Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Cuomo’

Groups rally in Hauppauge Against Cuomo Budget

Friday, February 21st, 2014

From Newsday:

Labor and liberal groups rallied in Hauppauge Thursday afternoon, protesting portions of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget as a boon to the wealthy.

“We’re here because we’re angry about the governor’s proposal to benefit the rich and corporations and make the rest of us pay,” said Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. She said portions of Cuomo’s budget would exacerbate income inequality in New York State.

Two dozen members of the groups held signs at the brief news conference in front of the New York State Office Building in Hauppauge.

Cuomo’s office declined to comment Thursday.

The coalition is protesting three parts of Cuomo’s budget: reduction of the estate tax, a provision the coalition said would reduce taxes on banks and a proposal to freeze property taxes by encouraging consolidation of local government services.

“When you talk about consolidating services, it usually means someone is laid off because someone else is doing the job,” said Nick LaMorte, Long Island regional president of the CSEA, the region’s large public employee union.

Tyson said the tax cuts for the wealthy would be paid for by taxes on the middle class or cuts to services that are relied on by the wealthy.

Tyson said the wealthy don’t need help. “Do we need help?” she asked the crowd. A woman at a nearby bus stop shouted, “That’s why we’re taking the bus.”

NY Budget Agreement Reactions

Monday, March 28th, 2011

(WAMC)Late Sunday afternoon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced they had come to an agreement on a budget that will close the state’s 10 Billion dollar deficit. Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

The new budget promises to be an early budget – one Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver calls “strong and firmly grounded in reality.” New York’s budgets are notorious for being late: at one point for 20 consecutive years — and Governor Cuomo says having an on-time budget is a “big deal.” Cuomo promises the budgets “real policy initiatives” will make a striking difference… but the swift agreement caught some off guard and apprehensive. Senior Advocate Gloria Wilson of Manhattan-based “Community Voices Heard” is concerned about how the budget will impact older New Yorkers. While Cuomo maintains he is putting the state on a better financial trajectory, Lisa Tyson with the Long Island Progressive Coalition says the tentative agreement still tilts too far in favor of the wealthy. On the other side of the issue, Michael Moran, Director of Communications for the Business Council Of New York State, praises the budget as one that actually puts the state on the path to prosperity and growth.

90% of voters surveyed in a Siena Poll released Monday said an on-time budget was important – Pollster Steve Greenberg says Governor Cuomo is the big winner coming out of this budget: “Voters think an on-time budget is important by a nine-to-one margin.” James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute says women and children make up 77 percent of New York’s poor. A new Institute report finds deep cuts to human services in Governor’s Cuomo’s budget would drive some women and children deeper into poverty, reducing opportunities to move up, and destabilizing those already struggling to get by. Now that it’s been presented, Governor Cuomo’s $132.5 billion state budget deal awaits legislative approval.

Education supporters rally at Hofstra

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Close to 2,500 parents, teachers, students and supporters of public schools rallied at Hofstra University last night in a mass effort to save them from more than a billion dollars in proposed school spending cuts.

“No more cuts,” chanted the large crowd in protest of the $1.5 billion in education cuts Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed. “They say cut back. We say fight back.”

The rally, organized by the Long Island Progressive Coalition, Alliance for Quality Education, and the main New York State teachers union, NYSUT, echoed a similar demonstration in Sachem last month and another protest Wednesday involving Sachem educators. Like those events, Thursday night’s rally drew an angry standing room only crowd that had sharp words for Cuomo.

Public school advocates at Hofstra’s physical education building blasted not extending the so-called millionaire’s tax and said a 2-percent tax cap proposed by Cuomo could seriously hurt public education.

“We need the governor and legislature to fund education in New York State — not cut it,” said Cynthia Di Miceli, a West Hempstead Board of Education member and a parent of two.

Earlier Thursday, lawmakers reported that an extension of the millionaires tax was dead. The tax on high-earning New Yorkers is set to expire Dec. 31. It applies to individuals with $200,000 or more in annual taxable income and families with $300,000 or more.

Cuomo’s tax cap proposal would limit any property-tax hikes to a maximum of 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

Protesters said the spending cuts could lead to classes of up to 40 children and major cuts in programs and services.

“I cannot believe we live in a state where our millionaires come before our kids,” said Danielle Asher, lead organizer of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Several school buses from both counties sat parked outside the rally.

Teresa Rodriguez, who teaches fourth grade at F.J. O’Neill Elementary School in Central Islip, carried a sign that read “The Buck Stops Here Go Get It From Wall Street.”

She has taught in the district for more than two decades. Central Islip school officials have said some 80 teachers could be let go this year.

“The fact is we are losing too many teachers,” Rodriguez said.

North Babylon parent Deborah LoSardo, also a first-grade teacher in West Babylon, brought her 6-year-old twin daughters to the rally.

Twin Peyton LoSardo carried a sign telling Cuomo “I am not your scapegoat.”

“I want them to be representative of what will be lost,” her mother said.

1200 Parents and Students Rally Against Governor Cuomo’s $1.5 Billion in Education Cuts

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

(Albany, N.Y.) 1200 parents and students from across the state were joined by elected officials, clergy, teachers and community organizations in a rally against the proposal by Governor Cuomo to enact $1.5 billion in cuts to schools combined with $4.6 billion in tax cuts for wealthy New Yorkers. The rally, at the Albany Armory, was followed by a march to the Capitol and Legislative Office Building and lobby visits with legislators. Governor Cuomo’s cuts are the largest ever proposed in the history of New York State, the tax cuts for the state’s highest income earners are supported by the Senate Republican Majority as well as the Governor. Polls show that three-quarters of New Yorkers oppose the education cuts and two-thirds of New Yorkers oppose tax cuts for high income earners.  If the cuts are enacted, schools across the state will need to get rid of thousands of teachers, guidance counselors and librarians, cut arts, sports, music, college and career prep courses and basic educational services.  School closings are also proposed in districts across the state as a result of the proposed cuts.  The rally was sponsored by the Alliance for Quality Education, Citizen Action of New York, New York Communities for Change, New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Metro Justice of Rochester, Make the Road New York, and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

“Education is the most fundamental obligation government has to society’s children. If we have to move mountains to make sure our children have a quality education, then that’s what we’ll do. I’m asking ALL elected officials to step up and uphold what the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is all about. A budget crisis is never an excuse to turn our backs on our kids,” said New York Council Education Chairman Robert Jackson, Lead Plaintiff in Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

“The Governor’s budget is a travesty for New York’s students, particularly poor children and children of color who have been systematically disadvantaged for years.  It strips away the initial investments of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity promise and makes it significantly harder for them to receive their Constitutional right to an opportunity to learn,” said Dr. John Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
“Overwhelmingly New Yorkers disagree with Governor Cuomo’s record setting cuts to schools and with the plan by the Governor and the Senate Majority to give the wealthiest New Yorkers a tax cut,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. “Tax cuts for the rich, and massive school cuts for our kids? It’s nonsensical.”

 “A $24 million cut to Buffalo City schools will mean that our district may be forced to eliminate instruction to students in their native language, a program offered by bilingual aides to %12 of students.  Too many children that rely heavily on this and other programs to achieve their dreams of on-time graduation will be let down if Governor Cuomo’s tax break to the wealthy makes it in the final budget,” said Bryon McIntyre, of Citizen Action of New York, a parent from Buffalo.

 ”It’s irresponsible for the Governor to balance the budget on the backs of those of us who need funding the most, while allowing the wealthiest New Yorkers continue to ride the wave of prosperity. We demand that he make them pay their fair share so that teachers can keep their jobs and resources and programs can be provided for our children so they can be college and career ready!” said Ocynthia Williams, a New York City parent and member of the Coalition for Educational Justice.

 “The governor’s education budget proposals are well far off from what most of us believe and know to be right for our children.  I am optimistic however that this governor, which we elected, will listen, and he will get our message, which we must deliver loud and clear, I do believe we have a governor who understands the value of a sound education, and will provide the appropriate funding to make sure our children really do not get left behind,” said Assemblyman N. Nick Perry of Brooklyn, Deputy Majority Leader and Chairman of the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators.  “We must commit to our children from pre-K through college.  I stand together with the many concerned parents that traveled to our state capital today, and assure them that I will tenaciously advocate on their behalf and work towards passing an education budget that provides every single one of our children with not just a sound, basic education – but a first-class, quality education that will help them be successful in life and firmly plant their feet on the path to success.”

“Working families and communities of color like the ones I represent in the Bronx are being disproportionately impacted by proposed budget cuts to education funding and crucial state services. They are the ones that send their children to public schools and depend on English as a second language programs and special education programs that are facing drastic cuts. My neighbors understand the need to sacrifice during tough times, but we cannot ask them to bear the brunt of these budget cuts and then give a tax cut to the wealthiest New Yorkers. We have to work toward a budget that is about shared responsibility and shared sacrifice – minimizing cuts to education funding,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx.

“Last year’s massive education budget cuts meant a loss of lost teachers, educational staff and programs that students need to be college and career ready, such as after school, tutoring, math, reading and English as a second language. Now, Governor Cuomo’s budget proposes to take an additional $1.5 billion from school children. How much more can we take and still expect our students to excel?” said Marie Pierre, New York Communities for Change board member.

“I am delighted to join with other religious leaders in support of the AQE and CEJ fight to challenge the Governor and legislators that the state’s financial crises should not be solved by destroying the communities that are most in need and vulnerable.  We urge Albany legislators not to cut Education, Senior Services and Healthcare,” said Bishop Orlando Findlayter, Churches United to Save and Heal.

“It is unthinkable that we would continue to break the promise we made in 2007 to our schools and the children they teach to properly fund our low-and middle-income districts in order to give the multi-millionaires and billionaires of our state a tax break. That new yacht can wait — kindergarten only happens once. Most New Yorkers are clear on what’s more important,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of Ithaca.

“When politicians demagogue about public servants, their pensions, collective bargaining or other hard earned benefits, it is our democracy that is being attacked. This must stop. Tax the rich!” said Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan.

“Allowing the rich to benefit at the expense of school children will mean that so many of our children will face heart break while the rich welcome a $1 billion tax break and continue to become wealthy.  The state budget should be balanced in a way that allows everyone to pay their fair share and the only way to do this is to extend the millionaire’s tax,” said Javier Valdés, Deputy Director Make the Road the Road New York.

“With a $1.5 billion cut in aid to schools, now is not the time for a tax cut for the state’s wealthiest,” said Senator Jose Peralta of Queens.  “This is not about creating a new tax or raising taxes.  This is about shared sacrifice.  Balancing the budget will require many difficult choices.  Extending the surcharge will not be one of them.”

“We need to make sure that people in every community on Long Island realize how damaging these cuts will be to their children. Every district is looking at cuts. In some districts the students will be losing an opportunity for a second language. Others it will mean no pre-k program at all. What will happen to my granddaughter when there is no program offered for her?” said Amparo Sadler, Central Islip grandmother and Long Island Progressive Coalition member.

“The Committee to Save NY has it backwards. The best investment we can make is in the people of NY, especially our children. Give our kids the education they need and our communities, and all of NY, will flourish. Committee to Save NY?   Real Estate moguls and Wall St. Executives?   I am not impressed. I would be more impressed if they were saying, ‘Yes. These are tough times and we will help. We believe in the people of NY.’ When times are tough, everyone has to pull together. That includes the wealthiest among us. What makes this state great is the belief in the value of every New Yorker, and the potential for each person to do great things, a good education is key to that,” said Cathy Fahey, 7th Ward Councilmember, Albany.

Hundreds of LI teachers rally against proposed school aid cuts

Friday, February 18th, 2011

(02/18/11) FARMINGVILLE – Hundreds of Long Island teachers, parents and students rallied last night at Sachem East High School against the governor’s proposed school aid cuts.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) has proposed slashing school aid by $1.5 billion.

Long Island schools would see $200 million less in state aid under Cuomo’s budget. Multiple schools districts have already warned teachers of drastic layoffs and program cuts.

“Our schools shouldn’t have to balance the state budget on their backs,” says Danielle Asher, of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) says he’ll fight to make the cuts as painless as possible, but with a $10 billion state deficit, he warns that significant cuts in education are inevitable.

Cuomo responds to relentless Paladino

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

NEW YORK (WABC) — It is the campaign Andrew Cuomo didn’t plan for as Carl Paladino just keeps attacking.

This week Paladino wrote Cuomo, the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo: “For the first time in your life be a man. Don’t hide behind daddy’s coattails even though he pulled strings to advance your career every step of your way. Come out and debate like a man.”

A week before, a flier questioned whether Cuomo can clean up Albany.

Cuomo finally responded today.”I’m not going to run a campaign that engages in gutter politics. I’m not going to do that,” Cuomo said.

Paladino claimed he has Cuomo on the ropes, that he’s dazed the democratic frontrunner with a barrage of insults.

“From everything we’re seeing, he’s confused. He didn’t expect a real contender and he has one now. And he has a problem He sent his bird dogs out all week. We sent them all back bloodied up,” Paladino said.

Surprisingly, Cuomo did not promise a face-to-face debate would ever take place. That leaves Paladino open to keep up his unusual campaign, while Cuomo refuses to hit back hard.

“But in terms of getting involved in a name-calling situation, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to further degrade the political process of New York,” he said.

While Cuomo tried to stay above the fray, one group of liberal democrats in Suffolk County blasted the Republican nominee.

“I don’t want to see New York state devolve into the know-nothing, no-thinking, stone-throwing, inflammatory rhetoric that Mr. Paladino will bring,” Vivian Viloria-Fisher of the Long Island Progressive Coalition said.

One of the few politicians to say almost nothing about Paladino is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He’s campaigned against tea party candidates in other parts of the country, but he avoids he topic of Paladino.

“I’ve never met Carl Paladino, so I just can’t tell you,”: he said. “You never know from the reports, whether they’re accurate or not.”

Cuomo, the state’s attorney general, had a 2:1 lead in the polls and a $20 million fundraising advantage in the latest state filings before last week’s GOP primary.

Working Families Party Cleared

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

But has the cloud of suspicion passed now that investigation dropped?

By Spencer Rumsey on Aug 24th, 2010

 Now that the Working Families Party no longer has to worry about being indicted, it can concentrate on a more serious problem: its survival.

 The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was probing the third party’s 2009 campaign in the city, looking at whether its for-profit wing, Data & Field Services, Inc., had helped its own candidates with illegal funding. At the state Democratic Convention back in May, some Democratic Party insiders were almost gleeful as they told the Press that the left-leaning WFP would be charged “any day.”

They were mistaken. Last week, the WFP learned the investigation has been dropped, and it was finally in the clear.

“This lets us refocus our energies a bit,” says Dan Levitan, a WFP spokesman.

But the WFP still doesn’t have what it was hoping for: Andrew Cuomo on top of its ticket. Instead, Legal Aid lawyer Kenneth Schaeffer has the task of drawing the 50,000 votes necessary to retain the third party’s line. So, the WFP may have just dodged a bullet, but if it can’t stay on the ballot after November, it won’t matter.

“We’re very comfortable with the candidate we’ve got,” says Levitan, “and if a better one comes along, we’ll be happy with that, too. But we’re very confident we’ll get the votes we need to keep fighting.” He did not think the U.S. Attorney’s investigation had been politically motivated.

Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a local affiliate of the Working Families Party, says that Cuomo “should be proud to take our line. It’s an excellent party. It’s about the middle class and the lower-income person in our state.”

But Cuomo has been running to the right as he positions himself for the fall with a fiscally conservative platform. Although he did get the AFL-CIO’s endorsement at its convention earlier this month, which had been in doubt, he did not get the blessings of the New York State United Teachers.

As NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi, who used to teach fourth-graders in Central Islip, explained recently to the Albany Times-Union, “When we look at his positions now − especially on issues such as tax caps, constitutional convention and the size of the public work force − we have serious issues.”

 They aren’t the only ones.

Long Island’s Special Taxing Districts

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

How outraged citizens are dumping the status quo

By Spencer Rumsey on Aug 19th, 2010

Two long Island women. One from Suffolk, the other from Nassau. One a Republican, the other a Democrat. Rosalie Hanson of Gordon Heights and Laura Mallay of South Hempstead didn’t know each other when they first found the cause that would change their lives, but it was this cause—fighting special districts—that eventually brought them together. 

Special districts are the lesser-known taxing entities that provide services such as water, fire protection and sanitation, for example, layered within the network of county, town and village municipalities. Nassau has more than 200 of them. As the Long Island Index, a nonprofit study funded each year by The Rauch Foundation, has pointed out, “Having so many separate taxing districts contributes to the high cost of living on Long Island.” With their own tax lines, these entities often operate like mini-fiefdoms hidden in the shadows.

As these women would discover, uncovering them is not easy; removing them is even harder. It’s a battle being waged throughout New York State, thanks to the recently enacted, attorney general-penned Citizen Empowerment Act, which enables residents fed up with exorbitant fees to simply dissolve the entities altogether. But even with this weapon, eliminating these costly entities is easier said than done, as the two unsuspecting friends would also soon find. 

Hanson’s Suffolk community has the distinction of paying the highest fire district taxes on Long Island. Carved out of Coram, Middle Island, Yaphank and Medford, Gordon Heights has four zip codes for its 1.7 square miles but one fire district with an average household tax charge of $1,500, quadruple the amount of nearby areas. Back in 2006, a couple of Hanson’s friends went to a conference on Nassau County’s special tax districts held at Hofstra University, where they heard Laura Mallay speak about paying twice what her Nassau neighbors pay for garbage service.

 The conference was the brain child of then-Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman, whose office the year before had audited five sanitary districts in three towns.

“Everyone needs garbage collected, clean drinking water and fire protection,” Weitzman said at the time. “But Nassau residents can pay two or three times as much for the same service depending on the district in which they live. Our audits unveiled millions of dollars of waste by some special districts, and a general lack of accountability, transparency and oversight.”

Speaking to the Press while vacationing recently in the Canadian Rockies after overcoming a serious illness that hindered his re-election campaign last year, Weitzman summarized his studies: “We found that the taxpayers in the garbage districts in the Town of Hempstead could save approximately $20 million if their garbage costs were reduced to the garbage costs of the town,” he says.

Taking on special districts was far from Laura Mallay’s mind eight years ago when she was talking to a friend on the phone and looked out her kitchen window as a man leaped into her backyard and tried to steal one of her kids’ bicycles. “I was fit to be tied,” recalls the mother of five (she had only three children back then). She hung up and confronted the man. “He tells me, ‘These people are chasing me!’” She told him that the police would help him, and she called 911. It turned out the people chasing him were the police. The man had just invaded a nearby home and was on the run. “The guy had a gun! Who knew?” But it’s that kind of indomitable spirit that typifies Mallay even today. 

Trial By Fire
Those heroics impressed Mallay’s husband James, an electrician, and garnered support from her neighbors, who encouraged her to rekindle her block’s dormant civic association. Naturally, their biggest issue was their property taxes. And that interest led them to then-Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson, who had begun looking closely at the county’s taxing districts, particularly the South Hempstead Fire District and the Town of Hempstead Sanitary District No. 2, which he found charged more than similar districts. In the case of fire taxes, Levinson told the Press recently from his home in Florida, Mallay’s community was paying a tax rate of $46 while Manhasset was paying only $9.

“It’s $543 for garbage tax in Laura Mallay’s area,” Levinson says, “and if she lived in Merrick, she’d be paying $263.”

Mallay invited Levinson to talk about special tax districts at a town hall meeting in March 2005 at the elementary school with her group and two other civic associations from Baldwin Oaks and Birchwood, all three in the same sanitation and fire districts.

“The auditorium was packed to the brim,” Levinson recalls. “And what was parked outside? A big fire truck! And they had brought in firemen from Albany in full-dress uniform to picket me! That meeting got to be very, very tense because they were convinced I was trying to close the fire district.”

“They’re all in their gear, they’re all standing firm, and they’re not letting him speak,” Mallay says. “They’re yelling. It was crazy.”

For Mallay, it was a rude awakening. Although her father was active in the Nassau County Democratic Committee, she’d never realized how political fire departments can be. At the urging of the other civic association members, she decided to run for commissioner of her sanitation district.

“These mini-governments across Long Island are what is leading to these incredible taxes that we all pay,” Mallay tells the Press. “People have different feelings about fire, schools and water. But if you can’t fix garbage, you can’t fix any of it!”

The trash collectors see it differently.

“The vast majority of [the disparity in household fees] is the level of service and the assessment,” says Bob Noble, the secretary to the board of commissioners at Sanitary District No. 2, where he began working 31 years ago on the back of a garbage truck. “This special district has the lowest assessment. We have a very small commercial base in Baldwin and it’s non-existent in South Hempstead.”

Levison disagrees.

“The Sanitary District No. 2 in Baldwin is what I call an invisible government,” says Levinson, adding that most residents don’t even know that it imposes a different tax rate from the town’s. “The way to relieve some of the tax burden,” he says, “is to have the district dissolve itself. As long as that sanitary district is around, it has to have a tax rate.” He said most of the sanitation workers would keep their jobs with the town because “garbage is a growth industry.”

Bob Noble is the sanitary district’s secretary to the Board of Commissioners and a volunteer Baldwin fireman.

So Laura Mallay threw her hat in the ring, so to speak, and challenged Gerard Brown for sanitary commissioner in 2005.

“They came after me hard,” she recalls, shaking her head and sighing. “They were terrible to my children. Certain kids weren’t allowed to play with my kids anymore!” As she remembers the friends who stopped talking to her, a steely resolve seals her hazel eyes

“You know, they did me a favor. If somebody is going to turn their back on you over a difference in beliefs, then they’re not really somebody you want in your life anymore or around your children, right?”

She lost big, but her struggle brought her an invitation to speak at Weitzman’s conference at Hofstra, where she met friends of Rosalie Hanson, who had been confronting Gordon Heights’ onerous fire district taxes for almost two decades.

Up In Smoke
When Rosalie Hanson moved about a mile and a half up the road from Coram in 1986 and bought a new three-bedroom ranch in Gordon Heights with her husband Alex, she was shocked to find out that she’d be paying $1,000 more for fire service than her sister, who had just bought a house in the same Medford zip code. A year later the Hansons got the state comptroller to audit the district, originally set up in 1952, and learned “there’s nothing you can do about it,” she recalls.

“As the community grows, the tax rate would go down, we were told,” says Hanson, a registered Republican. “Even though we added more homes, our taxes still went up.”

And so they fumed until 2006, when their district’s plight landed on the Sunday cover of Long Island’s daily newspaper.

“My husband came home with the paper, and I shouted, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Gordon Heights!’” Hanson recalls. “I reached out to some neighbors and we were off and running.”

An April protest demanding special district audits gathers outside Nassau Comptroller George Maragos’ office in Mineola.

They formed a group and educated themselves. They learned about a Brookhaven Town law that would let them dissolve their special tax district if they collected enough signatures on a petition to put the referendum to a vote. The catch, she says, was that “those who signed the petition had to represent 50 percent of the assessed value of the area.” It was daunting, but since her district had about 900 homes, Hanson’s group thought they could pull it off.

“It took six solid months,” Hanson says. “Some people would not sign out of fear. They thought some other emergency services would blacklist them, so I had to work twice as hard for those people who live in fear, you know?”

Her group turned in the petitions in August 2006, only to learn in October it was denied on a formal technicality. But that rejection only spurred them on. The following year, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer set up a Commission on Local Government Efficiency “to devise a plan to consolidate some of the 4,200 independent taxing districts statewide and to make the remaining districts more cost-efficient,” his press release said. The commission held a public forum at Hofstra University where Laura Mallay, who by that time had formed a nonprofit group called Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), invited Rosalie Hanson to speak. And so the connection was forged.

Huntington-based attorney Paul Sabatino II, who’s worked in Suffolk County government for many years and is now in private practice, got involved in Rosalie Hanson’s struggle in 2008 after the Town of Brookhaven had rejected her group’s petitions. Sabatino still remembers the shock he felt when he first saw the residents’ tax bills.

“Nobody in the State of New York should be paying what those people are paying,” Sabatino says. “You look at that and you say there’s got to be a remedy.”

In rejecting the group’s petitions the town had cited New York State election law, “which has nothing to do with it,” Sabatino says. “I think the reason beneath the surface was that it was a hot potato, and they didn’t want to confront the issue head-on.”

State Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point), a former Brookhaven Town supervisor, explains the town’s quandary: “You have some neighbors pitted against others,” he says. “The fire department has been the focal point of that community…for decades. The town is trying to be as prudent as they can on this one.”

A picture from inside Rosalie Hanson’s living room, where the battle against special districts is being waged.

In a snowstorm on New Year’s Eve in 2008, Hanson’s group delivered their new petitions to town hall, still having to ensure that the signers represented at least 50 percent of the district’s assessed valuation.

“It was reviewed forever,” Sabatino says of the town’s process. For months the group heard nothing. Then one morning last October Sabatino says he got “a frantic call” that one of the town’s attorneys was reportedly telling people at a public meeting in Gordon Heights “how you can take your name off the petition,” he recalls. “So much time was going by, and then to hear that they were actually giving advice on how people could take their names off the petition! I went ballistic.”

Later that month a reporter from the North Shore Sun, which had named Hanson its “person of the year,” asked her reaction to the story he was working on: the Town of Brookhaven had accepted her group’s petition. Apparently, she was not the first to know.

“They sent me a certified letter of rejection in 2006, so why wouldn’t they send me a certified letter in 2009?” Hanson asks, incredulity rising in her voice.

Subsequently, the town hired Emergency Service Consultants International, a consulting firm headquartered in Oregon with an office in North Carolina, to conduct a $91,000 feasibility study of consolidating Gordon Heights. The study finally began this June, and the final report was supposed to be done by October. But Phil Kouwe, the project manager, told the Press his firm is still waiting for data from the county and the state, particularly regarding Gordon Heights’ emergency response time and the volume of calls, so the study can be completed. He blames “the wheels of government” for the delay. 

“I’m not freaking out by how long it’s taking,” he adds.

Nor is Rosalie Hanson, who remains eternally upbeat.

“For the past five years it’s been total dedication,” she says. “It’s time, energy and money out of my own pocket but I feel it’s worth it in the long run. It will give the people in this community a better quality of life because they’ll have more money in their wallets to spend on their families.”

Sabatino has nothing but admiration for the perseverance of Hanson’s group.

“If the average citizen knew what they went through, they’d be held up as heroes!” says Sabatino. “Every obstacle was put in their way.”

The Gordon Heights fire district is still charging its high tax rates, but Hanson’s struggle to reverse course has already produced one stunning success in the realm of real government reform: the New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, which became effective March 21. The attorney general’s office reportedly followed up recommendations from Spitzer’s 2007 commission, which had heard Hanson recount her efforts.

“I was told by his office that our plight was the inspiration for him to change the law,” Hanson tells the Press.

“I have to give [Andrew] Cuomo a lot of credit,” Sabatino says, “because he not only saw the issue but rather than grandstanding on it and just having a press release or two like a guy like [Steve] Levy does, he actually followed through and pursued it to its end, and he fought off all the attempts to amend it. And the Gordon Heights story is so egregious it became the catalyst for the reform legislation.”

Pros And Cons
The Citizen Empowerment Act, shorthand for the new legislation, provides three routes to consolidation or dissolution: the county executive and the county legislature can submit a master plan to a county-wide referendum; the taxing district’s own board could initiate the process (as some small villages upstate have done) and put up its plan to a referendum; or the residents within the district could launch a petition drive to get a referendum on the ballot, provided they obtained 10 percent of the district’s voters or 5,000 voters (whichever number is smaller) to sign the petition.

“When a majority of electors vote yes to consolidate,” explains Andrew Calderaro, project director of the Nassau County Government Efficiency Project, set up by the nonprofit Long Island Progressive Coalition to work with grassroots’ groups like RESD to implement the law, “the governing body must meet within 30 days of the certification of the vote and create a plan within 180 days of the certification. This plan is subject to public hearings, must appear in newspapers of general circulation, and must appear on the governing body’s website.”

To repudiate that plan, citizens would have to launch another petition drive but gather more signatures than were required before: 25 percent or 15,000 of the registered voters. If voters reject the referendum the first time it comes up for a vote, there’s a four-year moratorium on any new attempts to dissolve or consolidate the particular district.

In the first week of June 2009, the bill passed overwhelmingly thanks to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who extinguished a push to eliminate fire districts from the law.

But the pushback began immediately. State Sens. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) and Foley, plus Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) have proposed a bill that would exclude fire districts as well as protect towns and villages by raising the required number of petition signatures, prolonging the time-table for government action and mandating that a study of the possible financial impact of the change be made available to the voters as part of the initial process, rather than after the referendum.

“I view the Cuomo legislation as really a threat to the way of life for the residents who live in my district and really for the residents who live throughout Long Island,” says Johnson, whose district includes 33 villages and several special taxing districts. “It’s poorly drafted, it’s poorly constructed, and it won’t really provide any tangible savings.”

Firefighters and mayors want the chapter amendments but for different reasons. Ostensibly the fire districts say that doing away with volunteers would require replacing them with full-time paid fire fighters, which would raise the costs to the taxpayers who dissolved their district, as well as adding to the emergency response time.

“If in the process I might disenfranchise 55 or 65 volunteers, and I have to pay to replace them,” says Kirby Hannan, a lobbyist for the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, which represents the volunteer fire districts, “then I didn’t save any money. As a taxpayer I want to be able to make an informed decision. And we don’t think the bill does that right now.”

“I am all for empowering the people but it’s got to be informed consent,” says Schimel. 

Village officials say they’re worried that voters might support a referendum without knowing how much it might truly cost to get rid of their municipality.

“The law is intended to empower the voters,” says Barbara Van Epps, deputy director of the New York Conference of Mayors. “But we would argue that it’s tough to empower them without educating them at the same time,” she says. “So our fundamental concern is the fact that the vote takes place before the study. And we have some real concerns about that.”

The mayors also worry that a bunch of disgruntled citizens emboldened by the low threshold of petition signatures could subject the villages to a constant barrage of harassment. As an aide to one of the amendment’s sponsors said, “Have you ever gone to a town board meeting? Do you know how many crazy people show up? Let’s be honest.”

The aide understood the rationale for the law, but still found fault with it. “If it’s going to be more democratic, fine, but it also took some power away from the local entities themselves.”

Doing that seems to be Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s intention, echoing the time-honored sentiment of Oliver Cromwell, who told the Rump Parliament in 1653, “Be gone, rogues, you have sat long enough!”

In his campaign for governor, Cuomo has a compelling riff on the suffocating layers of the Empire State’s taxing bureaucracies. Take this spiel from his acceptance speech at the state’s Democratic Convention in Rye: “There are 10,000 local governments in the State of New York. Ten thousand! Town, village, lighting district, water district, sewer district, a special district to count the other districts in case you missed a district!”

Given the staggering problems facing our state (another multi-billion dollar budget deficit on tap for next year), it’s unlikely the amendments to Cuomo’s law will rank high on the legislative agenda. But if they do come up for a vote, they might pass, considering that even the Long Island Progressive Coalition’s Lisa Tyson wouldn’t mind.

“We have no problem with fire departments and villages being left out of the law,” she tells the Press. “Those are not the special taxing districts we’re talking about. It’s the garbage, the sewer, the water. Those are the ones with the real abuses.”

Her group intends to launch a petition drive to dissolve either Sanitary No. 2 or Sanitary No. 6 later this month, once the local grassroots’ group is ready to hit the street.

Tyson agrees with Schimel’s desire to prolong the study process, finding the 180-day time frame “ridiculous.”
“Governments can’t tie their shoes in that amount of time!” she says. “If they create a crappy plan, then what’s the point? We don’t want to make things worse!”

But she does have one overriding concern, she admits, and it has to do with the ambition of the man himself who helped draft the law.

“Cuomo won’t be in the attorney general’s office next year,” Tyson says. “How much will the attorney general’s office really help if it’s a bad plan? How much will they really get involved?” She says advocates can’t rely on an aggressive comptroller’s office.

“Auditing is great,” she says, “but it doesn’t change policy.”

Some supporters of the Cuomo law like it just the way it is. They say the amendments are intended to water it down for the special interests. 

Sabatino has little patience for those trying to amend Cuomo’s law.

“I’ve tried to understand the arguments that they’ve raised but it’s nothing more than a defense of the status quo,” he says. “I think [Cuomo] did a brilliant job of providing uniformity and simplicity.”

Predictably, Foley took umbrage at that assessment.

“Even the most brilliant laws need improvements!” he counters. “Let me put it this way: I didn’t run for office and spend time away from my family to go to Albany to protect the status quo!”

The People Squeak
One thing that does protect the status quo is citizens’ inertia, and it may work against those who want to put the Cuomo law into action.

“To get people to come out to vote, they have to be angry about something, and very few people are angry about, for example, their garbage collection,” says Weitzman, the former Nassau comptroller. “In fact, we found that most people are very satisfied with their garbage collection—even when we pointed out that they were paying extra money for the same level of collection than other people were paying. It was almost like: ‘Consolidation should take place but not in my backyard!’ But with that kind of attitude we’re never going to be able to do anything about our high tax structure.”

Charles Zettek, vice president and director of government management services for the Center for Government Research in Albany, agrees with Weitzman’s analysis.

“It’s the classic conundrum across the country but it plays itself out brutally in New York State. People complain bitterly about high taxes and yet are not willing to give up the services those taxes are paying for. They want their taxes to be cut by somebody else giving up something but not them.”

Zettek is paying close attention to the efforts to dissolve small villages upstate; two referenda are on the ballot this week, and another is up later this month. Out of a handful of so far, only the one in Seneca Falls passed, 51-49, a “flip of the coin,” Zettek says, adding that research showed that its residents would save about $1,000 a year in taxes. “That’s how powerful the no-change impetus is,” he adds.

“It goes back to Machiavelli: How do you change things?” asks Zettek. “Empowering local citizens is going to make some changes but it’s going to come piecemeal. The fault that citizens don’t take the authority they’ve been given constitutionally and actually act upon it is not the fault of the districts. It’s the fault of the citizens not taking their government seriously.”

Group distributes guide on fixing taxing districts

Friday, August 28th, 2009

By SID CASSESE sid.cassese@newsday.com

August 27, 2009

A guide on how to eliminate or streamline special taxing districts on Long Island was released Thursday by a bi-county social activist group.

The “Long Island Citizen’s Guide to Coalition” is similar to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s recent Citizen’s Guide to Reform, according to Jeff Guillot of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. He headed the group’s Nassau County Government Efficiency Project that produced the guide that centers on Long Island’s special taxing districts.

“Some special districts on the Island are not found anywhere else in the state, notably commission-run garbage and sewer districts, which most often are the ones abusing their taxing powers,” Guillot said.

Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman, County Executive Thomas Suozzi and other Nassau opponents of most special taxing districts – like garbage, sewage and water – have said such districts account for 75 percent of taxes paid for town services and often are redundant and wasteful.

Laura Mallay of South Hempstead, the head of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, said: “We need to use these tools to fix this broken system.”

Guillot outlined the process, which calls for getting at least 10 percent or 5,000 – whichever comes first – signatures of district registered voters. The district’s town officials will verify the signatures within 10 days.

Officials said that once verified, the move to close or consolidate the district goes on a ballot in 60 to 90 days.

If it passes, the town and public must come up with a plan within 210 days. If the public does not like the plan, it can be rejected with 25 percent or 15,000 registered voter signatures and the process starts over.

Should it fail, no new attempt can be made for four years, officials said. The full local guide is found at fixmypropertytaxes.org. The law allowing it is effective March 22, 2010.
Related website: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/group-distributes-guide-on-fixing-taxing-districts-1.1400134