Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

GOP Loses Grip On NYS Senate

They're down to one in Albany.

After a special election in a heavily Republican upstate Senate District, the Democrat emerged victorious, and the GOP majority had been cut to a single vote. This in a district that hasn't elected a Democrat in more than a century.

Not exactly the news Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was hoping for, as he attempts to stave off the feds with one hand, and the old men in the flannel leisure suits with the other.

Come November, with every seat in the Legislature up for grabs, Dems will look to throw the GOP out of the box -- or at least out of power in the Senate chambers, where Republicans have maintained control since the 60s.

The GOP has been losing ground in the State Senate over the last few election cycles, and with a record-breaking Democratic turnout expected at the polls this presidential election year, the balance may just tip in favor of the Dems, who already have a lock on the Assembly.

Of course, giddiness of Democrats aside, all of this may not bode well for Long Islanders, who, if they have benefited at all from Albany's graces, owe much to the predeominantly Republican Long Island Senate delegation, led by the venerable Dean Skelos, the Senate's Deputy Majority Leader.

Should the Democrats wrestle the reigns from the Republicans, with Long Island's GOP hanging on to the rafters, Long Island may well become that proverbial boat without a paddle -- Ignored by all, championed by none.

Its a quandry for all of us on Long Island, especially those who crave for a change from the stagnant status quo.

For the moment, Democrats revel in their North Country victory. What tomorrow will bring to our Long Island remains anybody's guess.
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From Newsday:

Dems' win in State Senate race shrinks GOP edge

ALBANY - Republicans' longtime control of the Senate weakened last night as their majority shrank to a single seat with the upset victory of Democrat Darrel Aubertine in a special election in northern New York.

With all precincts reporting, Aubertine had 52 percent, compared with 48 percent for Republican Will Barclay.

The 62-member Senate is the GOP's sole remaining Capitol power base, with Democrats holding the Assembly and governor's office. The Senate traditionally has fought the hardest for Long Island.

Aubertine and Barclay, both assemblymen, were vying to represent the 48th District, which encompasses Oswego, Jefferson and half of St. Lawrence counties in the state's northwest corner.

But the contest was far from a local affair, with Democrats hoping to capture the Senate for the first time since 1965.

"This is potentially significant because there's a sense now that the Senate could flip in terms of which party holds the majority," government professor Calvin F. Exoo of St. Lawrence University said, adding the result "could be a bellwether for the fall" when all lawmakers face re-election.

The monthlong race cost an estimated $3 million, most coming from the state parties. Hundreds of political activists, including several busloads from Long Island, spent weeks campaigning upstate.

The 48th has always elected a Republican. The seat fell vacant with last month's retirement of Sen. James Wright (R- Watertown) after 15 years. Campaigning intensified last week when a poll showed a dead heat, surprising given Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 31,000.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, has been clear about his desire to wipe out Senate Republicans, led by his nemesis Joseph Bruno of Brunswick. Last night's loss was sure to intensify speculation about Bruno's ouster, or a possible GOP defection, which would give Democrats the upper hand.

With a 32-30 breakdown presently, it would take only one senator to turn to give Lt. Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, the casting vote.

Spitzer said last night, "Darrel will be a powerful advocate for the North Country and I look forward to working together on the people's business."

Spitzer cut Bruno's majority a year ago when he tapped then-Sen. Michael Balboni (R-Mineola) for homeland security secretary. A special election to fill the seat in Nassau's 7th District was won by Democrat Craig Johnson of Port Washington.

In the battle for the 48th, issues were largely cast aside in favor of class warfare as Barclay, 39, was painted as a rich lawyer from a powerful family and Aubertine, 54, a dairy farmer and former county legislator, beholden to downstate interests.

Reacting last night, Bruno said: "We remain the majority party in the State Senate. ... The November election is little more than eight months away and we intend to redouble our efforts to regain seats."

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

LIP Service For Long Island's Children

State Shortchanges Education At The Taxpayers’ Expense

On the education front (read as school funding), the landscape looks pretty much the same as it did last year, and the year before that.

The paucity of State aid to education, and the widening disparity between what upstate school districts reap from Albany and that which trickles down to Long Island, having not so much to do with who sits in the Governor’s mansion (Nelson Rockefeller having dealt from the same hand some forty years ago) as it does the State Legislature doing little to bring an arcane and archaic aid formula into the 21st century.

The NYS Education Law, and the State Aid formulae that have evolved over the past five decades – valiant attempts during the mid-70s at reform notwithstanding – have left New York with a system and practice of school financing which is as incomprehensible as it is unfair.

To the dismay of parents and students, teachers and taxpayers, the static nature of how we pay for elementary and secondary education in New York, and the stagnant persistence of the Legislature to either maintain the status quo or, worse still, to patch a crumbling infrastructure with a silly putty under the euphemism of STAR, have created an endemic of high property taxes and mediocre performance.

As the battle lines are drawn, here on Long Island and up in Albany, no doubt the scene will play out much as it did last year, and the year before that.

Cuts will be proposed. Politicians will place blame. Money will be restored. Politicians will take credit. Upstate will see a bounty. Long Island appreciably less. And that rebate check will be in the mail.

It’s a vicious cycle, really, with few among the elected having either the fortitude to offer practical cures, or the stomach to tolerate the strong medicine it takes to promote academic excellence while preserving New York’s tax base.

As Tim Bolger (not related to Ray) proffers in his Long Island Press piece, some see “Upstate getting more money while the Island gets a Commission on Property Tax Relief to study the issue.”

We see a method of school financing that is obsolete and incapable of serving the needs of New York’s children, and an ongoing political partisanship that, yet again, favors posturing and finger-pointing over the desires of those who foot that ever-escalating bill.

Parents and students, teachers and taxpayers, deserve much better.
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From The Long Island Press:

Rallying For The 3Rs
By Tim Bolger

The public's heightened political attentiveness this presidential election year aside, cumbersome and non-reader-friendly budget proposals are not usually instigators for protests. But this is Long Island, and its taxpayers are particularly sensitive about fluctuations in the amount of money the state says it will send to schools.

Sure, the case can be made that the Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC) is an organization that traditionally relies on tactics such as picketing to attract attention to issues that don't make ordinary citizens take to the streets. But it's not just the Massapequa-based advocacy group's Feb. 14 demonstration that has called attention to Gov. Eliot Spitzer's 2007 promise to increase aid to school districts. A Long Island delegation of New York State senators is planning a protest along with community leaders at Ellsworth Allen Park in Farmingdale, at noon on March 1.

For his part, Spitzer says the promise he made last year of four consecutive annual school aid increases has been undermined by an economic downturn and a projected $384 million drop in tax revenue this year. So, while there is more than $2 billion in school aid, some LI schools are on course to get what equates as a smaller increase from last year while some will be dealt a decrease.

"The continued worsening outlook for the economy demands additional tough choices," Spitzer said in a statement. "We are taking the steps necessary to ensure the fiscal integrity of our state government." Meanwhile, the Long Island Tea Party goes on, reacting to the governor's proposal amendments.

Although complex, both demonstrations illustrate the sharp line between the two approaches to this issue (leaving alone the plethora of tangential problems critics highlight when discussing LI school funds). At the Valentine's Day rally outside Sen. Caesar Trunzo's (R-Brentwood) Hauppauge office, LIPC and about 30 protesters gave the senator "Don't break our hearts, keep your promise" valentines. Their goal, based on a Feb. 14 report from the statewide Alliance for Quality Education, is to not only get the Senate majority to return the funding to levels promised, but to do so without disproportionate cuts to the school districts that need it most-including Central Islip, Brentwood and William Floyd, all of which Trunzo represents.

"We want to make sure restoring these funds to high-needs and underserved school districts is a priority, and the only way we're going to do that is to say it loud enough," says Maurice Mitchell, lead organizer for LIPC. He says that since Spitzer announced budget amendments earlier this month, LIPC is focusing on those in the Legislature who are negotiating the budget's details before it goes to a vote.

In a statement, Trunzo condemns Spitzer: "I have great concerns about the governor's budget proposal, which spends too much, taxes too much and once again shows the governor's indifference to the needs of Long Island residents." That is likely a preview of the rhetoric the public will hear live on March 1.

On a flyer for the upcoming Saturday protest against the governor's plan, the message doesn't focus as much on nuance as it does on the overall threat of tax increases that result from decreased state funding to schools. Messages saying "School aid cuts mean higher taxes and less for education" and "Long Islanders want their fair share of education aid" adorn the posters. The event is billed as the Education and Taxpayer Rally, organized by the regional office of the Senate majority.

"All we're looking for is our fair share," says Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Selden), calling the proposal "an attempt by the administration to redistribute money that was originally intended for Long Island." He notes that while the economic downturn has wreaked financial havoc, a 7.5 percent increase in education spending statewide was proposed-yet despite the fact that the region has 16 percent of the state's students, only 8 percent of that increase comes to the region. LaValle says he finds this difficult to justify and reiterates that if the budget is passed as is, the result would be "either cut programs or raise property taxes or both."

The budget protests likely won't turn violent or result in looting. But many LI leaders see this budget in terms of Upstate getting more money while the Island gets a Commission on Property Tax Relief to study the issue. With the budget due on April 1, looks like this March will be a stormy one.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Style Over Substance?

More To Obama Than Mere Words

Never downplay the significance of hope, or its capacity to not only inspire, but to serve as a driving force behind political, economic, and social transformation.

Don't be too quick to downplay words -- long ago proclaimed to be mightier than the sword -- as a catalyst not only of change, but of cohesion, of healing, and as a vehicle to move society, as well as entire nations, forward out of the darkness of the abyss.

And say what you will about the conservative posturing of the Wall Street Journal. Sometimes, even this bastion of right-leaning journalism recognizes the power of vision, the impact of oratory, and the gist behind the glib.

Call it a movement, or perhaps just a moment, this departure from the past, from the tired and failed, from the foibles of yesteryear -- whether inside or outside the Beltway -- is as refreshing to the ears as it is nourishing for the soul.

To many Americans, this restoration of hope -- this great movement to lift our nation and, yes, to truly light the world -- is so much more than empty eloquence. It is a window of opportunity to recast the very role of this nation as it struggles to find its place in that new world order, and a clear opening to recapture the very essence of what was, and what can again become, the great American dream.
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From The Wall Street Journal:

Obama and the Power of Words

These are words that move and uplift, that give hope to the hopeless. These words inspired millions of voters nationwide to join the grand experiment called democracy, casting votes for their candidate, their country, their destiny:

"More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country, to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values . . . For those who have abandoned hope, we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!"

So Ronald Reagan proclaimed on July 17, 1980, as he accepted his party's nomination for president at the Republican National Convention in Detroit, Mich.

Earlier that day, the New York Times ran a long profile of Reagan on its front page. The author, Howell Raines, lamented that the news media had been unsuccessful in getting Reagan to speak in anything other than "sweeping generalities about economic and military policy." Mr. Raines further noted: "political critics who characterize him as banal and shallow, a mouther of right-wing platitudes, delight in recalling that he co-starred with a chimpanzee in 'Bedtime for Bonzo.'"

Throughout his campaign, Reagan fought off charges that his candidacy was built more on optimism than policies. The charges came from reporters and opponents. John Anderson, a rival in the Republican primary who ran as an independent in the general election, complained that Reagan offered little more than "old platitudes and old generalities."

Conservatives understood that this Reagan-as-a-simpleton view was a caricature (something made even clearer in several recent books, particularly Reagan's own diaries). That his opponents never got this is what led to their undoing. Those critics who giggled about his turn alongside a chimp were considerably less delighted when Reagan won 44 states and 489 electoral votes in November.

One Reagan adviser had predicted such a win shortly after Reagan had become the de facto nominee the previous spring. In a memo about the coming general election contest with Jimmy Carter, Richard Whalen wrote Reagan's "secret weapon" was that "Democrats fail to take him very seriously."

Are Republicans making the same mistake with Barack Obama?

For months now, Hillary Clinton has suggested that Mr. Obama is all rhetoric, no substance. This claim, or some version of it, has been at the center of her campaign since November. One day after losing to him in Wisconsin and Hawaii -- her ninth and tenth consecutive defeats -- she rather incredibly went back to it again. "It's time we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions," she said -- a formulation that could be mistaken for a sound bite.

As she complained about his lack of substance, tens of thousands of people lined up in city after city, sometimes in subfreezing temperatures, for a chance to get a shot of some Mr. Obama hopemongering. Plainly, her critique is not working.

And yet, Republicans are picking it up. In just the past week, conservative commentators have accused Mr. Obama of speaking in "Sesame Street platitudes," of giving speeches that are "almost content free," of "saying nothing." He has been likened to Chance the Gardner, the clueless mope in Jerzy Koscinski's "Being There," whose banal utterances are taken as brilliant by a gullible political class. Others complain that his campaign is "messianic," too self-aggrandizing and too self-referential.

John McCain has joined the fray. In a speech after he won primaries in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, Mr. McCain said: "To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude." After Wisconsin, he sharpened the attack, warning that he would expose Mr. Obama's "eloquent but empty call for change."

The assumption behind much of this criticism is that because Mr. Obama gives a good speech he cannot do substance. This is wrong. Mr. Obama has done well in most of the Democratic debates because he has consistently shown himself able to think on his feet. Even on health care, a complicated national issue that should be Mrs. Clinton's strength, Mr. Obama has regularly fought her to a draw by displaying a grasp of the details that rivals hers, and talking about it in ways Americans can understand.

In Iowa, long before the race became the national campaign it is today, Mr. Obama spent much of his time at town halls in which he took questions from the audience. His answers in such settings were often as good or better than the rhetoric in his stump speech, and usually more substantive. He spoke about issues like immigration and national service in a thoughtful manner -- not wonky, not pedantic, but in a way that suggested he'd spent some time thinking about them before.

More important for the race ahead, Mr. Obama has the unique ability to offer doctrinaire liberal positions in a way that avoids the stridency of many recent Democratic candidates. That he managed to do this in the days before the Iowa caucuses -- at a time when he might have been expected to be at his most liberal -- was quite striking.

His rhetorical gimmick is simple. When he addresses a contentious issue, Mr. Obama almost always begins his answer with a respectful nod in the direction of the view he is rejecting -- a line or two that suggests he understands or perhaps even sympathizes with the concerns of a conservative.

At Cornell College on Dec. 5, for example, a student asked Mr. Obama how his administration would view the Second Amendment. He replied: "There's a Supreme Court case that's going to be decided fairly soon about what the Second Amendment means. I taught Constitutional Law for 10 years, so I've got my opinion. And my opinion is that the Second Amendment is probably -- it is an individual right and not just a right of the militia. That's what I expect the Supreme Court to rule. I think that's a fair reading of the text of the Constitution. And so I respect the right of lawful gun owners to hunt, fish, protect their families."

Then came the pivot:

"Like all rights, though, they are constrained and bound by the needs of the community . . . So when I look at Chicago and 34 Chicago public school students gunned down in a single school year, then I don't think the Second Amendment prohibits us from taking action and making sure that, for example, ATF can share tracing information about illegal handguns that are used on the streets and track them to the gun dealers to find out -- what are you doing?"

In conclusion:

"There is a tradition of gun ownership in this country that can be respected that is not mutually exclusive with making sure that we are shutting down gun traffic that is killing kids on our streets. The argument I have with the NRA is not whether people have the right to bear arms. The problem is they believe any constraint or regulation whatsoever is something that they have to beat back. And I don't think that's how most lawful firearms owners think."

In the end, Mr. Obama is simply campaigning for office in the same way he says he would operate if he were elected. "We're not looking for a chief operating officer when we select a president," he said during a question and answer session at Google headquarters back in December.

"What we're looking for is somebody who will chart a course and say: Here is where America needs to go -- here is how to solve our energy crisis, here's how we need to revamp our education system -- and then gather the talent together and then mobilize that talent to achieve that goal. And to inspire a sense of hope and possibility."

Like Ronald Reagan did.

Mr. Hayes, a senior writer for The Weekly Standard, is the author of "Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President," (HarperCollins, 2007).

A Call For A "Quiet Revolution?"

Time For Taxpayers To Question "Why" And Scream, "No More!"

A basic premise of The Community Alliance blog -- indeed, the very foundation of our organization's existence -- is that good citizens need to be informed and involved if government is to work, and to work for us.

How many times -- on issues ranging from property taxes to illegal accessory apartments, affordable housing to zoning -- have we called upon residents to borrow a page from the movie Network (heck, rent the DVD), and to open their windows, stick their heads out, and shout, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore?"

At least once or twice, if memory serves.

If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: "Join your local civic." "Attend town meetings and community forums." "Ask your (legislator, town supervisor, local commissioner, school board trustee), 'What have you done for our community lately?'" "Attend budget hearings and demand to know where every tax dollar is being spent." And for your own sake, if not that of your neighbors, "VOTE!"

On that last, but certainly not insignificant point, we've pondered, "When we send the same elected officials back to the same jobs, year after year after year (substitute "decade" or "century" where applicable), do we really expect anything will change?"

Unfortunately, many of our musings (some say, tirades) fall upon the deaf ears of the indifferent, bounce off the hardened mindsets of the disenfranchised, and are cast aside as hollow calls to action by taxpayers long frustrated by the broken promises of the elected, the annointed, and those who have become the entrenched benefactors of a self-perpetuating system that thrives on the apathy of the electorate.

Cynicism notwithstanding, perhaps there's now a new wave of enthusiasm, churned up in the sometimes frenetic and too often overstated rhetorical waters of change, evidenced by voters turning out at the polls in record numbers, offering the hope that, if not a revolution, then at least a realization, is at hand.

A realization that it is, after all, the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and the taxpayer who, above all, needs to be that squeak.
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From Newsday's Editorial Page

TO: Fellow Mad-as-Hell Taxpayers

Another day, another scandal involving wasted tax dollars. Isn't that the way you feel sometimes when you pick up the newspaper?

This past week, there was a story about a prosperous-looking lawyer, Lawrence Reich, who wriggled his way into the state pension system. He did so by having himself listed as a full-time employee on the books of five separate Long Island school districts. In fact, he was working as a consultant, but his dishonesty qualified him for a public pension of nearly $62,000 a year. By the end of the week, two more law firms and 11 school districts were implicated in similar sweetheart deals. We taxpayers are their dupes.

Then there was the $85,000 Mastic Beach public pool tile repair that turned into a $7.1-million payday for the contractors. Can you imagine continuing to sign those bills without at least asking a few tough questions? If hard-working, honest Long Islanders aren't fed up by now with this abuse of our trust, then we are as numb as ocean swimmers in February.

It's one thing to look at a rising property tax bill and think, "At least I'm getting good services." Most people don't mind paying for a fair value, right?

But giving money to people who game the system, who are continually figuring out new and sneakier ways to enrich themselves beyond our control ... that leaves a sick feeling.

One way to handle it is to immerse ourselves in our busy lives. We shrug about how we're powerless, roll up the windows in our minivans and keep driving on.

But reality continues to knock.

This winter, we learned that the superintendent of the Water Authority of Great Neck North, Robert Graziano, makes $192,427 a year, which is more than the salary for the governor of New York! He bought a car on the taxpayer's dime - a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria - and also a 42-inch plasma TV. He justified the TV to his board by saying it was for "security" purposes. Oh, sure. That Giants-Patriots game probably never looked safer.

The man even hired his son, Gregory, and got him a $38,300 pay increase just this year. Which of us wouldn't like to obtain secure jobs for our children and pay them enough to live in Nassau County? Gregory Graziano's salary is now $140,000.

These special districts are part of what drives up the cost of living and makes it hard for our children to settle here. Special taxing districts bill Nassau and Suffolk taxpayers $500 million a year, or about $726 for every family of four. That money could go a long way toward paying the home heating bills this winter.

Time to wake up

It feels as though some public employees - not all of them, of course; thank goodness there are still dedicated public servants here who respect their constituents - have lost their sense of honor. Honor is an old-fashioned word, but what else keeps someone from dipping a hand in the till when he or she can get away with it?

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian X. Foley, who took office five years into the project, says he welcomes an investigation of the out-of-control spending on the Mastic Beach pool. Too bad it wasn't investigated long before all the headlines. Or how about Harborfields' former assistant schools superintendent, who warned Reich in 2005 that he should correct the record of his employment status or risk having his "picture in Newsday"?

Really, is public humiliation the only check on these people? Sometimes, it feels as though they are laughing at us.

The first wake-up call came a few years ago, when officials announced that Roslyn school administrators had stolen millions of dollars from the district. Don't you remember seeing the former school superintendent, Frank Tassone, dressed for his sentencing in an orange jailhouse jumpsuit? He got four to 12 years in prison. What a shame. This is a man who was in a position to be a role model for our children. Let's hope they don't follow his example.

His arrest led to probes of several Island school districts, and that lesson wasn't lost on voters. They rejected school budgets in near-record numbers in 2005. The voting booth is one of the only outlets for our outrage.

But most of the school districts scheduled a second vote and won. Word spread among parents that if the budgets weren't approved, the schools would cut our classroom teacher's aide or the band program or bus service - things that are near to our hearts. Of course we felt blackmailed into passing the budget on the second vote. Even when taxpayers try to stand up, we get shoved back down into our seats.

Is it any wonder we develop a cynical shell and tune out?

Only a few hundred people voted in this past December's election of special district representatives, even after the Graziano tale and other abuses of the system came to light. To be fair, one would have to be a walking Day Runner to keep up with these special district election schedules. There are 11 dates a year across Long Island - one every month except for February.

Reform is clearly needed. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has at least proposed to do away with the salaries and benefits of special district officers; unpaid posts are the norm in most of New York. Officials should also create a simpler election calendar. And, sure, the FBI is on the case investigating Reich. County prosecutors, state comptrollers, IRS agents - we can rely on them to step in when a situation turns really bad.But school embezzlers and other scoundrels will probably keep gambling that they won't get caught.

What to do, what to do?

There's more we can do, as individuals. But it's going to take stepping on the brakes of that minivan and rolling down our windows. It's going to take a quiet revolution in what we value.

Say we decided to give up boasting about our cars or boats or summer homes. Say we bragged instead about how carefully our school district spends our money - and we know because we attend the meetings or serve on the board.

We could keep an eye open for that commissioner or labor leader living beyond his or her means, and ask how that's possible. When a public pool is closed for five years running - stranding the girls' swim team on dry land - we could make a few more inquiries. Learn about the Freedom of Information Act. Request documentation. Write a letter to the editor. Blow the whistle.

There are a few souls in every community who get involved beyond all expectation. Perhaps we could learn to treasure them more, and join them. That would give new meaning to the word "citizen." That would be an example worth setting.

Forward this message to everyone you know.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Toxic Water Flowing From The Tap?

Long Islanders Drink As Toxic Time Bomb Ticks

How safe is Long Island’s drinking water? No, really?

It comes from underground aquifers, not from pristine reservoirs in the catskills.

We’ve been dumping everything from pesticides to fertilizers to MTBE into it for well over a half century now, and yet, everyone, from the DEC in Albany to the local special district water commissioner, tells us that the water flowing from our taps is safe – safe to drink, safe to bathe in, safe from harm.

The old, “don’t worry,” as the number of polluted groundwater sites here on Long Island expands, concern over so-called “cancer clusters” grows, and remediation, let alone that watchful eye, wanes.

Not to sound alarmist, but just how much crap can we pour into our water supply and expect that it will remain potable, let alone “safe?” And exactly what level of MTBE, lead, PCB, or other toxin is “safe,” anyway?

Of course, with everyone in government telling us that our drinking water is the purest of the pure (and we know they’d never lie to us), and most Long Islanders either willing to believe it or too indifferent to so much as take notice (hey, its just a spill), who are we to complain, let alone be heard?

Hmmm. Perhaps this would be a good time to read Ibsen’s, An Enemy of the People, and to reflect upon that memorable, if not prophetic line, "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands alone."
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Where the toxic spills are: Queens ~ Nassau ~ Suffolk ~ New York State
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Read The Community Alliance blog post, What's In Your Water?

New MTBE spills found to threaten drinking water

A study of Long Island groundwater pollution caused by the fuel additive MTBE uncovered 32 petroleum spills that had not been previously detected, including one in Ronkonkoma that state environmental officials said had threatened public drinking water.

The report, released yesterday by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, found that methyl tertiary butyl ether still threatens the aquifers that supply Long Island's drinking water -- despite New York's 2004 ban on MTBE.

The study called for continued monitoring of MTBE in drinking water and recommended more tests to locate other undetected spills.

The study was prompted by a 2002 DEC survey that found Long Island had more MTBE-contaminated spill sites -- 24 percent of the state's total -- than any region in New York.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency classifies MTBE as a probable carcinogen, but little is known about its effects on human health.

Thought to make fuel burn more cleanly, MTBE was added to gasoline in the 1990s in states such as New York that suffer from air pollution. Once spilled, it moves quickly through groundwater and is difficult and costly to remove.To study the extent of MTBE contamination in Long Island's groundwater, the DEC had monitoring wells installed at 52 Nassau and Suffolk gas stations between 2002 and 2006. Each station was within 11/2 miles of public drinking water supply wells and had no known history of MTBE spills.

Tests turned up new MTBE spills in groundwater at 32 of those stations. Sixty percent of the sites where MTBE was detected had concentrations that were below the state public drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion.

But 34 percent of the stations with MTBE exceeded that standard, and 15 percent showed concentrations of up to 500 times that amount -- levels that required immediate remediation.

Owners of two stations with particularly high MTBE concentrations refused to further investigate the extent of the contamination or clean it up themselves, so the DEC had to hire contractors, the study said.

One such spill at a Getty station on Portion Road in Ronkonkoma involved a plume with MTBE concentrations of up to 49,300 parts per billion that was headed for a public drinking water supply well about 1,400 feet away, the report said. The other spill stemmed from a Liberty Petroleum on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont, where a plume with concentrations of up to 240,000 parts per billion had migrated about 1,700 feet southwest of the gas station.

The DEC estimated that cleaning up both spills would cost a combined $2.25 million.

A man who answered the phone at the Ronkonkoma station Friday declined to comment. No one answered the phone at the Elmont station.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Smart Growth Comes To Long Island

If Not To Stay, Then At Least To Visit

Did you know that New York State has a "Smart Growth Cabinet?" [We didn't even think they had a Smart Growth Night Table.] And wait until the armoire arrives.

Actually, a Smart Growth Task Force was created by former Governor George Pataki (remember him?) back in 1999. Look how smart we've become since then, and that level of "genius" that permeates through the marble halls in Albany is positively remarkable.

Seriously, though, the Governor of New York has assembled some of the finest minds in government (oxy what?), creating what is being touted as a "Smart Growth Cabinet," tapping Paul Beyer to be the State's top Smart Growth Smarty. [Can anyone tell us who Paul Beyer is -- or was, before he was appointed as New York State Director for Smart Growth Planning?]

Beyer was on Long Island -- Hauppauge, specifically (at the H. Lee Dennison Building, the very heart of smartness in Suffolk County) -- to talk about spiraling suburban sprawl, and to say to the folks at the Long Island Regional Planning Board (before whom he was speaking), "I'm not here to tell you what smart growth is on Long Island..." [Frankly, I don't know what it is myself...]

Geez, Paul. If you won't tell Long Islanders what smart growth is (he declined to define the term), who will? Surely, we can't wait another twenty-five years or more for the Planning Board (that last bastion of "best laid-away plans," such as it has always been) to figure this one out!

Yes, as Mr. Beyer explains, we need to create "places" again. And not simply "places" for "places" sake, but places with a sense of place. [We can still see the puzzled looks on the faces of members of the Planning Board. Faces that just can't fathom a sense of place in a place misplaced by suburban sprawl and zoned disgrace.]

Truth be told, in creating the Smart Growth Cabinet, Governor Spitzer made no mention of Long Island. Lower Hudson Valley? Yes. Adirondacks? Yes. Catskills? Yes.

Long Island wasn't even on the proverbial map. [Perhaps we missed it while we were under that Cone of Silence of Get Smart (Growth) fame.]

Oh, we've got places all right. Most of us can sense that.

Blighted places. Brownfield places. Economically distressed places. Places that used to be called the suburbs, now reclassified as part and parcel of some not-too-bright-growth urban renewal plan.

Not many places where our workforce and college grads can hang their hats, though. Too few open spaces, those sacred, now built-out places that used to be places we could walk, play, rejuvinate.

No real plans in the hopper, either -- aside from those long ago shelved, or more recently frowned upon and discarded by local town boards and their supervisors - to scrap the sprawl in favor of economically vibrant "downtowns" -- you know, those walkable, convivial, energized places where, ideally, we could work, live, and play. Places that were -- and could again be -- a whole lot more than vacant storefronts, crumbling facades, and block after decaying block of vacuous void.

What has happened to so-called "smart growth" on Long Island, other than the talk?

Well, as Maxwell Smart would have said, we've "missed it by that much!"

Okay, its a "bottom-up" process, as Mr. Beyer tells us.

Yup. That's what one could hear the folks at the Long Island Regional Planning Board saying as they headed to Hauppauge's local watering hole after the smart growth conference. "Bottoms up!"
- - -
Spitzer's smart-growth czar visits Long Island

In his first regional visit since becoming Gov. Eliot Spitzer's smart growth czar, Paul Beyer told an audience of public officials, civic and business leaders yesterday that "smart growth" -- a term he declined to define -- is essential to economic prosperity, but that it must be addressed by localities before the state can act.

"If we don't manage growth with a sense of creating places again, places with a sense of place," New York will lose its "economic competitiveness," said Beyer, whose official title is New York State Director for Smart Growth Planning.

Speaking before a meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Board in Hauppauge, Beyer recalled a "great life growing up on Long Island" but said the region had failed to control the way it was developed in recent decades."Sprawl was basically uncontrollable," he said, and there were "economic benefits from sprawling development patterns."

The definition of "smart growth" is hotly contested, with some advocates cleaving to official standards set by national groups and others applying the term to any project that includes a mixed-use or pedestrian-friendly component.

Beyer would not articulate the state's definition of "smart growth," saying "I'm not here to tell you what smart growth is on Long Island ... Don't think we're going to give you the answers."

But he said that proper planning focused on issues like targeted density and access to public transportation that could solve a host of problems; from insufficient housing stock for young people and empty-nesters to the perceived conflict between economic development and open space preservation.

Because of the region-specific concerns that drive planning, Beyer said, it should be a "bottom-up" process, with local leaders sharing ideas with regional representatives and members of the Governor's Smart Growth Cabinet.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

As The North Country Goes. . .

So Goes The New York State Senate?

Will a special election for a vacated NYS Senate seat -- long held by a Republican -- foretell the outcome in November?

Will energized Democrats, as they have done in the presidential primary, turn out to vote in record numbers, while disenchanted Republicans, already outnumbered statewide, and losing ground district by district, stay home?

Will the cloud of possible indictment still hang over Majority Leader Joe Bruno's graying head, as the campaign to hold on to the Senate heats up?

And where does all of this leave Long Island's heretofore solidly GOP Senate delegation? Will they hold Long Island, only to be in the minority in Albany? Or will they, too, succumb to the undertow of a changing tide?

The Albany Times Union gives us some food for thought, as Dems look to wrestle control of the State Senate, while Republicans try to hold on for dear life.
- - -
Struggle for Senate starts early
Republicans face stiff challenges this year for control of upper house

By IRENE JAY LIU, Capitol bureau

ALBANY -- If a race for one seat in the North Country is any indication, this year's battle for control of the state Senate will be a long, bitter fight across New York.

In next Tuesday's special election to succeed Watertown Republican James Wright, the two assemblymen vying for the seat have so far spent over $1.2 mostly from contributions by the state Republican and Democratic parties.

In what is poised to be the second-most expensive state Senate contest ever -- the most expensive state Senate election in history cost over $5 million -- Democrat Darrel Aubertine of Cape Vincent is opposed by Republican Will Barclay of Pulaski. Barclay's father, H. Douglas Barclay, represented the heavily GOP 48th District from 1965 to 1984. By last count, Republicans outnumber Democrats 78,454 to 46,824 with 34,665 unaffiliated voters.

Barclay and Aubertine each lead in different internal campaign polls, officials of each party say.
The stakes are high: Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate since Wright, 59, retired after 15 years. By stepping down in January, he made sure that the special election would not take place on Super Tuesday when the presidential primary drew a huge Democratic turnout.

If the Democrats gain a majority in November, when every seat in the state Legislature is up for grabs, the party would control the Senate and the Assembly and the governor's, comptroller's and attorney general's offices, at least until 2010, when voters will once again decide on all those jobs.

Republicans have held the Senate majority for seven decades, except for an 11-month period in 1965. In recent years, the Democrats' statewide enrollment edge over Republicans has increased to 5.4 million voters to 3 million.
The tide is moving against Republican control of the Senate," said Douglas Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College in Manhattan.

This year's presidential race will undoubtedly affect state and local campaigns. To what extent is unclear.

On Super Tuesday, when Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Barack Obama by a 57-40 percent margin, nearly 1.8 million Democrats voted, 32 percent of the party's enrollment. For the GOP ballot, 20 percent voted.

"We saw record-breaking turnout across every demographic and geography," said state

Democratic Party spokesman Jonathan Rosen. The primary turnout bodes well for Democrats in November, he said.

While Rudolph Giuliani's departure from the race for president could lower GOP turnout in November, Republicans believe that having John McCain at the top of the ticket will help them maintain the state Senate majority, said GOP spokesman Matthew Walter.

Whatever coattails come with the presidential election, observers such as Muzzio said Senate races will be run, and won, on a local level.

"You've got septuagenarians and octogenarians running the Senate," Muzzio said. "They are in districts that are majority (Democratic) or trending that way."

Senate contests fitting this profile are heating up the earliest: Queens Republican Sens. Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan already have Democratic contenders lining up.

In both those districts, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1, and have for decades, yet both senators have held on term after term. Padavan easily won in 2006, but political newcomer Albert Baldeo came within 800 votes of beating Maltese.

A key part of the Republicans' strategy is to regain seats lost over the past two years. In Westchester, Republicans are seeking to oust Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who won a razor-thin victory in 2006 over nine-term incumbent Nick Spano.

On Long Island, Republicans plan to run hard against Sen. Craig Johnson, who replaced Republican Michael Balboni when he became Gov. Eliot Spitzer's homeland security chief.

Last year, with his approval ratings high, the governor angered Senate Republicans by injecting himself into Johnson's race.

Now, with his poll numbers down and his efforts to work better with the Legislature, Spitzer hasn't been involved publicly in next week's special election.

Statewide, Republican campaigns will focus on their opponents' voting records, in some cases faulting them for voting for last year's budget, which the GOP contends hurt local hospitals and schools. The party plans to focus on local needs, according to Walter. That strategy can favor incumbents with seniority and track records as well as the clout to sprinkle state money around their districts.

Walter said Stewart-Cousins and Johnson, among other Democrats, are being targeted because they "take positions that are out of step with their constituents' needs" like advocating for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and "asking for (legislative) pay raises by shouting 'show me the money.' "

Muzzio advises GOP candidates to "go to their favorite house of worship and light candles ... and make these elections as local as possible. Talk about the power of the incumbent."

Irene Jay Liu can be reached at 518-454-5081 or by e-mail at

3rd Distict
Incumbent: Caesar Trunzo, R-Brentwood
Challenger: Jimmy Dahroug
By the numbers: Democrat Dahroug has run against Trunzo twice before. Trunzo won in 2006 with 53 percent of the vote and Working Families Party support.

7th District
Incumbent: Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington
Challenger: None declared
By the numbers: Johnson won special election in February to replace Republican Michael Balboni, who become Gov. Eliot Spitzer's homeland security chief. Republicans have targeted this as a seat to reclaim.

11th District:
Incumbent: Frank Padavan, R-Bellerose
Challenger: City Councilman James Gennaro, D-Fresh Meadows, a member is widely expected to run.
By the numbers: Padavan, an 18-term incumbent, won with 56 percent of the in 2006, despite Democratic 83,950 to 32,360 enrollment edge.

15th District:
Incumbent: Serphin Maltese, R-Middle Village
Challenger: City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, D-Howard Beach, or Albert Baldeo.
By the numbers: Democrat Baldeo came within 800 votes of defeating Maltese in 2006.

23rd District:
Incumbent: Diane Savino, D-Staten Island
Challenger: None declared.
By the numbers: Savino had no opponent in this overwhelming Democratic district, but Republicans say they are targeting it.

34rd District:
Incumbent: Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx
Challenger: None declared.
By the numbers: Two-term incumbent Klein won with 61 percent of the vote in 2006. Longtime GOP Sen. Guy Velella quit in 2004 after his bribery conviction.

35th District:
Incumbent: Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers
Challenger: Nicholas Spano is considering.
By the numbers: In 2006, Stewart-Cousins unseated Spano, 51-49 percent.

48th District:
Contenders: Democrat Darrel Aubertine and Republican Will Barclay running to replace James Wright, R-Watertown, in Feb. 26 special election
By the numbers: Win by Aubertine would erase the Republican's one-seat majority. Each party has contributed more than $600,000 in the campaign.

49th District:
Incumbent: David Valesky, D-Oneida
Challenger: None declared.
By the numbers: Enrollment is almost even, with 61,831 Democrats to 61,561 Republicans. Valesky beat Republican Jeff Brown in 2006, 59-41 percent.

56th District:
Incumbent: Joseph Robach, R-Greece
Challengers: Brighton Supervisor Sandra Frankel has entered the race. candidacy. Fellow Democrats Richard Dollinger and Willa Powell are mentioned as possible candidates.
By the numbers: Dollinger resigned as Brighton Town Justice for a possible run for the seat he held from 1993 to 2002. Robach beat Powell 66-34 percent in 2006. District enrollment is 76,225 Democrats and 45,123 Republicans.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Case Against A Property Tax Cap

Its The Spending, Stupid (And The Paucity Of State Aid)

All the talk -- from Spitzer to Suozzi, and every talking-head in between -- of capping school district taxes as a means of controlling tax hikes inevitably leads us (and all people of reason and intelligence, we hope) to the conclusion that a cap will do absolutely nothing to lower property taxes (even the potential for containment is dubious), let alone control the spending at the district level that lights that all too short fuse under the property tax skyrocket.

Caps, where they have been imposed, haven't worked out very well, either for the taxpayers or the school districts.

Even spending less, when much of the school district costs are fixed, contractual, or otherwise mandated (yet unfunded), may not be achievable barring cuts to the essential foundations of a sound education.

The solutions (some of which may well cause a hard swallow, particularly among State Legislators - in an election year, no less) must include so-called "circuit-breaker" legislation, which limits not the property tax itself, but rather, what the taxpayer has to pay, coupled with an across the board replacement of the regressive school property tax with (now hold your ears) a progressive income tax at the State -- not local -- level. [Equitable and adequate State Aid to public schools is essential in order to maintain quality education, and the State income tax as a means to fund the heretofore unfunded and underfunded is the lynchpin.]

Of course, getting State Legislators to so much as talk about -- let alone take action on -- an increase in income taxes is tantamount to campaigning for the other guy on a "read my lips" platform.

Then again, someone, somewhere, in some position of authority has to take a stand and bite that bullet, as the homeowner/taxpayer has had to do for far too long.

The income tax -- one of those inevitables nobody likes, and everybody wants to cut -- would provide the necessary stream of monies to finance public education, posing far less of a burden than the onerous, property-based tax.

And shifting the burden from localities to the State, from cash-strapped homeowners to all who pay income tax, is not only fundamentally fair, it is essential to maintaining schools of excellence, sustaining the growth of the local economy, and preventing property owners from fleeing New York, taking their wallets and investments with them.

Removing the property tax from the school funding equation should be a given. Capping the tax, however, is not only treating the symptom rather than curing the disease, it is akin to performing open-heart surgery with a chain saw.

Let not the operation be a success and the patient (be he student or taxpayer) wind up dead on the table.

If we are truly going for property tax "reform," let's do it right from the get go.
- - -
From The Poughkeepsie Journal:

Valley Views: Property tax cap wouldn't be much help
By Robert McKeon

A choir of elected officials from all branches of state government have begun harmonizing a tune in the property tax reform movement - and it's not one we will enjoy if it gets produced.

Last week, Gov. Eliot Spitzer added his voice by suggesting he will propose "caps."

Unfortunately, caps almost always wreak havoc on educational performance and deliver no relief to the great many who are financially strapped. A little background on what lawmakers are auditioning around the valley:

- The Property Taxpayer Protection Act (A8775) is a bill local Assembly Republican members are headlining on their election-year tour. The legislation would "cap" the annual tax levy increase to the inflation rate or 4 percent, whichever is lower. John Whiteley of the tri-county (Warren, Washington and Essex) tax reform group points out, "Districts don't pay taxes, people do. It doesn't mean everybody will be capped at that rate - it's all based on individual assessments." Overburdened taxpayers would see higher property taxes. My local assemblyman claims it will provide "breathing room." For politicians perhaps, but not for taxpayers.

-History tells us not to buy a ticket to this show. Whether it's California's Proposition 13 or Massachusetts Proposition 21/2, states that enact "caps" show declines in education - sometimes dramatic. Passed in 1980, Proposition 21/2 (the levy increase limit) had some troubling opening performances; including an immediate 12 percent cut in teaching staff. No coincidence that the governor referred to the cap as a "blunt instrument." With overrides requiring a two-thirds voter referendum, only the wealthiest districts will thrive, further dividing New Yorkers by economic class. Studies confirmed alarming disparity in educational results according to the community's ability to override, and it is incredibly difficult to turn around a school district once it goes downhill.

-The notion that any one entity can control spending (and at the district level especially) continues to frustrate those who study educational funding. The federal and state governments determine how much they will contribute to the equation. Local school districts have no say. Nor can they dictate the Wall Street performance of union pension funds. A cap merely means the boiling stew will overflow and create additional "messes" to be cleaned up later.

-State senators are touring with a few catchy songs under their belt. Legislative bills include ridding us of unfunded mandates and a doubling or better of the infamous STAR. Gioia Shebar of the Ulster County-based Tax Nightmare group rightly calls that opera "Franken-STAR" after the monster of a misguided program that it has become. Our state senator told a captive audience his chamber passed a bill to phase out property tax for primary homeowners over five years. The reformation hymn at last. When it came time to disclose where the nearly $10 billion of replacement funding would be coming from, he developed a sudden case of laryngitis.

-If they want better reviews, then they need to play the people's kind of music. Any "cap" should be on the amount of money the taxpayer has to contribute. A better opening act might be to adopt circuit-breaker legislation that would limit what an individual would be required to pay, such as the Galef/Little bill (A1575/S1053). It calls for homeowners to be reimbursed for school taxes that exceed a certain percentage of their income. Then they will be playing our song - a direct relationship between the income we earn and the taxes we pay. Price tag - around $3 billion with some important modifications. The next step to an income-based system would be a much smaller leap.

Spitzer hasn't yet released what his caps look like. Let's hope he proposes something that won't injure one of the most important "services" a high-paying employer looks for - good schools. The only cap our member groups are advocating for are the ones that go with a matching gown.

Robert McKeon is an executive committee member of the New York State Coalition for Property Tax Reform and is the director of The Tax Reform Effort of Northern Dutchess (TREND). Web site:

Monday, February 11, 2008

Still Wondering Why America's Largest Township Has The Most Illegal Accessory Apartments?

Duhhhhhh! Its Because The Foxes Are Still Watching The Hen Houses, And Bringing The Chickens Home To Roost In The Basement

When is Code enforcement not Code enforcement?

When the folks who are supposed to be enforcing the Code are themselves violating it.

Such is the case in the Town of Hempstead, where a 22-year veteran of Code enforcement has been found in violation of the law governing accessory apartments in single family homes.

Another instance -- from top to bottom in Hempstead Town -- where the law is meant to be broken, rather than observed, and its "do as I say, not as I do."

The Code enforcer (and we use that term lightly here, as "enforcement" is a non-starter in the Town of Hempstead) got a slap on the wrist, this in the form of a 60-day suspension (reduced to 30 days), and a $500 fine.

Why not demand his resignation? After all, he not only broke the law, he failed to perform the very job function for which he was supposedly employed.

Nah. That might put a cog in the patronage wheel, and literally upset the apple cart of a local government -- where a Code enforcement officer who ISN'T doing his job gets (not earns) $92,326 a year -- completely out of control. Well, out of the public's control, anyway.
- - -
Hempstead Town code enforcer fined $500

A Hempstead Town code enforcement officer who was suspended for 60 days last year for illegally maintaining a two-family rental in Franklin Square was fined $500 in district court.

Stephen Centore, a 22-year town employee, pleaded guilty to illegal use of a single-family home on Tuesday. He has also brought the house into compliance with town code by removing a tenant who was there illegally and taking out a second kitchen, officials said.

The other summonses that had been issued to Centore - performing construction and plumbing without a permit and failure to live at the premises - were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

The town suspended Centore for 60 days in May, but an arbitrator reduced the penalty to 30 days after a hearing. As part of his job duties, Centore inspects public places and could cite a property owner for illegal use, town officials said.

Centore, who earns $92,236, could not be reached for comment. In 1991, the town zoning board granted the former owners of the house at 206 Courthouse Rd. approval to operate a two-family home - provided the owner live there and renew the variance every five years.

Town officials learned during an inspection that Centore, 50, never renewed the zoning permits, and property records showed his home address listed on nearby Doughty Road in Franklin Square.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Father, Son, And Holy Crap!

The Great Special District Rip-Off Goes On

For anyone -- if there is still anyone -- who still believes that those fiefdoms passed off as "local government" and touted as the last bastions of "local control" aren't robbing taxpayers blind, here's another opportunity to take a good look in your wallets and scrutinize the bottom line of those tax bills.

Read on --

From Newsday:

Great Neck North water district boosts son's salary

The Water Authority of Great Neck North has voted to give the son of the superintendent a $38,000 raise -- to $140,000 -- without a promotion, records show.

At the same meeting in December, the authority's board voted to raise water usage rates by up to 50 percent. Already the highest of any public water utility on Long Island, the authority's new rate is nearly twice the national average cost of water, according to a recent analysis by the Long Island Water Conference, a professional association.

The board awarded the $38,300-a-year raise to Assistant Superintendent Greg Graziano at its monthly meeting on Dec. 10.

Robert Graziano, his father and the superintendent, made $192,427 last year, more than any other district or authority superintendent on Long Island, according to payroll records.

Greg Graziano did not return several phone calls, and Robert declined to comment. Previously, Robert Graziano said he thought he was underpaid.

"At these rates, they should be delivering the water by hand," said Great Neck civic activist Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar.

But longtime authority attorney Stephen Limmer defended Greg Graziano's 40 percent salary hike, saying he will take on additional duties as provisional superintendent when his father retires later this year.

"Our hope was always to do this; we trained him," Limmer said.

Minutes show that customers of the authority, which comprises 71/2 square miles, will now pay $5.26 per 1,000 gallons, according to the authority. By comparison, the Suffolk County Water Authority, which covers 911 square miles, charges $1.47 per 1,000 gallons, according to records.

In Great Neck, different customers will see different percentage increases -- ranging from roughly 20 percent to more than 50 percent -- because the authority is switching from a staggered rate structure to a flat rate.

"Everybody on the Great Neck peninsula is not rich," said Richard Deem, former mayor of Great Neck and former authority board member. "To do this now when they're paying outrageous heating prices is absolutely insane. It's mind-boggling."

But longtime board member Shirley Siegal defended the rates, noting the increasing costs of electricity and water treatment. "It costs a fortune to produce the best-quality water -- our drinking water, we insist it has to be even stricter than the state Department of Health standards."

Unlike most special water districts that get revenue from customer taxes and usage rates, water authorities raise funds just from usage rates. Records show that 27 percent of the authority's current revenue goes to paying back the $18 million used to create the authority in 1989 and make initial improvements.

Newsday highlighted the salaries of Graziano and his son in mid-December in an investigation of salaries, perks and benefits given to officials of special districts and authorities.

For years, the districts and authorities, most of them in Nassau, have received little scrutiny because they are so small. But their total annual budgets have climbed to nearly $500 million, according to county and district records.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer is expected to be at Hofstra University today, with Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weiztman, to discuss his proposals for lowering the costs of special districts.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
- - -
And in the interest of fairness, if not equal time to the totally inane, here's the word from a blogger (reporter?) who would have you buy into (literally) the goodness and virtues of the special taxing districts. Believe it or not!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tell Governor Spitzer To Say NO To Broadwater

An Alert From Our Friends At Citizens Campaign For The Environment

Last Chance to tell Governor Spitzer to SAY NO TO BROADWATER!!

Your Phone Call is Urgently Needed- Shell Oil is spending a large sum of money on radio and TV ads to influence the Governor – Please Call Him Now!!!!!

The Governor is still on the fence about Broadwater, and his decision is due any day now. Don’t let Big Oil have more influence than the public- Call Spitzer TODAY!

We’re in the final stretch of a long and difficult campaign. We have to keep the momentum moving. The Federal Government released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on Broadwater. As expected, FERC gave Broadwater the green light to move forward. Now, the future of Long Island Sound lies solely in the hands of Governor Spitzer. Governor Spitzer has until February 12 to make his decision on Broadwater and decide whether or not he supports Big Oil’s interests or the Public’s interests. His decision can come any day now, so tell him today to listen to the public and stop Broadwater!

Broadwater Energy, a joint venture between Shell Oil and TransCanada, is proposing to build an industrial Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) barge in the open waters of Long Island Sound, approximately 9 miles from Rocky Point.

How you can help!

Call Governor Spitzer today at (518) 474-8390 or (518) 474-7516. Please, if possible, call during regular business hours to speak directly with a representative. Tell him:

-Your name, address, and town/city;
-To “Be your Valentine and say No to Broadwater” or “Have a heart, protect Long Island Sound; Say No to Broadwater";
-You are counting on him to stand up for the public’s interests - not Big Energy’s interests!
-Why Long Island Sound is important to you, your family, and your community;
-Why you believe the Sound is an extraordinary water body and should be protected for the public and not handed over to Shell Oil.

Please send a quick email to or to with any response you receive from the Governor’s office. It helps us track progress on the issue.

The only way we can win on this issue is if Governor Spitzer hears from the public loud and clear.
- - -
The Community Alliance opposes Broadwater and encourages all readers of this blog to take up the cause to save Long Island Sound.

Broadwater poses a major risk to the environment, presents a potential terrorist target too close to home, and is a clear threat to Long Island's pristine and picturesque coast. [And if you think having a liquified natural gas depot -- a floating time bomb -- in the middle of Long Island Sound will save you money on your utility bill, you're dead in the water. The only folks making money off of Broadwater will be the energy moguls!]

Please contact Governor Spitzer TODAY and urge him to sink Broadwater.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Taking On The Special Taxing Districts ~ At Last

If You Pay Something, Say Something!

A Call To Action From The Nassau County Comptroller

Dear Friends,

You have been receiving my messages on important County matters for quite some time now and I have been gratified at the many positive responses I have received. Now we need your help.

Governor Eliot Spitzer’s proposed changes to special taxing districts have sparked a lively debate. I have been advocating for the reform of these outdated, archaic and all too often wasteful forms of government for over four years. The Governor has included special district reforms in his 2008-2009 New York State budget that are based on recommendations from this office and the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, on which I serve.

The state budget is now in the hands of your state representatives in Albany. Tell them what you think. Write to your State Assembly member and State Senator, and write your newspapers, urging support for the Governor’s proposals to end wasteful spending by commissioner-run special districts. Together we can make government more open and save Nassau County taxpayers millions of dollars.

I would like to offer some more details on the proposals and to explain how they might affect you.

-The Governor has proposed to end all pay and benefits for special district commissioners. Commissioners will serve as volunteers, just as, school board members, fire district commissioners, and most village mayors and trustees serve the public without pay or benefits.

-Did you know? Commissioners now get a flat $100 payment each time they claim to do district work. Audits done by my office have found that some special district commissioners claim over 250 payments a year! Many commissioners also get lifetime health coverage for themselves and their families and earn retirement credits. In one water district there were seven employees related to each other. In one garbage district the employees received health coverage that cost over half a million dollars more than what the average government employees receives! Why? The policy was sold to the district by an insurance broker who earned a commission on the fee. Free cars, sanitation “conventions” in Disney World and golf outings that are billed as “meetings” are just some of the outrageous “extras” these commissioners receive. Why should taxpayers pay for these perks?

-The Governor’s second proposal is to have the Towns takeover garbage operations.

-What will this mean to you? Depending on where you live, garbage is picked up by the towns or by a special district run by commissioners. The Town-run sanitation services are less expensive than sanitation services run by commissioners for the same level of service. If the towns took over operations, without cutting services, millions could be saved in unnecessary insurance, professional fees, no-bid contracts and no-show employees. Towns also do a better job of taking a sharp pencil to proposed expenses because town operations are more transparent, more scrutinized and people are more likely to vote in town elections since they are held on Election Day.

So once again, I ask you to let your elected officials know how you feel. To find out who your state representatives are, just follow these links:

Please click on the link below for the New York Times article on this subject:

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. To share your thoughts and comments with me, please use the email address below.

Howard S. Weitzman
Nassau County Comptroller

The Times They Are A Changin'...

But Only If You Vote!

Primary Day In New York ~ Polls Open 6 A.M. to 9 P.M.
Your Vote Is Your Voice
Be Heard

Monday, February 04, 2008

Residents For Efficient Special Districts Reach Out To Commission

"Transparency, Accountability, Necessity"

January 30, 2008

New York State Commission of
Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness
Stan Lundine, Chairman

Dear Chairman Lundine,

The members of RESD, comprising civic leaders from across Long Island have committed significant time and effort on developing the enclosed recommendations. We trust you and the other commission members will give them careful consideration. RESD has been a leading grassroots organization on this issue and many of our members have personal experiences with special taxing districts on Long Island.


Laura K. Mallay
Executive Director
- - -
Residents for Efficient Special Districts
Recommendations to the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness

Improved efficiency in public services and lower taxes in New York lie primarily in three areas:



It is extremely cumbersome for taxpayers to determine how taxpayer dollars are being spent within the current special taxing district system. Special taxing districts do not easily provide basic information to interested taxpayers. Consequently, most citizens give up in frustration. Needed changes in the laws that govern the special taxing districts would make for a more informed and aware electorate.

1) Public question and answer periods should be mandated for every commissioner-run board meeting with no qualifications. Mandating oral or written notification to special taxing districts before a meeting occurs makes participation by concerned taxpayers frustrating.

2) Public websites with basic information should be required and include notice of all meetings, elections, current and prior year budgets, and minutes of previous meetings.

3) Notices for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) should be required in high circulation, countywide publications that are generally accepted as the daily source of information to residents. RFPs should be available as well on the website.

4) Newsletters and mailings from the district should be prohibited ninety (90) days prior to special taxing district elections except for limited circumstances.

5) All commissioners should be unpaid and limited to three (3) terms, with each term not to exceed three (3) years in duration.

6) Individuals should be limited to serving on only one board at any given time. These are to be volunteer positions and the potential for conflict of interest on both a personal and multi-boundary district level must be averted.


Turnout for special taxing district elections is generally only 1% - 3% of the registered voters. This lies in stark contrast to the notion of “local control” which exists more in theory than in practice. Additionally, the policies and procedures of the special taxing district elections are created and managed by the District Commissioners themselves, which creates an inherent conflict of interest. With no oversight of the integrity of the elections, the potential for voter fraud and disenfranchisement is great.

1) All elections by special taxing districts must be under the jurisdiction of the County Board of Elections. Additionally, tellers or workers at the polls must be independent of the special taxing district and not present a conflict of interest.

2) Elections for special taxing districts must be held on one day in the calendar year, either the general election day in November or, in the alternative, the school district Election Day in May that was established to provide taxpayer participation in educational budgets.

3) Standard and consistent election hours must be established, to allow for fairness to all, regardless of work schedule. Additionally, absentee ballots must be made available under the same rules and criteria used for general elections in the state of New York.

4) Provide residents the right to vote on the annual budget as is done in school district elections.

5) Residents should not be required to submit FOIL requests for basic information (e.g. the operating budget) from special taxing districts. Information provided by special taxing districts should be made available to residents within five (5) business days.

6) Fundraising accounts of local Fire Departments and the “Fire Fighter Exempts Organization” collect and retain millions of dollars that are unregulated and not audited. Oversight of these funds must be legislated at the State level.

7) There should be a cap on the amount of money held in reserve funds for the Special Taxing Districts. These districts levy taxes for years without ever informing the taxpayers what the money is being set aside for and then purchase without voter approval. While not financially prudent, having the Special Taxing Districts bond these large purchases would let the VOTERS decide. A cap like the one in place for the school district budgets would better protect the taxpayers.

Necessity of certain Special Taxing Districts

Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) has serious reservations about the value being delivered to taxpayers through special taxing districts. Special taxing districts, which were designed almost 100 years ago, have outlived their usefulness. The system has resulted in high taxes and overlapping and redundant provision of services. Elimination and consolidation of districts, associations and boards must be seriously evaluated at the state level to help lower taxes and deliver services more efficiently.

1) We support the transfer of local water and sewer authority to the County level. Environmental policies and standards should be administered at the County level.

2) Consolidation of special sanitation districts to the Town level would provide continuity of local community standards while preserving the jobs of sanitation workers in relative proximity to their homes.

3) Residents should have the option of voting to consolidate their fire district with another one without Town approval or, reorganize the fire districts at the County level.

4) Towns should take a much more active role in reviewing and approving the budgets of special taxing districts that fall within their jurisdiction.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Keep 'Em Flying At Cedar Creek

An Appeal To Maintain The Security Booth At Cedar Creek Park

The issue of park security is critical in all county parks and especially in those with major public works facilities such as Cedar Creek with its Sewerage treatment plant.

It is generally accepted that the plant could be a potential terrorist target. The following was received from a group of park users who are asking civic minded individuals and groups to join them at a legislative hearing on this issue, Monday, February 11th at 10:00 a.m. in the Legislative Chamber, 5th Floor, 1 West Street, Mineola. We strongly urge anyone who can to attend and lend your support.

Bruce Piel
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh, NY 11793
(516) 783-8378
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"As stated today, our model flying group is in the fight ... dedicated and focused. The Cedar Creek Flight Field has been a place for us all to spend time; hundreds of flyers from around Nassau and the surrounding New York area.

We are visited by families in the area and have contributed generously to our community in the form of free flight lessons at the field, visiting local schools, and air shows for the entertainment of all the Nassau area.

Aside from attempting to save our own flight field and the Tether Raceway, the loss of the "MANNED SECURITY BOOTH" currently in place would represent a sure perception of a loss of security for the entire Seaford-Wantagh area.

An open park in the rear of the waste management plant would surely end up a haven for toxic and waste dumping, vandalism, drug use and the potential for other random acts that would otherwise be discouraged.

We would greatly appreciate anything you could do to help us "man" our legislative meeting this February 11 at 10:AM at 1 West Street, 5th Floor, Mineola, NY. It could make all the difference.

Any interested parties or inquiries should be E-Mailed to a gentleman by the name of Russ Rhine at:

Harvey Schwartz
Cedar Creek Aerodrome