a big consideration.  I said there's stuff going on, but then I'm thinking this will be retired by then.  By the time of the vote my life will be settled, basically.  If I can do this and do that at the same time I think that shows people this guy can handle an awful lot.

So that's my goal.

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