Long Island Lobby Coalition Heads to Albany

The growing Long Island Lobby Coalition, with the support of over 90 organizations, made the annual journey to Albany this week to support various needs of Long Island. Approximately 40 of the groups were in attendance this year.

Meetings were held with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, the Long Island State Senate delegation, as well as the Long Island Assembly delegation to remind policy makers why “Long Island Communities Matter”, which was the theme of the 8th annual lobby day. This year’s agenda covered six key issue areas: Critical infrastructure projects, small business, transportation, energy and environment, human services and housing, and post-Sandy recovery. The Lt. Governor was out on Long Island as this year’s keynote speaker at the Vision Long Island Smart Growth Summit so she was well aware of many of the issues raised.

This year’s first meeting was with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, filling the Capitol Blue Room. Julie Marchesella, President of Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce suggested a “Shop Local” media campaign to assist the state’s small businesses while increasing the dwindling state sales tax revenue; partially due to the rise in online shopping. An advertising campaign geared towards raising awareness of the negatives of online shopping was proposed to combat the negative trends that hurt Long Island’s downtowns and state sales tax gains, which supports many projects in the state. Online shopping has increased over the past five years.  Sales tax revenue has decreased over the past five years,” said Marchesella.

The need for a five year Capital Plan to be funded for non-MTA transit was discussed with the Lt, Governor. “New York needs a transportation capital planning process that is done transparently, comprehensively and in a coordinated, long-term manner,” said Nadine Lemmon of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Prior to passage of the NYS budget, we need a list of projects for the proposed $22.1 billion NYSDOT capital plan—Long Islanders deserve to know where their state tax dollars are going. We’re thrilled that the Long Island Lobby Coalition has taken up the baton for transparency and accountability in Albany.” Although non-MTA transit across NY carries 6.1% of all transit riders, it only receives 3.43% of all transit capital funding in the Executive Budget with zero capital funding for NICE and Suffolk Transit. The Lt. Governor acknowledged the disparity, and pledged to bring the issue up with NYS Department of Transportation next week at a meeting this week.

The need for assistance with zombie homes was brought up to the Lt. Governor. Long Island was one of the hardest-hit areas in the country thanks to predatory lending mishaps in the 2000’s, and currently has the highest rate of new foreclosures in the state. Out of over $7 billion that New York has received so far in predatory loan fines from major banks, no monies from those fines have made it down to the communities and the municipalities that are struggling to deal with this untenable situation. It was asked that a least a quarter of these fines received are used to go directly back to the communities to help fix the problem; paying for administrative needs and to purchase properties for revitalization. Maps of vacant and blighted homes were displayed to the Lt. Governor by Mastic Beach Village Mayor Maura Spery, which made the issue of managing the problem on a municipal level more visible. Hochul acknowledged that the zombie home crisis is a big issue facing the state, and said she will assist however possible.

The reaction by the Lt. Governor to this year’s agenda was positive, with the Lt. Governor thanking the Long Island Lobby Coalition for “bringing together such an amazing disciplined group of people who are all on the same page. That’s the challenge,” she said. “All of you speak with one voice, and that’s impressive, because you represent so many diverse interests; labors, chambers, elected officials, that rarely come together in the state. I assure you that there’s far more clout when I say “this is what Long Island wants”, and take this to the different agencies. I will continue to be a strong advocate for you… help me stay engaged.”

The Lobby Coalition then made its way to the Capitol Room to meet with Long Island’s senate delegation, with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Senators Jack Martins, Phil Boyle, Kemp Hannon, and Carl Marcellino able to give their time this year.  The Senate delegation has been tremendously helpful with the 7 bills that have been passed over the past few years with the support of the Coalition.

Support for tax-deferred IRA accounts for small businesses was asked for by Bob Fonti of the Long Island Business Council. This would allow businesses to deposit part of their profits and be able to withdraw from the account tax-free during recession to help them when economic growth is low for several months, in the event of natural disaster, and for job growth. The Senate is very supportive of the measure, with Majority Leader Flanagan saying that the senate “has passed it before, and will pass it again,” and urged that discussions take place with the Governor’s office and Assembly to ensure passage and signing of the measure.

Adrienne Espositio of Citizens Campaign for the Environment spoke about the need for continued funding for the safe disposal of pharmaceutical drugs which protect the waterways and public health. Long term care facilities on Long Island had 52 boxes of unwanted drugs collected for disposal last year, and permanent drop off boxes were installed at five police precincts, two ambulance companies, and 11 King Kullen supermarkets with pharmacies. Senator Marcellino acknowledged that the programs were successful, citing an event that yielded “ten 60-gallon garbage cans of medications” collected.

Infrastructure projects were also discussed, with Deputy Mayor Jorge Martinez of Freeport asking for a $5 million feasibility for floodgates. “Superstorm Sandy devastated over 3000 homes and caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage in Freeport,” Martinez said.  We need help for municipalities to implement programs for grant funding, more importantly feasibility study for flood gates at Jones and East Rockaway Inlets. Gates of the sort have been in place in many areas in the world, and their presence would have made Sandy, and will make other future events like Sandy, nothing but a nuisance in the future.”

Superstorm Sandy recovery needs were also discussed, with Ron Beattie of Oakdale’s New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program citing concerns on the program not moving ahead with proposed projects quickly enough. The state needs to allocate the funding awarded to 22 Long Island CRP zones to subrecipients by next year for the projects to move ahead. Currently, only one project per region has been started. Senator Jack Martins had said that at this point, it is a problem with the administration (governor’s office) to ensure that funds are expedited, and “perhaps you need to get a microphone” to discuss the issues with the media and the Governor’s office. He said further that “the Long Island Lobby Coalition is well equipped” to handle this action to ensure that projects are moving forward.

“The Long Island Lobby Coalition is calling for some of the very same issues we are as a Senate delegation; greater investment in Long Island’s infrastructure, support for local small businesses, and protecting our environment. Their advocacy in Albany is a great benefit as we fight for these issues. I look forward to continuing to work with the Coalition for the benefit of Long Island throughout the legislative session,” said Senator Jack M. Martins.

The last collective meeting of the day was with Long Island’s Assembly delegation. Those in attendance included Assemblymen and Assemblywomen Jean-Pierre, Chad Lupinacci, Michael Montesano, Ed Ra, Andrew Raia, Michaele Solages and Fred Thiele.
Critical infrastructure projects were discussed, such as the need for funding for an outfall pipe for the Bay Park Sewage treatment plant. The Bay Park and Long Beach sewage treatment plants contribute 80% of the nitrogen to the Western Bays, resulting in seriously degraded water quality, degraded salt marshes, low oxygen levels and disappearing shellfish harvesting. ” With now having three quarters of the needed funding towards the Bay Park Ocean Outfall Pipe and only needing $150 million more from the State, we have never been closer to bringing back a huge economic boom in the Western Bay communities,” said Tommy Asher of Operation SPLASH. “All of Nassau County will benefit by bringing back our commercial shellfishing industry, recreational fishing and tourism by removing those highly volatile toxins out of Reynolds Channel”.  Other infrastructure items discussed included $40 million for connectivity of Mastic Beach Village to the upcoming Forge River Watershed sewer treatment facility. Currently there is no funding to expand sewering three and a half miles down to Neighborhood Road in Mastic Beach, which will provide resilience, environmental and economic development benefits to one of Long Island’s lowest lying shoreline communities. (Mastic Beach received $1.3 million from the Town of Brookhaven this week to develop their shovel ready plan in tandem with the nearby Mastic-Shirley plan). Kings Park also asked for $14 million for sewers for their downtown after self-funding a downtown revitalization plan. A total of $800 million in water infrastructure projects were asked for by the Long Island Lobby Coalition.

Funding needs for bicycle and pedestrian safety were also discussed, with Sylvia Silberger of Carless Long Island discussing some of the concerns. “There are many Long Islanders who are pedestrians or cyclists by necessity. For example almost all bus riders are also pedestrians. But there are many more still who choose to, or would like to choose to commute on foot or by bicycle for a variety of good reasons such as individual health, environmental concerns or a desire to help decrease traffic congestion.  However, presently it is incredibly dangerous to do so on Long Island.” It was asked that policymakers include in the proposed $22.1 Billion proposed for the NYSDOT Capital Plan an increase of $20 million per year for each of the five years of the plan to supplement federal funds already allocated to pedestrian and cycling safety infrastructure in Long Island.

Assembly members were quite receptive to the proposals, and pledged support for many of the agenda items.  Assemblyman Fred Thiele said, “Long Island Lobby Day was a tremendous success. I thank the many Long Islanders that came to Albany with their legislative and capital funding priorities. They presented a detailed plan for Long Island that will be critical to our efforts to insure that Long Island is treated fairly in Albany this session. In particular, the proposed sewer plan for Mastic Beach in my district is of critical concern.”  The Lobby Day concluded with individual meetings with policy makers, including Charles Gasparino, Dean Murray and Joseph Saladino.

One outstanding issue in the meeting of the Assembly delegation was the inability of the majority caucus to pass the legislation for the Small Business Savings Accounts.  For the last two years the Senate has passed this bill and the Assembly has blocked it.   The coalition and the many local businesses and Chamber of Commerce representatives in the room reminded the Assemblymembers of the importance of the small businesses on Long Island and want to see successful passage of this legislation.

Upcoming, there will be session tracking of these community-based issues, and may have a “scorecard” to help chart progress of Long Island Lobby Coalition agenda items over the past several years.

You can view the entire Lobby Day platform with all of the items discussed with the Lieutenant Governor, Senate and Assembly here. Some of the initial press coverage of the event can be seen at Long Island Business News,  Newsday and Verizon Fios1 News

“It is critical that Long Island voices are heard and our needs are reflected in the budget and legislative process.  Uniting our voices and concerns with the Long Island lobby coalition demonstrates substantial and diverse support for sewage treatment funding, support for small businesses and addressing the burden of zombie housing across our island,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment

“Our Long Island Coalition is representative of various interests from across Long Island’s diverse communities.   The groups here today share a common purpose;  to better the lives of all long Islanders and to preserve, protect and enhance the quality of life of its citizens.  Year after year we work together to ensure Long Island continues to offer quality jobs great schools, and focuses on making it an affordable place to live; while continuing to preserve our natural resources.   We all need to ensure that Long Island remains a place  our children and grandchildren can afford to and want to call home.”  John R. Durso, Long Island Federation of Labor

The LI Lobby Coalition is stronger than ever as we travel to Albany to bring concerns of the residents and business community.  Together we continue to make a difference and bring home the bacon to our local communities”.  Bob Fonti, LI Business Council/Suffolk Council of Chambers of Commerce

The Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce is working in co-operation with the LI Lobby Coalition in Albany on behalf of 42 chambers of commerce and 6,000 members in order to make the Long Island Region a safe and more production place to live, work and conduct a Main Street Business.  Julie Marchesella, Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce

Jorge Martinez of the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said, “The Long Island Hispanic Chamber is one of LI’s oldest and most respected business organizations. We support the LI Lobby Day Coalition’s efforts in job creation and infrastructure investment. We encourage our State officials to work with small businesses and allied organizations in improving Long Island’s economy.”

“The LI Lobby Day supports legislation that creates tax-breaks for small businesses that will allow them to access their own monies tax free for the purposes of business survival and development.  This is the first time in our state’s economic history that we have a potential to create infrastructure for delivering a direct and effective stimulus to small businesses when they need it the most.  Dr. Nathalia Rogers, American Communities Institute at Dowling College

Three and a half years after Sandy, individuals, businesses and communities continue to move ahead in recovering from the disaster, as well as creating resilience towards other events. Friends of Long Island is happy to join the Long Island Lobby Coalition once again to advocate for programs to be funded expeditiously in order for areas to recover and prevent against future losses. Jon Siebert, Friends of Long Island

“I am delighted to join my Long Island friends and colleagues, and to speak with our state representatives about infrastructure projects and improvements that will make Nassau and Suffolk not only survive economically, but also thrive in the coming decades,” said Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran. “I am especially excited to discuss ways to bolster and expand public transportation.”

“Long Island is at a critical juncture when it comes to our transportation infrastructure—the decisions made in Albany this budget season will have a lasting impact on our community’s economic viability and quality of life, for decades to come. Safer streets, better bus service, and a clearer plan for how we spend our limited infrastructure dollars are the key elements we’re asking our state representatives to address this spring.” Nadine Lemmon, Tri-State Transportation Campaign

Annual fare hikes, low service levels, and late or no-show buses are the symptoms of an underfunded bus system, and Long Island bus riders are paying dearly due to a lack of state assistance. It is time for New York to step up and pay their fair share to suburban transit systems.” said Aaron Watkins-Lopez of the LI Bus Riders Coalition

The Kings Park Civic Association is excited to be part of the Long Island Lobby Coalition.  We understand how important it is for our elected officials to hear from us directly on matters important to the residents of Long Island including the dire need for infrastructure dollars to help our local communities revitalize our aging downtowns.  Linda Henninger, Kings Park Civic Association

“Child Care is one of Long Island’s vital industries on our economy and so we need to support our local providers so their businesses flourish. Keeping children in quality care will take a $90 million investment by the state, so that providers can satisfy the health and safety regulations that are mandated federally.”  Danielle Asher, Child Care Council of Suffolk

Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island concluded “Long Island communities matter and this shared agenda of local civics, small business and other varied public interests lifts up critical issues that sometimes get lost in the malaise of day to day dealings in Albany.  The accomplishments of bills enacted from past lobbying includes Complete Streets, Priority Infrastructure, energy programs, health and public safety legislation proves that collaboration works.  The opportunity this year to create a financing mechanism for Main Street businesses to provide jobs will benefit Long Island’s economic climate without burdening the taxpayer.  Lastly we are proud to see Long Islanders united in working to get our fair share of resources from our State government for our local communities.”