Tag Archive | "Fred Thiele"

Thiele et al Sit Down With Stony Brook Over College’s Future

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By Bryan Boyhan

While local officials would like to see the Southampton campus of Stony Brook University become an independent college of the state university system, the Stony Brook University administration appears unwilling to give up the school they acquired four years ago. A meeting set for  Thursday between the two parties may lead to a resolution.

At least, said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele yesterday, he hopes they can find a way to keep the campus operating as a full time, four-year residential school.

Three weeks ago, Stony Brook University’s president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley announced he would be closing most of the campus, including the dormitories and recently renovated library, and move all programs except marine sciences classes and the masters writing program, to the main campus. The move, he said, was an effort to close a budget gap that has resulted from a dramatic cut of $54 million in state aid. The closure would result in an estimated savings of about $7 million.

Local officials, including Thiele, State Senator Ken Lavalle and Congressman Tim Bishop — all who helped shepherd the deal for the state to acquire the campus from Long Island University in 2006 — argue the plan disrupts the college careers of the nearly 400 students currently on campus, and the roughly 400 more who were expected there this fall. In addition, it removes from the East End the only local four-year school, and one with a much heralded progressive program in the sustainable sciences.

Two weeks ago Thiele and Lavalle were on campus with officials from the Town of Southampton to announce the town would be interested in buying the development rights for the 82 acres on campus, the revenues of which, they said, would more than satisfy the financial needs of the university. In addition, the officials proposed the school become independent of Stony Brook and requested a meeting with university officials.

Dr. Stanley agreed, and in a letter last week proposed today’s meeting, although he gave no indication they were willing to surrender the campus.

In the letter, Dr. Stanley and State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher wrote: “We too are concerned about the future of Southampton and remain committed to its students. Most importantly, despite repeated claims to the contrary, the Southampton campus will remain open. To this end, we will maintain the Southampton location as a vital and vibrant site for teaching and research, most notably at the pioneering Marine Station, home of Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and through the renowned Southampton Writers Workshop. Currently, plans are in the works for several other SUNY campuses to make productive and expanded use of Southampton’s facilities.”

This week Thiele questioned the possibility of other state schools using the local campus.

“That’s been part of the party line for a while,” said Thiele. “But when you look at it, nothing has materialized.”

The letter also observes it costs about $30,000 annually to educate one student at the college.

“With SUNY’s tuition set at $4,970, and average State support for all campuses (excluding community colleges) of $5,500 per student, we are left with an unfunded balance of $19,530 per student,” the administrators write.

They further argue that Long Island University had a similar problem and were unsuccessful in balancing their budget.

Thiele dismissed the comparison between a private and public school, and said the underlying issue is political.

“Southampton is being used by SUNY,” the assemblyman asserted. “It’s all about their attempt to get control of their campuses’ tuitions.”

Thiele said the state university system has made a proposal for determining their own tuition rates for all the campuses, and in the last budget cycle did not even ask for more money, instead asking the state to pass legislation giving SUNY autonomy.

“That failed, and now they’re just going to hold their breath,” said Thiele.

Asked about his hope for today’s meeting’s outcome, Thiele said: “We want to talk about what we’ve proposed; but I’m willing to discuss any proposal that will keep the campus open as a full time, four-year school.”

Litigation Likely Over Southampton Campus

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By Bryan Boyhan

Last year, Katie Osiecki took the money her parents had saved for her college education and bought a house in Southampton. Instead of spending money on a private school education, she decided she wanted to go to the Southampton Campus of Stony Brook University, the state school that last week announced it was about to shut down almost all of the local campus to help meet a $55 million shortfall, which university officials say is largely due to state funding cuts.

Osiecki, a 2009 Pierson High School graduate, in a letter to the university’s president this week, said “Not only have I spent my savings on a house because I thought I would be spending the next three years going to school across the street, I also fell in love with a school that has acted like a second home for me for almost two semesters.”

The campus, she raved, had small class sizes, had teachers that were easily accessible and was where she felt her contributions were meaningful. She now feels betrayed.

“Within one night and an hour-and-a-half talk I felt like my dreams were crushed,” said Osiecki, a freshman in the school’s pioneering environmental design policy and planning program. “My life was going in a direction that couldn’t have been better for me and with one decision that was completely out of my control it was changed.”

Osiecki’s sentiments are similar to those of many on campus this week — including staff and faculty — who were stunned to learn of the sudden decision to shut all but a couple of buildings on campus by the end of this summer. The only programs that will be left are classes in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, plus the summer’s Southampton Writers Workshop. The recently renovated dorms, library and fine arts center will all be closed.

In response to the closing, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a graduate of the campus when it was owned by Long Island University, and State Senator Ken LaValle have asked state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to investigate fraud on the part of Stony Brook University, alleging that university officials deceived incoming students.

Thiele and LaValle were instrumental in having the state purchase the campus when LIU was preparing to sell it to a real estate developer four years ago and have been heralded as heroes for saving it as an educational facility.

Both men say their offices have been flooded with complaints from parents and students regarding what they are calling “deceptive acts and practices” on the part of the university.

In particular, they say complaints have charged that parents and students were told prior to enrollment the campus and its programs were in no danger of being closed or eliminated because of the state’s fiscal problems.

“Without exception, Stony Brook made representations to these students and parents that SBS would not be closed or its unique environmental sustainability program eliminated,” they said in letters to DiNapoli and Cuomo. “In some cases, these representations were made just days before the closure announcement.”

For his part university president Stanley, who issued an op-ed piece to local media on Tuesday, said the school was forced to make difficult choices in face of a 20 percent cut in help from the state, and is working to make the best of a bad situation, including offering Southampton campus students the opportunity to transfer to the main campus in Stony Brook, including priority housing in dormitories. Failing that, the university will offer a refund to those students who choose to leave.

Ultimately though, it appears that Osiecki and the others are caught in a political battle between the state’s university system and the state legislature.

“Our hands were tied by the massive cuts in state funding and the restrictions we face in controlling our own finances,” said Dr. Stanley, who argued the state university system should be able to dictate its own tuition rates, rather than having them overseen by the state legislature. Stanley said other public universities in the nation, such as the University of Michigan and Penn State, set their own rates. But the New York State legislature will not allow this. When the state finally raised rates in 2009 after six years, contends Stanley, the state kept most of the money for itself to alleviate its own budget problems.

Thiele said the battle is not limited to investigations, but will also likely include a lawsuit on behalf of students, their families and alumni.

“I just finished interviewing a lawfirm for possible action,” said Thiele this week.

“We won’t go down without a fight,” concluded Osiecki in her letter.

Thiele Switches, Joins State’s Independence Party

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State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. announced on Friday that he will leave the Republican Party to become a member of the state’s Independence Party. In July, Thiele eyed a switch to the Democratic camp but has remained mum about the issue for the last several months. However, it would seem the state of affairs in Albany has finally pushed Thiele to change his political allegiances.

“Today, I am convinced State legislative leaders are too invested in the status quo and business as usual to bring genuine reform to Albany,” said Thiele in a statement released last Friday.

During a later interview, Thiele said the Republican Party had adopted a “go along to get along,” lackadaisical approach to politics in the State Assembly. He added that although several Republican assemblymen and women would be more than willing to object to certain pieces of legislation, they rarely proposed viable alternatives to a bill.

In the past, Thiele has received criticism from members of his party for voting in ways that differed with the common Republican political stance.

“Most recently, I voted for the marriage equality bill and some in the party were opposed to that position,” said Thiele, citing the bill circulated through the Assembly in May which sought to legalize civil unions between gay and lesbian couples. As a member of the Independence Party, Thiele believes he won’t be as beholden to party leaders or be expected to “toe the line” on certain issues.

Thiele has been a member of the Assembly since 1995. A ranking Republican assemblyman, Thiele has participated on several committees. Yet when Thiele first secured the position of Southampton Town Supervisor in 1991 he ran as a member of the independent Southampton Party, which he helped to form.

“In 1991, I was convinced that the only way to bring change and reform to Southampton Town was to run as an independent … and the Southampton Party did bring real change. Why enroll as a [member of the Independence Party] now? It is my belief that the State Independence Party represents the best chance to fight for the changes and reforms that I think average New Yorkers long to see from their state government,” said Thiele in the statement.

“This was the most frustrating year [of all my years] in Albany. The Senate shut down for five weeks,” added Thiele during an interview. “There is excessive partisanship. People are more concerned with power than those they represent. It didn’t seem to me that things were going to change by doing business as usual.”

In his released statement, Thiele asserted that the Republican Party was once in a position to effect change but has recently seen a drop in support.

“The number of Republican Assembly members has dwindled from 58 to 40 in little more than a decade. Every month, registered voters are abandoning the Republican Party in droves,” noted Thiele.

He attributes these decreases to the party’s apparent inability to protect the economic interests of their constituents, which he notes is ironic, as fiscal responsibility has always been a cornerstone of the Republican philosophy.

“The Republican Party in the Assembly no longer speaks to the pocketbook issues everyday people care about. Here’s just one example. This year … the Legislature passed an MTA bailout plan with a crippling new payroll,” stated Thiele in the release. “My decision today allows me to continue to be that independent voice to change an unacceptable status quo without fear of being called disloyal by party leaders.”

Mass Transit Study Proposes Dual Plan for North and South Forks

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After years of research and study, this week New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. presented the East End towns with a final study on the feasibility and improvement of a public transit system on the North and South forks of Long Island.

On Wednesday, September 23 the study was unveiled during a forum at Suffolk Community College in Riverhead. Conducted by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, a Massachusetts-based transportation research firm, the study was prepared on behalf of the Towns of East Hampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold and funded by a New York Department of State Shared Municipal Services Incentive Grant for the “Creation of a Coordinated Rail and Bus Network on Eastern Long Island.”

Looking at existing transportation on the East End and whether a combination of a light rail and bus system is feasible or cost effective, the Volpe Center presented its initial recommendations – to overhaul the East End railway system and create a shuttle train service with bus support to transport passengers into village centers.

While there was support for the proposal at the April forum, it was suggested that one unified transit system would not be appropriate for both the North and South Forks as the communities differ in population density, travel patterns and local priorities. While towns on the South Fork generally preferred a coordinated rail-bus network, similar to an expanded version of the South Fork Commuter Connection used to alleviate traffic concerns two years ago during the renovation of County Road 39 in Southampton, towns on the North Fork expressed a preference for the Flexible Transit Network. That plan is largely focused on increasing bus services. 

In response, the Volpe Center’s new proposal is called a “Dual Concept” approach.

On the South Fork, the study recommends replacing the existing Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Suffolk County Transit bus service with a coordinated rail-bus network with small shuttle trains used on a line from Montauk to Speonk with four now-defunct stations – Quogue, Southampton College, Watermill and Wainscott – re-opened.

According to the study, the trains would run every 30 minutes during peak periods of the day and every 60 minutes at other times, with 12 bus routes on coordinated timetables to bring passengers into community centers and areas not connected to the existing rail line. Additionally, the Center recommends seven smaller “demand-response” vehicles, which could serve a range of services including door-to-door service by reservation to defined pick-up routes.

Service on the South Fork would run 18-hours a day in-season and 14-hours a day off-season.

The North Fork’s existing transit routes and services would largely remain the same, according to the study, although there “would be significant improvements to the frequency of service and expanded hours of operation, including Sunday/holiday service on all routes.” Bus service would be expanded to run as often as every 15 minutes during peak periods and as late as 12:30 a.m. during the summer. In addition to routes traversing the whole of the North Fork, from Greenport west, one new route would be added connecting Greenport to Riverhead and to the Tanger Outlet Center. An express bus service would also run roughly every two hours from Riverhead, or further east, to the Ronkonkoma train station and Islip-MacArthur airport.

Minimal improvements to the North Fork rail system are also outlined in the study as are links between the North and South Fork systems.

The Volpe Center report states this kind of transit system is feasible on the East End provided a significant investment is made in upgrading and adding to the current transit system. Upfront capital costs are estimated between $117 million and $148 million with an estimated $44 million per year needed to run the system as proposed.

While the study does discuss the creation of a new East End transit authority, on Tuesday Thiele said his preference would be to get the LIRR and the MTA on board to provide this service for both forks.

“That would be the easiest and the fastest way to get this done,” he said. “We certainly have paid our fair share towards transportation.”

The alternative is the creation of a transit authority similar to one created on Cape Cod, which separated itself from a larger Boston-based transit authority in order to create transportation services better tailored for its needs.

“There was really a lot of initial research into what was done in Cape Cod because we have a lot of similarities as far as demographics, population trends and even geography,” said Thiele.

The next step, said Thiele, is determining whether the LIRR and the Suffolk County Transit authority are interested in helping the East End implement this final plan.

“I think certainly the LIRR interest in providing improved service to the region has grown,” said Thiele. “Five years ago, I couldn’t get them to return a telephone call on this, but the new president, Helena Williams was very cooperative during the County Road 39 re-constriction and has been following the Volpe Study.”

Also crucial to the creation of the transit system is federal funding.

“I think both federal and state funding is critical for this to move forward,” said Thiele. “If you look at everything, in New York, whenever they buy a new subway car it is heavily subsidized.”

Noting mass transit systems never support themselves fully, Thiele said there are a number of funding options for the plan.

“This was never envisioned as something the towns and villages would subsidize,” said Thiele. “They may provide support in terms of parking and the existing bus services through human services departments, but we are not looking to put the burden on the towns.”

Thiele Takes Shot At State Government

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State Assemblyman Fred Thiele remained cagey on Monday night about his presumed leap from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, but the Sag Harbor native did not mince words about the state of the state’s government.

“I’ve never had a more frustrating or less satisfying year,” Thiele told the members of the Noyac Civic Council, where he was guest speaker at the organization’s monthly meeting.

Thiele was at the meeting to fill in his constituents on business in Albany, and quickly qualified his remarks saying he was not a member of the senate, which had thrown government into chaos for more than a month.

“The power in state government is far too concentrated,” said Thiele. “This year was so egregious that for five weeks nothing got done. You had two senators basically leveraging for power.”

“You’ve described a terrible year and it looks like only two or three people are running the state government,” observed NCC member Jim Marquardt. “It seems like Albany is dysfunctional, and it’s a bit embarrassing. What can we do to make it better?”

“You finally say this is dysfunctional,” Thiele told Marquardt. “My hope is that the public demands a greater spreading of power.”

Thiele said there was some good news from the capitol this year, including a bill that would toughen laws governing the price of gasoline to consumers. The assemblyman noted that the East End, which had a history of being gouged by prices at the pump, was seeing prices more consistent with the West End of Long Island.

Also, Thiele said the state passed a law enabling the consolidation of special districts — like sewer districts — making it easier for residents to force a vote trough initiative and referendum.

The law, he said, does not include school districts, “although it should,” he opined.

NCC member Carmine Martino, who was an administrator in the New York City school system, said it would not be unusual to have 30,000 to 40,000 students per superintendent.

“In the city, 10,000 students was drop in the bucket,” said Martino. “Why doesn’t the state education department do something about this?”

Thiele agreed, and noted in some states there are county-wide school districts, although he conceded that would not work in Suffolk where there are about 1.5 million people.

“There are over 20 school districts in my assembly district,” said Thiele, “and nobody wants to give up their local district. Schools are the center of life in these communities.”

He added, however, “there is something to be said about centralizing administration.”

As an example, he said East Hampton has several feeder districts, each with its own administration. This overall expense could be reduced, if the districts centralized. There are financial hurdles however, and he said Amagansett, which has a tremendous amount of assessment and few kids, would likely balk at consolidation since their tax rates would likely increase, as opposed to Springs, whose property assessment is not that great, but has a lot of school-aged children.

“The state hasn’t been providing incentives,” said Thiele. “We need to get districts to do initial feasibility studies.”

“If you leave it to the districts to do it themselves, they have too much of a vested interest in maintaining the status quo,” he said. “You need government to allow people to get it on the ballot through initiative and referendum.”

Thiele went so far as to suggest the state consider a constitutional convention to rethink its governing document.

“The last time it was rewritten in any meaningful way was in 1938,” he said. “We need to change the way things are.”

NCC member Elena Loreto raised concerns about Noyac Road, and how it is becoming increasingly dangerous with high traffic and trucks. She noted a jogger was injured last week after being clipped by a small garbage truck, and needed to be airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.

“Has there been any movement in getting traffic calming on Noyac Road,” asked Loreto. “Is there any federal stimulus money available?”

“There’s got to be some consensus locally for a particular project,” Thiele told Loreto. “Money goes where there is a popular project.”

He said the job really falls to the town to have a project planned and “shovel ready.”

“The feds are going to ask, ‘do you have something that’s ready to go?’”

Thiele added that local government has the ability to designate truck routes and set weight limits.

NCC president Chuck Neuman added hos organization is planning a meeting wit the North Sea Citizens Advisory Committee to discuss Southampton Town taking over Noyac and North Sea roads from the county, which the town is poised to do.

Finally, Thiele was asked by Loreto about his interest in the Democratic Party.

“How do you see yourself fitting in with Rangel, Pelossi and that group,” asked Loreto.

“I don’t,” said Thiele. “I see myself as an independent and work with people on both sides of the aisle. “There are people who are highly partisan on both sides; but most people just want to know how you’re going to represent them.”

Asked if he had decided to make the jump, Thiele said: “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people in both parties, and I’m going to continue to do that for the next week or so.”

Immigration Forum: Impact on the Economy

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East End Digest: May 29 through June 4

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Gospel Benefit

On Saturday, June 6 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. the Maidstone Club in East Hampton will host a gospel benefit for the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center. Making its first appearance on the East End, “Songs of Solomon,” the award-winning inspirational choral youth ensemble based in Harlem, will perform at the benefit. The world-renowned group, created and led by Chantel Renee Wright, herself an award-winning choral conductor from Chicago, has performed all over the United States and in South Africa. It was at the Gospel Music Workshop of America three years ago that Bonnie Cannon, Executive Director of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, first heard them.

“They blew me away,” she says. “I knew right then that someday I’d get them out here.”

The high energy group, whose repertoire ranges from gospel and spirituals to jazz and classical music (they sang the Bach Magnificat in D at Carnegie Hall) has performed with such artists as Elton John, Gladys Knight, Earth Wind and Fire and Aretha Franklin.

Chairing the benefit is U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, who served on the board of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center for five years and remains a member of the advisory board.

“The programs at the Center play a vital role in the lives of so many of our lower income and immigrant families,” he says. “The Center serves what is often an invisible population and I’m grateful to the Maidstone Club for supporting our mission.”

The Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center was born out of tragedy in 1949 when a house fire killed the untended children of migrant farm workers. The shocked community rallied to found the first, community-based migrant child care center in the country. The Center continues to serve the less fortunate on the East End and offers after-school programs, a low cost summer camp, youth programs and adult development services such as ESL and GED. It also hosts Head Start for preschoolers from as far away as Montauk and Westhampton.

For reservations to hear “Songs of Solomon,” call 537-0616. There will also be cocktails, hors-d’oeuvres and a silent auction. Tickets are $150 per person. Seating is limited.

Dems Pick Candidates

On Friday evening, May 29, the Southampton Town Democratic Committee nominated its candidates for 2009 during their nomination convention at the Southampton Inn. Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, a Sag Harbor resident, was unanimously nominated for the position of Southampton Town Supervisor. The unity theme was echoed as incumbent councilwoman Sally Pope was nominated to run for a full term. Pope won a special election for her post last November. Bridget Fleming, a Noyac resident and attorney, was also selected to run for the open council seat. The Dems candidate for town highway superintendent is Alex Gregor of Hampton Bays who is the Southampton Town Independence leader.

Sitting Southampton Town Justices Deborah Kooperstein and Barbara Wilson were nominated to continue in their judicial roles. Selected as town trustee candidates by the Democrats were Southampton Town bayman and oyster farmer Bill Pell and Chris Garvey, a Hampton Bays resident and member of the Hampton Bays School Board.

Southampton Town

Board Honors EMS Staff

During last week’s Southampton Town Board meeting, held on Tuesday, May 26, supervisor Linda Kabot honored the town’s emergency medical service workers.

“These individuals truly embody the citizen service has been a cornerstone of our nation’s prosperity since the days of its founding,” said Kabot of the assembled group. “They are among the countless Americans who have stepped forward throughout history to assist others, and they have strengthened their communities in the process. EMS volunteers are a critical asset in every community. They provide care at the scene and on the way to the hospital, which dramatically improves survival and recovery rates.”

Kabot added that the town’s eight different EMS agencies responded to over 5,000 medical calls in 2008. The Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance responded to 620 calls last year, and Bridgehampton Volunteer Ambulance responded to 116.

From May 17 through May 23, the town celebrated EMS week, with the theme being “EMS: A Proud Partner of Your Community.” Initiated by President Richard Nixon in 1973, National Emergency Medical Services Week has been celebrated each year to recognize the accomplishments of those who dedicate themselves to saving others.

Hampton Bays

Video Game Tournament

Two Hampton Bays High School students have organized a Video Game Tournament to be held on Sunday, June 7. The event is open to anyone over the age of 13. In order to compete, participants under 18 must bring a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. The evening is a fundraiser for the Hampton Bays High School Class of 2010, though a portion of the proceeds from the evening will be donated to a local hospital or charity, yet to be determined. The evening consists of three games: Halo 3 as a team and doubles, Super Smash Brothers Melee and Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Each game costs $4. The event will be held at the Hampton Bays Middle School and begins at 10 a.m. For more information call (631) 525-1825.

Peconic Bay

MTA Tax Exemption

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr., has introduced legislation that would exempt all employers within the towns of East Hampton, Southampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold from the provisions of the 0.34 percent payroll tax recently enacted in the 12 county MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) region, as part of the financial bailout of the MTA. Despite the increased taxes and fees in the MTA region, fares on the Long Island Railroad were still increased an average of 10 percent.

The payroll tax will raise an additional $1.5 billion in annual revenue for the MTA. The MTA region has a population of more than 13.1 million people. The Peconic Bay Region has a population of approximately 140,000 or about 1.1 percent of the region.

“The MTA is a bloated bureaucracy that has a demonstrated record of fiscal shortcomings,” Thiele stated. “To throw more money at the MTA without true reform is irresponsible. To increase taxes and fees during a period of deep recession is even more foolhardy. As for the Peconic Bay Region, our year-round residents get minimal service, at best, with just a few trains a day. Further, we already pay an additional [a portion of our] sales tax and a mortgage tax to subsidize the MTA. We will also pay the new fare hikes for their declining service.”

“It has been estimated that as part of the Volpe Study on improved rail/bus service for the East End that we already pay $40 million to $60 million more than we receive in service from the MTA on an annual basis,” continued Thiele. “In short, we pay way too much for way too little. The East End simply does not have the same level of NYC commuters, yet we pay the same as everyone else. The only fair solution is to exempt the East End from the new tax.”

Thiele stated that in addition, he will continue to pursue the option of the establishment of a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority separate from the MTA to provide for the East End’s transportation needs.

NY State Assembly

Clean Act

A broad coalition spanning business, economic development, labor, and environmental groups called on the state last week to place a $5 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Bond Act on the November 2009 ballot. New York State Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Robert Sweeney convened a hearing in Albany to discuss the merits of the draft legislation that would place the measure on the ballot.

State officials say the measure will invest in long-term improvements to waste water infrastructure, energy efficiency, transit, public health protection and economic development projects; and is expected to provide opportunities for “green-collar” jobs.

Bond act supporters noted the long term benefits of investing in bonding funds. A recent study shows that a $1 billion investment in water and waste water infrastructure creates $3 billion in economic activity and supports up to 26,000 new jobs with an average salary of $50,000. Each $1 billion invested generates $82.4 million in state and local tax revenue.

“Even a conservative view of this bond act suggests that it would create over 100,000 new jobs for New Yorkers. These would be good-paying jobs in management, construction, and innovative industries,” said Jim Melius, administrator NYS Laborers Tri-Funds.

“The last Clean Water and Clean Air Bond Act, which passed in 1996, has been spent down yet the challenges of climate change continue to grow,” added Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “The Clean Water, Clean Air & Green Jobs Bond Act of 2009 will help meet those challenges, while putting New Yorkers back to work and creating permanent taxpayer savings.” ?

Finding Common Ground on Immigration Debate

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Dozens of East End citizens gathered in the lobby of Guild Hall on Friday evening, shaking out umbrellas while the rain drizzled outside. The crowd wasn’t there to see a play or meander through an art exhibition, but to attend a panel on how the immigrant population affects the local economy. Although the first immigration forum, hosted by U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, and Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst in March, was somewhat hostile, Friday’s event proved to be calmer, as participants were asked to write their questions on note cards. Many of those questions steered the discussion topics for the evening and people on both sides of the issue seemed to agree on certain points made by the panel.

“I think we can all agree that the immigration system is broken, though we might disagree on the solution,” noted David Dyssegaard Kallick, one of the panelists and a senior fellow at the state’s Fiscal Policy Institute. Other panelists added that economics is at the heart of the immigration argument.
“I think people are angry about how hard they have to work just to get by,” said Joe Gergela, of the Long Island Farm Bureau, responding to a question on why immigration is an emotional topic. His response elicited applause from both sides and dovetailed comments Bishop made earlier in the evening.
“This is an issue which inspires emotion and anger, but anger won’t solve the problem,” said Bishop. ”I want us to come together with the same set of facts.”
Kallick reported that 22 percent of the $1.02 trillion GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for New York State is generated by immigrant workers. In Suffolk County, immigrants account for 13 percent of the population. He noted that these immigrants work in a variety of fields and added that day laborers are a “tiny” portion of the immigrant workforce.
According to Gergela, these foreign-born workers are a vital part of agricultural production on Long Island. Suffolk County is the top agricultural producer for the state, he added. Gergela said enforcing immigration law wasn’t the job of farmers, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Noting the role of the federal government, Gergela added that ICE “raids” on local businesses would weaken the economy.
“During the harvest season, if you take away the workforce on these farms it could lead to bankruptcies,” said Gergela.
Maintaining a stable workforce is already a concern for local farmers, noted panelist and Dowling College fellow Judy Brink. Citing a 2008 survey on Long Island farms, Brink said around 68 percent of respondents reported that it was already difficult to maintain their workforce and losing even one worker would force them to sell their land.
For local farmers, attracting and sustaining a legal workforce is extremely difficult, due in part to complicated requirements and a dysfunctional visa system said immigration lawyer Melinda Rubin. Farmers must provide housing, which can be prohibitively expensive on the East End. For H2B visas, which are reserved for landscape, construction and hotel workers, a cap has been set at 66,000 visas nationwide, which Rubin said doesn’t satisfy the country’s labor needs. The visa process, she added, is laborious and long with some immigrants waiting years before receiving a visa.
“The government has made it easier to do the wrong thing instead of the right thing,” said Rubin of illegal immigration.
Although some complain illegal immigrants strain local resources, Rubin argued that illegal immigrants pay sales tax and contribute substantially to the Social Security system. Deporting the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants all at once, Rubin added, would cost around $206 billion, over a five year period, and would result in a $1.8 trillion loss in annual spending.
Kallick, however, disputed these figures and said it was futile to estimate these costs because mass deportation is a near impossible task.
“You don’t want a situation where people have to carry their identification papers on them at all times,” added Kallick. “We need to focus on how we can increase the legal workforce.”
Attendees of the forum, however, disagreed on whether the solution lies in a comprehensive reform of the immigration system or beefed up enforcement of the current immigration regulations.
Elaine Kahl of the Suffolk County Coalition for Legal Immigration believes stopping illegal immigration begins with enforcing the current laws, adding that local government should be diligent in upholding these laws.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Sally Pope said immigration law is a federal matter and the town won’t deputize its police force to carry out these laws.
Thiele promised there will be more forums before the summer season ends. He added that housing will likely be the subject of a follow-up forum.
Of Friday’s event, Throne-Holst said, “This is a process that is unfolding. There are a lot of facts out there and we want to bring them together to create a useful and healthy dialogue.”

Above: Fiscal Policy Institute Fellow David Dyssgaard Kallick says the immigration system is broken.

LIPA Bill is In, Plus Some

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Residents of the Town of Southampton will have to cover $11.2 million to underwrite a portion of a 9-mile underground Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) transmission line from Southampton to Bridgehampton. According to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. $1.2 million of the monies will cover modifications to a computerized billing system that will allow the power authority to add a charge to each resident’s monthly electric bill to cover the burial of the transmission line based on the amount of energy used in the home or business. 

Last year, LIPA proposed the transmission line, stretching from Southampton Village to a Bridgehampton substation just outside of Sag Harbor Village, with 45 percent of the line planned above ground, and the remaining 55 percent underground. LIPA cited an increase in energy consumption on the East End as the impetus for extending the line.

Residents and citizen advisory groups throughout Southampton protested the concept of above ground lines, citing the importance of scenic vistas to the region’s economy and overall aesthetic, with town officials quickly joining the fight to bury the lines.

Last spring, through mediation efforts by Thiele and state senator Ken LaValle, the utility and the town reached an agreement to bury the lines, with LIPA agreeing to pay the $20 million needed to complete the project as originally planned, and LIPA customers from Southampton Village to Sagaponack – defined as a visual benefit district (VBD) – covering the additional estimated $8 million to $10 million to bury the rest of the transmission line. Despite protests by some area businesses, the utility decided to charge residents and businesses a surcharge based on the amount of energy used, rather than a flat rate.

The project was completed last summer.

In December, Thiele and LaValle asked the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to complete an audit of LIPA that includes the Southampton to Bridgehampton Transmission Line Project after learning an additional $4 million may be needed over the original $8 million price tag to cover substantial overtime costs. The impetus for asking for the audit was to determine whether residents of the VBD should have to pay for the increase in costs.

On Tuesday, Thiele announced he was informed by LIPA that the final costs for construction, overtime and roadwork repairs would weigh in at $10 million for residents of the VBD. Additionally, an additional $1.2 million will be charged to upgrade the utility’s computerized billing system – a request made by the Town of Southampton.

According to LIPA, the modifications to the main frame billing system will allow the utility to render a separate fee on each customer’s monthly bill, enable the system to discern each customer’s monthly energy payment from their payment toward the underground transmission line project and install controls in the system to insure accuracy, auditing and reporting capabilities. According to a release issued by Thiele, it also includes separate reporting capabilities required by the town to reconcile the annual unpaid fees owed to the utility and reconcile with those who did not pay the separate fee for the project.

“While I am pleased that the construction for this project was completed within the $10 million commitment originally made to me by LIPA, the fact that the billing system is costing an additional $1.2 million is outrageous,” Thiele said on Tuesday. “LIPA blames the town. The town blames LIPA, but residents are stuck with the bill. It is incomprehensible to me that it would cost more than a million dollars just to collect this assessment. There has to be a less expensive method to collect this fee and still insure accuracy. Someone has some explaining to do.”

Calls to Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot and LIPA Vice President of Communications Ed Dumas were not returned as of press time. 

Railway Robbery

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If ever there was a time to protest taxes, today would be the day. The MTA payroll tax is misguided and unjust. It is infuriating how state legislators, including some elected to serve the best interests of Long Islanders, blatantly disregarded Suffolk County when they voted in favor of this tax. Apparently, the state believes our county is a piggy bank for New York City; and at the end of the day, there is little we can do about it because Long Island clearly has lost its political clout up in Albany. Why else would the state dare to charge us this egregious tax for a service that provides only three poorly timed trains a day. It would be one thing, if the MTA operated a bus network on the East End, but as it stands now we are paying for the subways of New York City and the commuter trains of the Metro North and LIRR trains far to our west, which run hourly in most cases by the way. Now, it seems the Hampton Jitney and people’s private vehicles are doing the job that the MTA should be doing, but isn’t. The maddening thing is, they are charging us as if they were doing the job.

Everyone will lose out in this tax. The businesses will be charged a tax they can ill afford in these economic conditions. They will then be forced to raise the prices of their goods, causing customers, who are likely not receiving raises because their employers now have to pay the tax on their wages, to buy less. And mark our words, the MTA will continue to hemorrhage money. It’s designed that way. The MTA is a broken system full of greed, graft and scandal. And even though taxpayers will spend billions to save this authority, the MTA hasn’t made any promises that they will restructure their business model — unlike GM which had to actually justify their public handout.

All of this is a recipe for disaster and as the governor has already signed this tax into law, there is little any of us can do besides contacting elected officials who will listen and band together in any way possible to protest this tax. Maybe we should put up a toll booth and start collecting a fare of say, a couple thousand dollars for every train that wants to cross the Shinnecock Canal.

It’s The Great Train Robbery, and we don’t mean the movie.