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In Watertown, Aubertine allays ag concerns, touts budget

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Darrel J. Aubertine said the 2012-13 budget was a good one — free of gimmicks, tricks and smokescreens.

Mr. Aubertine, a former state senator and now commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration, would know. He was around for some bad ones, he said.

“I can tell you, as someone who had a front-row seat to the way budgets were crafted in the past, this is a much better way to do it,” Mr. Aubertine said during a speech at the North Country Transitional Living Services office on Black River Parkway in Watertown.

Mr. Cuomo, whose budget lowered state spending by less than 1 percent and closed a $2 billion deficit, said his administration would deliver 200 budget addresses around the state.

“The governor has done a very good job under difficult circumstances that I believe the Legislature should be able to support and pass on time,” Mr. Aubertine said.

The Senate and Assembly were in session Wednesday, so no state legislators were among the dozen or so who attended.

An “energy highway” from Quebec to downstate New York could mean jobs in the north country, Mr. Aubertine said. And even measures that might not explicitly affect it — the legalization of casinos, for example, and a new convention center in Queens — could help taxpayers here.

“The ramifications are massive,” Mr. Aubertine said. The Queens convention center, which would be the largest in the nation and not spend any state money, “would generate revenue that we’re all sharing.”

Asked whether the 10 percent cut to agriculture funding would adversely affect his department’s operations, Mr. Aubertine had a short answer — “no” — and then a long one, crediting the new mantra of state government since Mr. Cuomo took office a little more than a year ago.

“We’re doing things differently today than we were a year ago today,” Mr. Aubertine said. “We’ve streamlined the department.”

For example, Mr. Aubertine said, the department now has only two deputy commissioners. It previously had three.

Agriculture advocates said while there’s work to do, the budget fares better than it has in years past.

“We’re in a lot better shape than we were last year,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton. “This agriculture budget is one of the least adversarial ones that’s been presented by a governor in decades.”

The bill also included a market order, which will compel dairy farmers to pool resources for research.

“Our members really debated this issue quite a bit, and they came out supportive of a market order that allowed the producers to direct the priorities and was regionally representative,” said Julie C. Suarez, the public policy director for the New York Farm Bureau, an agribusiness lobbying group. “In general, we are supportive of the concept.

“Overall, our members were pleasantly surprised,” Ms. Suarez said. “It doesn’t mean there’s no more work to do.”

The budget also moves money aimed specifically for food inspections into the general fund, where it could go to pay for anything.

“We tend to prefer that funds stay at Ag and Markets whenever possible so that money can be used to protect the food supply,” Ms. Suarez said.

Mr. Aubertine said the change wouldn’t put food safety at risk.

“I think it’ll have minimal impact, if any impact, on the way we do business at Ag and Markets,” he said.

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