NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) is heading to Albany for the 2020 legislative session, and after a productive first year in office, he said he’s determined to again tackle a long list of issues. With Andrew Raia stepping down as assemblyman as of Jan. 1 to fill the role of Huntington town clerk, Gaughran will be the area’s only representative in the state house unless a special election is held.
With a state budget of $179 billion and budget deficit of $6 billion, ethical reform and corruption, he said, are at the top of his to do list.
The Times of Huntington sat down with Gaughran Jan. 12 to get an overview of his agenda.
In the new year, citizens can look forward to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) energy initiative. He’s formulating an environmental bond for voter approval in November designed to address climate change. Gaughran doesn’t know how it will work. Details will be unveiled with the governor’s pending budget, he said.
He plans to support sewage treatment plants and is behind plans to address clean water initiatives for the Long Island Sound and the groundwater, which is the sole source of Long Island’s drinking supply.
On the topic of taxes, Gaughran said that he’s opposed to raising taxes on the middle class and notes that half of all state revenue comes from the wealthiest 3 percent of residents. Those taxpayers, however, are declaring legal residencies in other states to escape New York’s tax burden. According to President Donald Trump (R), that’s why he declared Florida as his legal residence. That situation is compounding the state’s budget woes.
Lost Medicaid revenue is also a fiscal concern. Of the $6 billion deficit, $4 billion is lost federal funding to cover Medicaid costs.
“People are living longer,” Gaughran said. “More advanced technology translates into higher health care costs.”
Overall, Gaughran suggests that citizens pay attention, as many already do, and to demand transparency in government. Toward that effort, he said he will continue to host town hall meetings with constituents. He expects to schedule an upcoming town hall on Long Island Rail Road issues.
To address ethics issues, Gaughran is supporting a law that limits lawmakers’ outside income to 15 percent of their annual $110,000 salary.
Gaughran is also pushing for election reforms. Last year’s early voting initiative was an initial success. But he said communities need more polling places. One polling place in each town is too few. He’d like to see one voting place for every 50,000 citizens. He said he’s opposed to schools being used for early voting.
Bail reform is another troublesome issue for Gaughran. If he had not voted for last year’s budget, which included the bail reform legislation, it would have cut state aid to schools. So, this year he’d like to restore judicial reviews for 64 crimes and set bail as needed. Bail should not be waived for hate crimes, he said. He said other senators are supporting his initiative and he continues to get calls about it.
He also wants to help drug addicts with arrests find treatment and is alarmed that Long Island real estate agents discriminate, as reported in a recent Newsday expose. He is supporting legislation that suspends or revokes a broker’s license when they are found to discriminate against minorities.
Gaughran has been a proponent of better laws that crack down on unsafe driving for limousines. U-turns, blamed for a deadly crash in Cutchogue in 2015, will soon be illegal. That crash resulted in the death of four young women from Kings Park, Commack and Smithtown. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Gaughran introduced nine bills to address the problems.
“I so admire these families that have channeled their grief into something positive,” Gaughran said.
With regards to the Long Island Power Authority, he’s waiting on the courts to see how the case unfolds and is following the Town of Huntington to see what it will do. He plans to reintroduce legislation this session to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax certiorari suits. LIPA’s aggressive lobbying in the assembly derailed the initiative last year, after his senate bill passed with overwhelming support. The costs behind LIPA’s lobbying and public relations campaigns need to be reined in, he said, and need more oversight.
“Citizens have no consumer protection with LIPA,” Gaughran explained.
His plan is to authorize regulatory oversight of LIPA to the New York Public Service Commission and require annual audits. Currently, if fraud or misrepresentation is found, he said the state can’t take action. He’d also like to better understand the relationship between LIPA and PSEG.