DECISION ON LEVY WATER FUND RAID UPHELD
Suffolk Must Restore $30 Million to Water Protection
The New York State Court of Appeals has declined to review an Appellate Court ruling which determined that the administration of discredited Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy illegally raided $30 Million from the County’s Drinking Water Protection Program to plug holes in the county budget. The Appellate Division, Second Department ruled last November that since the water fund was created by Public Referendum, funds could not be re-directed without another Public Referendum.
Created in 1987, the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program uses a quarter-cent sales tax to protect water quality in the Pine Barrens and other water protection areas. But in 2011, the Suffolk County Legislature approved a Resolution moving $30 million from the water fund to the general fund. The Long Island Pine Barrens Society and the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum sued in New York State Supreme Court, but the lower court dismissed the case. The environmentalists appealed, saying that since the fund was approved by voters, it could only be altered by another referendum. Last November, the appeals court agreed, nullified the fund transfer and said that future changes to the Drinking Water Protection Program could only be accomplished by public referendum.
The Bellone administration appealed the ruling, first to the Appellate Division, then to the state’s highest court. Both courts declined to consider Suffolk’s appeal, the Court of Appeals, yesterday. The Pine Barrens Society and Environmental Voters Forum will now move for the return of the funds to the DWPP.
“This is a huge win for taxpayers and for good government,” said Pine Barrens Society Executive Director, Richard Amper. “Suffolk taxpayers are paying 2½ times the national average in taxes, but they’ve repeatedly approved taxing themselves ¼ penny more as long as it is used for water quality improvement. The Levy administration betrayed that requirement when it raided the fund and the courts have now said that’s not just wrong; it’s against the law,” Amper added.
The litigation was managed by three pro bono attorneys, Jennifer Juengst, Paul Sabatino II and Regina Seltzer, who will be honored for their public service work at the Society’s 38th Anniversary Environmental Awards Gala on October 21.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, CONTACT: RICHARD AMPER (516) 383-5391
|We are recruiting motivated citizens who will make
environmental protection a priority in Brookhaven, Riverhead
and Southampton by running for Supervisor, there.
• Resident of the town for more than one year
• Unhappy with unresponsive, dysfunctional government
• Supports protecting water quality, preserving open space and controlling taxes
• Previous political involvement not required
ENVIRONMENTALISTS ENDORSE STATE SENATE CHALLENGERS
Say Water Quality Improvement is Key for Long Island, Back Cahill for A.G., DiNapoli for State Comptroller, Name “Green” Choices for Suffolk Comptroller & State Offices
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, CONTACT: RICHARD AMPER (516) 383-5391
The Long Island Environmental Voters Forum has endorsed 20 candidates for election, this year, keeping the organization’s vow not to support those who failed to vote for a water quality improvement bill in Albany, this spring. “Long Islanders and their true leaders agree that improving drinking and surface water is Job #1 for our environment and economy, so our elected officials must prioritize it,” said LIEVF president, Richard Amper.
In congressional races the environmental voters forum endorsed incumbents Tim Bishop, Peter King and Steve Israel as well as Kathleen Rice, who is vying for an open seat against Bruce Blakeman.
For statewide office, the green group endorsed John Cahill, a Republican, over incumbent Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General and incumbent Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “There’s no place for partisanship or incumbency when it comes to electing our leaders,” Amper said, “We must choose those who represent us, strictly on merit. The group made no endorsement in the race for Governor.
For State Senate races, the environmental group chose Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment over Islip Supervisor Tom Croci. “This was a real no-brainer, said LIEVF Board Member Anthony Coates, adding “Esposito is fighting for the environment and Croci is against it.” He cited her nearly 30 years of environmental advocacy versus Croci’s association with a huge dumping scandal in Islip. Other State Senate endorsements included Adam Haber over incumbent Jack Martins, and Ethan Irwin, over incumbent Kemp Hannon.
LIEVF had warned state legislators that they would not be considered for endorsement if they did not vote for the Long Island Water Quality Control Act when it came before the state legislature in June. The State Senate refused even to consider the measure.
Noteworthy, was LIEVF’s refusal to endorse 1st District State Senator Kenneth LaValle, the Senate sponsor of the water bill who has always previously been endorsed by the environmentalists. “Senator LaValle needed to put his constituents and Long Island ahead of Albany politics on a matter of this importance, and he didn’t,” Amper said.
For Assembly the Voters Forum chose Steven Englebright, Earlene Hill Hooper, Charles Lavine, Dean Murray, Andrew Raia, Philip Ramos, Michelle Solages, Joseph Saladino, Tom Schilliro, Fred Thiele and Jason Zove. Noteworthy, the group declined to endorse16th district Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel for being the only member of the Long Island legislative delegation to cast a vote against the water protection proposal.
In the only local endorsement, LIEVF enthusiastically endorsed Democrat James Gaughran for Suffolk County Comptroller over Suffolk Legislative Minority Leader Republican John Kennedy. “This call was black and white,” said LIEVF board member, David Reisfield. “Gaughran helped create Suffolk’s Drinking Water Protection Program when he was a county legislator and Kennedy is the only member of the county legislature to vote against both bills aimed at restoring both the water quality program and the citizen’s right to control it,” Reisfield added.
The Voters Forum did not endorse in races where neither candidate had demonstrated potential for environmental leadership or where opponents of black-listed State Senators did not impress.
The Long Island Environmental Voters Forum is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots organization created to identify recruit, endorse, support, train and actively campaign for candidates for public office.
WANTED: POLITICIANS WHO ANSWER TO US
In our Capitol, we need less obstruction and more actual voting on crucial bills
BY RICHARD AMPER
The scandal in Albany is not what’s illegal; it’s what’s legal. Consider these two outrageous actions during the legislative session that wrapped up recently:
· A bill was introduced that would reduce contamination of Long Island’s water, which studies show is becoming gravely polluted. Public comments to legislators on the bill ran overwhelmingly in favor, and the Assembly passed it by a 112-24 vote. The Senate killed the bill when its leaders allowed neither debate nor vote.
· A bill was introduced that would require the identification of hazardous materials in products used by children. The legislation had 40 sponsors in the Senate (a 63 percent majority), but it, too, was killed without a hearing.
Pundits call this business as usual. But we should call it what it is: a cozy little game that allows politicians to serve special interests while dodging the consequences at the polls. It’s a nasty game that not only endangers children and threatens our water, but also strikes at the heart of the democratic process.
The way it’s supposed to be, all sides of an issue are aired in public debate. Legislators vote and the side with the most votes wins. Folks who don’t like the outcome have recourse via the voting booth.
The process would not suit those special-interest groups with a private stakes in an issue that runs against the public good. In an open debate and vote, these groups can lose. In the child-safety issue, this would be the manufacturers. In the case of the water bill, it’s the development and farming lobbies, which together forked over tens of thousands of dollars for the coffers of Long Island’s seven state senators in just the past two elections.
Killing bills instead of voting on them suits these senators, too. It enables politicians to take special-interest groups’ cash, and do their bidding, while simultaneously claiming to be on the public’s side.
When I complained to one Long Island senator about his inaction on the water legislation, his defense was, “I would have voted for it” — that is, if he only had the chance. Presumably, the 40 sponsors of the spiked child-safety bill would have voted for it, too.
And that’s exactly the point. A vote would have compelled lawmakers to do right by the public. By killing spiking the bill, Senate Majority Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) saved them that fate.
It doesn’t have to be this way. One remedy is to reform the legislature’s “motion to discharge,” which allows Assembly House and Senate members to demand that a bill be brought to a vote. New York’s procedure involving limited sponsorship and onerous timelines is known as one of the most restrictive in the country.
Even if we had a functioning procedure, we would need legislators with the integrity to use it. The spectacle of a clear majority declining to stand up for a child-safety measure they themselves sponsored shows how far they have drifted from a proper understanding of their obligations. Like children, testing their boundaries, lawmakers need us to set clear expectations.
An elected official’s job is not to just say the right thing, but do it. It’s a simple message, and we can communicate it in a way they will understand.
If the 40 senators who failed to get a vote on the child-safety bill were turned out of office this fall, you can be confident the new batch would learn from that mistake. And if our seven Long Island senators are turned out, you can bet your water supply that the next group will get the job done.
Sneaky government prevails only if citizens permit it. For too long we’ve been complaining about our politicians, yet enabling them. Let’s stop doing that, and start getting a government that answers to us.
Richard Amper is president of the nonprofit Long Island Environmental Voters Forum.
STATE SENATE KILLS
CLEAN WATER BILL
The New York State Senate has killed a water quality
improvement bill, by refusing even to bring it to the Senate floor
for a vote before adjourning the legislative session. The State
Assembly approved the same measure by a margin of 112-24.
The proposed legislation was introduced in the Senate
by Senator Kenneth P. Lavalle and in the Assembly by Assemblyman
Robert K. Sweeney. Titled the Long Island Water Quality Control
Act, the bill would have reduced the discharge of contaminants
into groundwater and established a regulatory framework to improve
the quality of drinking and surface waters on Long Island. The bill
was in response to concerns from scientists and environmentalists
about declining water quality across the Island.
After nine months of input from citizens, businesses
and government officials, and a five-hundred to one ratio of supporting
versus opposing comments to Albany lawmakers, the State Senate
left the bill to die in committee.
Supporters of the bill included all of Long Islands
water suppliers, dozens of groups who support improved water quality
and thousands of Long Islanders who drink, wash or swim in Long
Island water. The Senate chose to protect the polluters, particularly
the developers and the agriculture industry, instead of the quality
of water affecting nearly three-million Long Islanders its
outrageous. The measure had been opposed by the Long Island
Farm Bureau and the Long Island Builders Institute.
The farmers said simply that they wanted no additional
regulations to prevent the dis-charge of fertilizers and pesticides
into groundwater. The developers promised last January, that they
would oppose water quality improvement unless the bill provided
for the construction of 50,000 new houses. They basically told Long
Islanders that their group would oppose improving water quality
unless the bill allowed them to continue polluting Long Islands
The Long Island Environmental Voters Forum has taken
the position that those who did not vote to support the clean water
bill, no matter what the reason, are ineligible for endorsement
in the state-wide elections, this fall. Environmentalists vowed
to pursue the legislation.