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New York State Assembly

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces
Extreme weather events, coastal flooding, crop yields, brush fires and disruption of fisheries and other ecosystems are among the many concerns that scientists and policymakers aim to address through legislation. Image from the United Nations International Panel on Cllimate Change

New York lawmakers aim to tackle the climate change issue head on: It passed June 20 a bill that will largely eliminate fossil-fuel emissions by 2050. 

The bill, called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, will require incremental changes to the state’s infrastructure. By 2030, the state plans to obtain 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, shifting entirely to carbon-free electricity by 2040 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent below 1990 levels. Part of the plan includes developing and implementing measures that remove carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, from the atmosphere. 

New York joins California, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in committing to clean energy power. The initiative comes in response to the current administration bailing out of the United Nation’s landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to build a low-carbon future and scaling back on many other environmental measures and regulations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the bill’s original sponsor, said the bill addresses one of the most important issues of our time. He and state senators have been trying to get clean-energy legislation passed for the last four years. Prior to the 2018 elections, he said, the bill was stuck in the Republican-led senate. 

“It made a big difference in getting this [bill] passed,” he said. “When you have individuals that deny climate change, it is difficult just to get to first base.”

“We will all need to work together to solve this.”

— Steve Englebright

The bill lays out an ambitious plan for the next 30 years, and it will be guided by a 22-member state panel called the Climate Action Council. 

The council will be made up of state agencies, scientists and individuals in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The bill requires the council to create a scoping plan that will set out recommendations for reducing emissions across all sectors of the economy, including transportation, building, industrial, commercial and agricultural. They will have to approve a scoping plan within the next two years and then update the plan at least every five years. 

Englebright said a lot is at stake with this climate plan and it is important that they are successful. 

“I would say this is the most aggressive plan to combat this climate challenge; New York should be leading the way,” he said. 

The bill will also set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to prioritize disadvantaged communities around the state, particularly those devastated by pollution and climate change. 

“The Long Island Progressive Coalition celebrates the power of the NY Renews coalition in winning a climate bill that makes New York a national leader in legally-mandated emissions cuts,” Lisa Tyson, Long Island Progressive Coalition director said in a statement. “The agreement struck on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a significant step forward in combating the climate crisis and moving toward a more regenerative economy for our communities — one powered by 100 percent clean renewable energy.”

Though it is considered a victory in the fight against climate change, the coalition was disappointed that some amendments were left out of the final bill. 

“We are deeply concerned that the changes in the final version of the bill weaken the original intent we set out as a coalition to directly invest resources in vulnerable communities,” Tyson said in a statement. “Although the bill includes a nod toward prevailing wage, the governor’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act removes mandates to secure specific worker protections, job growth and training included in previous editions of the Climate and Community Protection Act, which are essential to a just transition off of fossil fuels.”

Other county officials weighed in on the passage of the bill. 

“As chair of the Suffolk County Environment Committee, I understand how crucial it is to our children’s futures that we take measurable steps to counteract human-induced climate change,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said in a statement. “I am proud to say that I am from a state that recognizes the importance of environmental consciousness, and that takes the action necessary toward progress. I commend Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for reaching an agreement that will ensure measurable reductions in carbon emissions and promote clean energy and a greener economy.”

Once the bill is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), it will become law. 

Englebright stressed it is going to take a collaborative effort to make sure this plan will work. 

“It is going to take recognition from people that this is not some made up problem, It is not a fake science,” he said. “We will need to work together to solve this.” 

Scientists from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change have been recommending to policymakers the 70 to 85 percent reduction of fossil fuel use by 2050 to curb the worst impacts of a warming planet.

People at the June 7 rally held signs supporting Green Light NY bill. Photo by David Luces

After a contentious back and forth between state Democrats and Republicans, the green light bill, a measure that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license in New York State, passed the New York State Senate June 17 and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

The vote makes New York the 13th state in the nation to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. In the past, undocumented immigrants in New York were allowed to have driver’s licenses if they passed the required tests and proved their residency. In 2001, former governor George Pataki reversed the measure via executive order.

“Driving in New York State is a privilege, not a guaranteed right.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Proponents of the bill say that the bill would improve public safety and the economy.

“Today is a historic day for New York’s hard working immigrant community,” said Steven Choi, the executive director at the New York Immigration Coalition. “We are glad to see that Governor Cuomo did the right thing by signing the Green Light NY bill into law.” 

In the lead up to the vote there was some hesitation of support from some Democrats, which critics attributed to being wary of backlash to the bill and its impact on the 2020 election year.

Jay Jacobs, The Nassau County Democratic chairman, warned the six senators who represent Long Island about the potential political backlash of supporting the bill, according to an article in Gothamist.  

Jacobs told Gothamist that he personally supports the legislation but believes the bill is too polarizing to pursue in the current legislative session.

The legislation moved forward without the support of the six Long Island Democratic senators, who all voted no, as well as three other Republican senators. 

“I am disappointed that the state lawmakers in Albany voted to approve this terrible piece of legislation,” John Kennedy, Suffolk County comptroller and county executive candidate, said in a statement. “Driving in New York State is a privilege, not a guaranteed right, and we should not be extending privileges to those who do not follow the law. I strongly urge the Governor to do the right thing and veto this legislation.”

Other Republicans in the state Legislature shared opposition to the green light bill.  

“This legislation is an outrage to law-abiding New Yorkers, as well as to new Americans that have taken the appropriate steps to become citizens legally,” New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a letter. “The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers oppose issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. And yet, that is exactly what Senate Democrats did.”

The Long Island Democratic Senate Delegation said in a statement that they value the important contributions made by immigrants to the local economy and communities. 

“Following countless meetings with stakeholders, residents, and advocates on the implications of this bill, our vote is based on the continued existence of serious concerns raised by stakeholders and law enforcement,” the statement read. “We will continue to stand together in the best interest of Long Islanders.”

Some lawmakers shared concerns that the  Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency could possibly obtain driver’s information and use it for deporting individuals.

Cuomo also raised similar concerns before the vote, stating that he would veto the bill if the federal government would be able to access driver’s information that could be used for deportation. He then asked the state attorney general to review the bill and would sign the bill if it didn’t give federal authorities access to DMV databases. 

State Attorney General Letitia James (D) wrote a statement the night of vote. 

“The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” James said in a statement. “If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.”

The bill would require undocumented immigrants to take a driver’s license exam and be able to buy car insurance. The measure would go into effect in 180 days and undocumented immigrants could get licenses starting
in December.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces

As the federal government under the current presidential administration has scaled back environmental measures — and at points denied the science behind climate change —members in the New York State Legislature are trying to go about it without the leadership of Uncle Sam.

That is, if it can pass before the end of legislative session.

“New York has to help lead the way, because we’re not getting any leadership at the federal level,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). 

“You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright, the chair of the environmental conservation committee, is sponsoring the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would establish a New York State Climate Action Council. It would contain 25 members made up of state agencies, scientists and those in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The council would be able to make recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to limit greenhouse gases. It would also be asked to report on barriers to and opportunities for community ownership of services and commodities in certain communities, particularly for renewable energy.

“An advisory committee that will have meaningful powers to make recommendations as we go forward — the stakes are so high on this issue,” Englebright said.

In addition, the bill would require the DEC to establish greenhouse gas reporting requirements and limits on emissions.

The bill was passed in the environmental committee and was referred to the ways and means committee in February.

The idea of an advisory committee is not new. A similar advisory panel was suggested in the New York State 2019-20 budget, but it was removed in the final version because some legislators disagreed with the number of people on the board and who would sit on it.

“Instead of 25, [Cuomo] had nine appointees; six of them are his cabinet members,” Englebright said.

In January during the process for crafting the budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) incited a “Green New Deal,” which would have been “comprised of the heads of relevant state agencies and other workforce, environmental justice and clean energy experts,” according to a January press release. The governor has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York State by 80 percent below the levels emitted in 1990 by the year 2050.

A spokesperson from the governors office said the governor is continuing to collaborate with the legislature on climate policy proposals.

Cuomo appeared on city radio WNYC’s show hosted by Brian Lehrer June 3. When the new climate change legislation was brought up, he said he was looking to attack the issue while not pretending change will happen all at once.

“I believe this is the most pressing issue of our time, but I don’t want to play politics with it and I don’t want to tell people we can move to a carbon free economy in a period of time that I know that we can’t.”

The end of this legislative session is June 19, and Englebright said he is crossing his fingers the bill can pass both assembly and senate before time runs out. 

He said the bill is especially important with the current administration in Washington. The New York Times reported June 3 that 84 environmental rules and regulations are being phased out by Trump and his appointees.

“We are seeing the effects of increased carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere on a daily basis,” he said. “You can just look at the weather reports for the nation — last year California burned, this year Texas is drowning. The amount of rain we’re getting is a result of an overheated ocean relaying more rain to the atmosphere. And on it goes.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin celebrates securing his third term in office Nov. 8 in Patchogue, joining hands with one of his daughters and Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman John Jay LaValle. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nationally the Democratic Party experienced a successful night, winning enough Congressional races to flip the House of Representatives from Republican control.

The long-billed blue wave petered out on the North Shore of Long Island however, as two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) fended off a challenge from first-time candidate Democrat Perry Gershon, an East Hampton resident and commercial real estate lender, winning re-election by securing more than 52 percent of the vote.

“This was the clear contrast of results versus resistance, and results won today,” Zeldin said from the podium at Stereo Garden in Patchogue after results were in Nov. 6. “It’s important we get to people’s business and deliver results.”

As many — if not all — House races did across the country, Zeldin and Gershon’s battle took on a nasty tone, largely focused on their opinions of President Donald Trump (R) and his job performance thus far.

“Our country needs to do much better uniting,” Zeldin said. “We also need to make sure our scores are settled at the ballot box, and that next day we wake up to govern.”

He thanked his opponent for running a tough race.

Onlookers celebrate as results roll in Nov. 8 at Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s not the outcome we wanted but life goes on,” Gershon said when his fate appeared sealed from IBEW Local 25 Long Island Electricians union headquarters in Hauppauge. “We’re so much better off than we were two years ago. We showed the Democratic Party has a heart here in eastern Suffolk County.”

Both candidates’ respective Suffolk County party chairmen applauded their efforts.

“He worked very hard and developed a grassroots campaign,” Democratic Party Chairman Rich Schaffer said. “We have not heard the last of Perry Gershon.”

John Jay LaValle, Republican Party chairman for the county, dismissed the idea Election Day 2018 was something to be celebrated by Democrats locally.

“There was no blue wave in Suffolk County tonight, in fact the only thing blue tonight was my tie,” he said.

Incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) secured 58 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Dan DeBono to secure another term as well.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!” Suozzi posted on his campaign Facebook page. “It is an honor to serve.”

Despite LaValle’s assertion, the blue party scored major victories in several statewide battles, enough to flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, meaning all three houses of the state government are controlled by the same party. Nearly all incumbent state legislators from both parties held serve on the North Shore though.

The 2nd District state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) won re-election to continue his more than 30 years in the Senate, defeating challenger Kathleen Cleary by about 11 percentage points. Flanagan will relinquish his spot as Senate Majority Leader with the Democrats seizing control. He could not be reached for comment by press time Nov. 7.

“I did not win but we made sure that the issues important to us: women’s reproductive health, the Child Victims Act, ERPO, [the New York Health Act] were discussed and now that the [state] Senate has flipped to blue these bills will be passed,” Cleary said in a post on her campaign Facebook page.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who has represented the 1st District since the 1970s, easily won another term, besting Democrat Greg Fischer for a second consecutive cycle, this time by 17 percentage points. LaValle could not be reached for comment Nov. 7 either.

“It’s very difficult to unseat a long-term incumbent,” Fischer said. “Like it or not, the system is filled with or based on lots of favors, so there’s always that tendency to reward people for their past performance.”

Democrats Jim Gaughran and Monica Martinez won surprise upsets in nearby Long Island state Senate districts, defeating incumbent Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) in their respective races, which were major contributors to the shift of power in New York’s legislative branch.

In the state Assembly, Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was easily returned to his longtime post representing the 4th District, earning 60 percent of the vote to his challenger Christian Kalinowski’s 40 percent.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to the task at hand, protecting the environment, the quality of life of our community and enhancing it, making sure we have adequate funding for our schools and for the next generation,” Englebright said. “We have a lot to do.”

Englebright’s Assembly colleagues from across the aisle on the North Shore will all be returning to Albany as well.

The 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) blew out first-time candidate Democrat Rona Smith to earn a third term, winning about 60 percent of the vote.

Democrat Perry Gershon thanks supporters Nov. 8 in Hauppauge after accepting defeat in his race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District against incumbent Lee Zeldin. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s great to see we won by a nice margin — it validates we’re going on the right direction,” Palumbo said. “I will try to discuss some issues raised by my opponent, including the issue of health care with the 5 percent uninsured rate.”

Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown) will head to Albany for another term after beating Democrat and first-time candidate David Morrissey handily, 61 percent to 39 percent.

“I’m going to continue to pursue my objective of being a strong voice for mandate relief and strengthening the private sector to make people aware of the need to slow down the growth of taxes,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are losing too many people — too many retirees, too many young people. Too many people in the middle class are looking elsewhere as the cost of living is getting too high.”

Republican for the 12th Assembly District Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) will continue his tenure, as will Democrat Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who captured the 10th Assembly District seat in a special election in April.

Though members of Brookhaven Town’s board were not on the ballot this year, voters overwhelmingly passed a back-of-the-ballot proposition that extended officials terms in office from two years to four, and limited officeholders to three terms. A total of 58 percent voted in favor of that measure with 42 percent opposing.

“We felt that this was the right time to put out this proposition, especially with all the talk about the president stimulating turnout,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

Reporting contributed by Sara-Megan Walsh, Rita J. Egan and Kyle Barr.

Mike Fitzpatrick. Photo by Kyle Barr

While the TBR News Media staff fully believes in Democratic candidate Dave Morrissey’s genuine desire to tackle the ongoing opioid crisis, incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown) gets our endorsement for the 8th District seat.

Although Morrissey has a number of good and far-reaching ideas to help those in the throes of addiction, the question of how the state will be able to enact those changes remains up in the air. While the goals of increasing access to medically assisted treatment and addiction shelters is something to strive for, the Democraticchallenger also lacks concrete ideas of what the state government should do when it comes to high taxes and keeping people on Long Island.

Fitzpatrick is right on the money when it comes to government employee benefits as those are changes that must be strived for if the state wishes to cut down on spending. While the Kings Park sewers have been held up by partisan wrangling, we do appreciate the assemblyman championing the effort in Albany.

Our endorsement comes with a caveat: During the TBR News Media debate the assemblyman startled us with his belief that the thousands of people currently heading to the U.S. in a caravan from Honduras are, in some way, funded by billionaire George Soros, who often funds left-leaning political campaigns and is a consistent target in conspiracy theories by far-right groups.

We strongly encourage Fitzpatrick — whom we have always thought of as sensible — not to believe this and other far-right wing narratives without unassailable proof, and he should continue to focus on championing real changes in state policy to benefit his constituents instead, as he always has.

Andrew Raia. Photo by Alex Petroski

Incumbent state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) identifies himself as a moderate Republican. His Democraticchallenger, Avrum Rosen, agreed he’s “fairly moderate compared to the rest of the Republican Party,” and we do too after listening to his ideas.

It’s refreshing to hear Raia stick to his principles on local issues that strongly affect his constituents. He drafted legislation in attempts to help provide funds to the Town of Huntington to offset a possible negative impact of the LIPA tax certiorari lawsuit and supports consideration to levying a carbon tax against the Northport Power Station. He stands by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in suing the federal government over tax reforms that eliminated state and local deductions that will financially hurt Long Island homeowners.

Yet Raia hasn’t taken up some of the polarizing views of the national Republican Party. He’s suggesting ways to expand health care in New York and claims his viewpoint “has evolved” over time favoring more gun control.

We commend Rosen for being well-educated on the issues facing the 12th district, both at the local and state level. His background in bankruptcy and tax law has led him to voice worthwhile ideas including a carbon tax against the Northport Power Station and offering state tax credits to those with student loans, for those entering STEM professions and those paying childcare costs.

If Raia wins, we hope he takes up Rosen’s tax credit ideas to help Long Island become a more affordable place to win.

As for Rosen, he’s one of the strongest political challengers we’ve seen this election season and hope to see again — maybe next time for another political office.

Steve Stern. Photo by Kyle Barr

Steve Stern (D) may not have held his New York State Assembly seat for very long, but TBR News Media sees that Stern is willing to give it his all, and in doing so receives our endorsement for the 10th Assembly District seat.

While we appreciate Jeremy Williams running for office at such a young age, he did not show up to speak at our annual candidate debate that was hosted for him and his opponent. We did not have the opportunity to hear if he had concrete plans for dealing with issues pertaining to the district.

Stern’s already laid a good groundwork and track record by helping to sponsor and pass six bills in the six weeks he had available after his special election and before the end of the legislative session. We hope that kind of get-up-and-go attitude continues into a full term, and that he makes good on his word to bring more funds to aid downtown revitalization efforts.

Stern describes himself a conservative Democrat, and we hope that can translate into bridging the gap between Democrats and Republicans in these politically dividing times.

Candidate Rona Smith debates her opponent for a New York State Assembly seat Anthony Palumbo at TBR News Media. Photo by Alex Petroski

People across the United States have been motivated to enter into politics and pursue government office for the first time in their lives during the current election cycle and the prior one in 2017. When asked, many of those candidates tend to cite the current state of things in national politics.

In the race to represent New York State’s 2nd Assembly District, candidate Rona Smith, a 73-year-old first-time candidate who serves as the Housing Advisory Commission chairwoman for the Town of Southold, is making her first run for office. We admire that someone would be inspired to make an effort at fostering greater good despite having carved out a nice living for herself and having nothing personally to gain from pursuing the seat.

This is not to say incumbent Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) doesn’t have his heart in the right place and hasn’t helped accomplish tangible things for the district, like co-sponsoring legislation for the state to acquire and preserve about 900 acres of green space in Shoreham.

Still, with a Democrat majority in the Assembly that is unlikely to go away any time soon, we would like to see Smith given a chance to bring some of her fresh ideas and tenacity to Albany to join a conference with the political clout to get tangible results locally and statewide.

Smith is educated, hard-working, has government experience in a critical area to the future prosperity of Long Island — namely affordability of housing.

We appreciate the years of dedicated service Palumbo has given the district, but we’ll be voting for Smith Nov. 6.

Rona Smith is challenging Anthony Palumbo for his New York State Assembly seat. Photos by Alex Petroski

The North Shore’s easternmost New York State Assembly District — which juts as far west as Mount Sinai and portions of Port Jefferson — has been represented by an incumbent Republican since 2013, and a first-time candidate for political office is seeking to unseat him.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) was elected in a special election to represent the 2nd District in 2013 and won subsequent races in 2014 and 2016. The 48-year-old practicing lawyer will be challenged this Election Day by 73-year-old Democrat Rona Smith, a newcomer to politics from Greenport with government experience, as she currently serves as the chairwoman of the Housing Advisory Commission for Southold Town.

The candidates sat down for a debate at the TBR News Media in Setauket in October to discuss issues impacting the district.

Health care

The future of health care is at the top of minds for candidates in federal and state races alike this cycle, likely because it’s on the minds of their common constituents. State law can be used in conjunction with federal law regarding health care, meaning the legislative houses of New York’s government will have an opportunity to stabilize health care policy for its residents as the federal Affordable Care Act waits in limbo for a bipartisan solution in Congress.

Democrats in the Assembly have passed a single-payer health care bill — meaning essentially everyone in the state would pay into a pool and everyone would be covered — which has gotten no traction in the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, and appears unlikely ever to become the law.

As the ACA suffers, Palumbo said he would suggest some simple tweaks to improve the current system, rather than implementing a single-payer bill, which he said he believes will be too expensive.

“When you think about the numbers, we’re talking about 900,000 people in New York state are uninsured — they’re between the Medicaid gap and the private insurance gap — that’s 5 percent,” he said. “Not a lot I think, generally speaking.”

He suggested bringing back the Family Health Plus option, a subsidized plan for low-income individuals, which wasn’t available under the ACA, rather than “overhauling” state tax code to afford a single-payer scheme.

“Nothing comes off the shelf perfect,” Smith said of both the ACA and the single-payer bill passed by the Assembly. “They’re not perfect, they’re attempts to try to make sure that everybody — rich, poor, old, young — has health insurance they can depend upon for any health need that comes up. We have got to figure out how to do it.”

Affordability and opportunity

The candidates agreed there are obstacles for people — but especially recent college graduates — for being able to live and prosper both in the district and in the county as a whole. The problem will only be exaggerated going forward by the capping of state and local tax deductions, a component of the new federal tax code bill that will disproportionately impact homeowners in high-tax states like New York.

Smith said she would home in on reducing student loan debt as a means to foster more affordability, in addition to investment in more affordable housing projects for low-income individuals, a plan she said Democrats in the Assembly are already working on.

She said students need access to mandated, objective advice when it comes to borrowing and affording college, rather than just input from for-profit loan collection businesses.

Palumbo said New York’s susceptibility to outward migration can be traced to out-of-control budgeting and spending.

“It’s conservative fiscal values that we need to have,” he said.

He said the Assembly has been working on a solution to mitigate the capping of the SALT deduction at $10,000, though so far the IRS has not blessed any of the fixes.

Infrastructure investment

Investing in projects that could stimulate the local economy is seen as a solution by members of both parties. Currently legislators in New York are gathering funds to study the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road east of Huntington on the North Shore line, an idea many have suggested to increase opportunities for people to live and work in the area.

“I think investments in infrastructure always come back in salaries and benefits for people,” Smith said. “It might make housing more accessible.”

She said electrification might be the answer, but the state’s economy could be better served by using the LIRR to ship freight, an idea that would allow farmers and vineyards on the East End to ship fresh products beyond the direct vicinity.

Palumbo said he would go in another direction instead of committing major funds to electrify the LIRR line. He said he would like to see the results of a study examining LIRR ridership to the East End before going down that road and would prefer to see smarter leadership from the Metropolitan Transit Authority when it comes to train schedules and usage.

He also called on school districts to examine ways to scale down spending, which is the largest driver of increasing property taxes.

Incumbent state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick will be challenged by Democrat Dave Morrissey at the polls. Photos by Kyle Barr

The two candidates running for New York’s 8th Assembly District, incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown) and Democratic challenger Dave Morrissey, agree on the area’s problems of high taxes and shrinking youth population. However, they disagree heavily on how the state should work to change it.

Fitzpatrick and Morrissey stepped into the TBR News Media offices where they discussed their varying stances on state and local issues.

Fitzpatrick is running again for his long-held seat on a number of fiscal issues, including
taxes, young people leaving Long Island and cutting back on government employee’s benefits.

“Unfortunately, when you look at the numbers, we continue to be a state in decline. We’re losing 100,000 people a year,” he said.

Morrissey, a local software engineer and project manager from Smithtown, is running heavily on reforming New York’s response to the opioid crisis. This comes after a personal tragedy where Morrissey’s son William died of complications due to opioid addiction in 2016.

“He wasn’t one of the statistics because he didn’t die over an overdose death, and there are many more deaths than most often reported because of this,” the Democratic challenger said. “All levels of government need to do more.”

Taxes/Cost of Living

Fitzpatrick sees a need to deal with union contracts and government employee pension programs, which he said is sapping the strength out of the economy. The assemblyman has campaigned to change automatic pay increases while employers and employees are in between labor contracts as well as pushing for a transition from pensions for 401(k)s for government employees.

“The tax burden is too high,” the assemblyman said. “You have to get every elected official out of the defined benefit retention system. That particular benefit and how we are compensated encourages fiscal irresponsibility.”

The Democratic challenger said that while his campaign has received union support, he would still push for school consolidation of resources. He opined best way to affect the school district’s taxes was to expand Long Island’s commuter infrastructure to appeal to young people and, hopefully, encourage new business growth.

“We need to have smart strategic investments that will have a real cost benefit,” Morrissey said. “If the only thing you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, and you can’t cut your way into prosperity.”

Health care/Opioid crisis

On the opioid treatment and health care, the challenger said there needs to be much more done on the state level. He supports medically assisted treatment for all drug or alcohol users who need it, opening up an addiction high school through the BOCES system, and opening up at least 11 more recovery centers, for which he suggests the state should get pharmaceutical companies to pay.

The incumbent said he feels it would be near impossible to get the pharmaceutical companies to pay for these programs, while agreeing it would help, he said funding from state government is never guaranteed.

Morrissey said he also believes in health care for all and supports the New York Health Act, which passed through the state Assembly but did not reach the floor of the state Senate. He said he would look to give the state more negotiatinpower with pharmaceutical companies.

“I think it’s a great system that needs improvements — something rolled out gradually,”
Morrissey said. “Big pharma has so much wealth, we should be able to negotiate on the process.”

Fitzpatrick said he disagrees with a health care for all program, and especially the New York Health Act. He would instead advocate for use of Health Savings Account programs, one where people can save money for health-related emergencies only.

“The system is not broken — it needs to be repaired and modified,” he said. “You want a system that attracts the best and the brightest doctors.”

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