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Editorial / Op Ed

 

 

 


Sunday
Oct082017

Editorial - Thank You For Listening And 12 Angry Men

Going through the channel guide last night I noticed 12 Angry Men (1957) was on TV. The movie is a classic and even though I had seen it before I decided to watch it. As I watched I became more reflective about the world we live in. 12 Angry Men is timeless. A story written in the 1950’s still relevant in 2017.

In 12 Angry Men jurors are asked to examine facts and determine if the defendant, a young poor man living in a slum, is guilty of murdering his father. The facts as laid out by the prosecutor engendered most jurors to render a guilty vote.  One juror, played by Henry Fonda, was not convinced the evidence was enough to convict, he had reasonable doubt. Another juror played by Joseph Sweeny gave Fonda the opportunity to explain why he doubted the defendant committed the murder. 

Although they were all white males, the twelve jurors came from different socio-economic backgrounds and had very different life experiences. Each man’s experience shaped his opinion and led him to look at the facts with a unique perspective. The men had a difficult time understanding why others did not see things the same as they did. There was a lot of anger and posturing in the jury room. In the end what could have ended in a hung jury ended in a not-guilty verdict. Reason, discussion and listening  led to the conclusion that there was not enough information to convict. Whether or not the defendant was innocent was never answered. The verdict was simply, we do not have enough information to declare the defendent guilty.

12 Angry Men is a snapshot of where we are as a nation. We are divided. Personal experience shapes the way we think and how we look at facts. We don’t gather information to educate ourselves as much as we seek to validate positions. We listen superficially not for understanding and we wait for the opportunity to destroy the person who dares to speak a contadicting idea. 

We, like the media we follow, are authorities. No longer do we say I heard, I think, my opinion is; we say everyone knows and we say it’s a fact even when too often it’s not. Alternative facts have become acceptable and quoted and no one seems to want to hear that an alternative fact is nothing more than someone’s spin.

It is time for Americans to understand that we are in the jury room and we will be going nowhere fast if we don’t take time to HEAR what what others are saying. Communication is a give and take endeavor. If we don’t do a better job of listening and understanding what’s at stake, we may just render a death sentence to our future.

Pat

Tuesday
Oct032017

Op - Ed Congressman Zeldin - Hurricanes A Wake-Up Call For Insurance Reform

This Year’s Hurricane Season is Another Wake-up Call for Flood Insurance Reform

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

In all corners of our nation, and many areas in between, tens of millions of Americans live near water, and depend upon the natural resources and bounties which it provides. This especially rings true here in NY-1, where the water is an incredibly important part of our life and culture. However, with this blessing comes the need to protect ourselves against flooding, which has the potential to cause incredible damage to our homes and property. A crucial part of this defense is reforming the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is now over $25 billion in debt. This year’s particularly devastating hurricane season further emphasizes the urgent need for reform, incentivizing mitigation, reducing repetitive loss claims, achieving fiscal solvency and actuarially sound rates, and more timely adjudication of claims, among other ideas. In addition, too many of those affected by flooding are uninsured; we must have expanded coverage for those homeowners, which includes opening up the private market to increase options for coverage. As a member of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, I have been working hard to reform this program on a bipartisan basis and reauthorize it for the long term. As a Long Islander, this concern is all the more personal.

In June, along Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, NY-12), I introduced the bipartisan NFIP Policyholder Protection Act (H.R. 2868) to incentivize mitigation activities. This crucial legislation would result in a credit to policyholders who invest in mitigation, such as elevating their homes, adding porous foundations, or moving boilers to the second floor. Time and time again, I have heard from homeowners across NY-1 that, despite having done the right thing and elevated or otherwise mitigated risks to their homes, they have not received a corresponding drop in their flood insurance premiums. My legislation, which was passed out of the House Financial Services committee on a strong bipartisan vote, will ensure those homeowners receive a credit for their actions, in addition to other great benefits for our district. The advantages of flood insurance reform under this legislation will be tremendous for Suffolk County, and I will be working hard to ensure that this bill is passed and signed into law. 

While homeowners should be encouraged to protect their property, we must also realize that some areas are naturally prone to excessive flooding and result in repetitive claims for flood loss. Too many homeowners are opting to live in high risk areas confident they will receive substantial repeated payouts from NFIP. Paying homeowners over and over and over again for flood damage is the quintessential definition of insanity. When the reality is that repeated flood damage is all but certain, we must reform NFIP so homeowners relocate to safer and more stable locations, including buyouts for willing communities and the prevention of overdevelopment along waterfront communities. Reducing repetitive claims is one of many ways to put NFIP on a path towards fiscal solvency and more actuarially sound rates, which is a top priority of Congress’ bipartisan effort to effectively reform this program.

Expanding flood insurance coverage for more Americans is another vital objective. A large amount of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma did not live in properties covered by flood insurance. The coverage map must be expanded as well as lifting the “non-compete” clause in federal law that severely limits the availability of private flood insurance options. By doing so, we can encourage individuals, families, and business owners to seek appropriate and affordable flood coverage before the next storm, increasing competition and consumer choice while lowering costs.

We must also speed up the timetable for FEMA’s claims processing and better utilize digital technology like GIS to improve the flood mapping process. However, none of these ideas will amount to anything if not actually implemented through a long term reauthorization of the program. NFIP was reauthorized last month, without reforms, as part of a short term punt. The American people deserve immediate action.

Flood insurance is an absolute necessity for millions of Americans, and it is unfortunate that NFIP has been beset with these issues. However, we have a very real chance to make much-needed changes to this program. Increasing mitigation incentives, promoting fiscal solvency and actuarially sound rates, repetitive loss claims reduction, introducing more timely adjudication of claims, and expanding coverage while opening up the private market are all excellent and necessary ideas. Now is the time to make much needed reform. I look forward to pursuing any and all legislative options to make real change a reality.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, member of the House Financial Services Committee, represents the First Congressional District of New York.

Tuesday
Sep122017

Editorial - Primary Ends With Vote Republican Party In Fight To The Death Battle

Today Smithtown Republicans get to vote for candidates who will represent them in November’s general election. The primary season is ending, Good riddance.

From the very beginning this contest was more a display of the ugliness of politics than a debate about policy and vision. The spring nominating convention set the tone for the primary. At the convention Republican Chairman Bill Ellis and the executive board willfully discarded three incumbents Councilman McCarthy and Councilwoman Nowick (both successful vote getters) and replaced them with two first time candidates Robert Doyle and Thomas Lohmann. In what many call a “bait and switch scheme” forty-year incumbent Supervisor Patrick Vecchio was dropped by the Republicans, not for the announced Republican candidate for supervisor John Zollo, who dropped out of the race so that the Republicans could throw their support to Ed Wehrheim. The one incumbent the Republicans endorsed is not a Republican, for town clerk the board endorsed Conservative Vincent Puleo. 

The question people need to ask themselves is why a chairman would undermine an entire slate of successful office holders. The obvious answer is control.

Although Smithtown is considered a Republican town, Supervisor Vecchio has a long history of showing an independent streak, party politics is not his strong suit.  Bill Ellis is the head of the Smithtown Republican Committee and with the title come some perks like submitting names to fill appointments to positions on the planning board, board of zoning appeals (BZA), conservation board, etc. Not all of the names Ellis put forth were Republicans, naming a Conservative increases the likelyhood of cross endorsements during elections. Ellis’ job as chairperson is to keep the party growing and successful. 

Recently, a recalcitrant Vecchio with the support of town board members began appointing people who were not named by Ellis.  Previous appointees with expiring terms were not reappointed. Board chairpersons  were uncerimoniously replaced. Not a good position for the head of the Republican Committee to be in. 

Ellis’s unwavering support of Conservative Vincent Puleo, a man Vecchio and his supporters feel was behind the oath of office debacle a tremendous embarrassment for the town and for Vecchio and Lynne Nowick, further complicates the relationship.

In interviews with Vecchio and Ellis both men were ferverant in their positions. Vecchio, who started his political life as a Democrat, believes that his actions are indicative of a person who puts Smithtown residents above party politics. Ellis believes that Vecchio’s time has come and is now over and that Ed Wehrheim is his man.

Clearly these two men do not like each other but more importantly they are unable to work together. Talking to both men you can hear their anger and distrust for each other. This is not a relationship that will improve after the primary. One gets the sense that this is a winner take all battle.

Pat

Tuesday
Sep122017

Congressman Zeldin - Reflections On 16th Anniversary of Sept 11, 2001

 

Reflections on this 16th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Americans awoke and prepared for what appeared to be a normal Tuesday, unaware that their lives, and their world, would soon be changed forever. Soon we would shockingly be thrown into a moment of total disbelief of the worst kind as the largest terrorist attack in history would be carried out on our homeland. Unless too young or not yet born, we all would forever remember exactly where we were at that very moment that the towers fell. For all of us here in New York’s First Congressional District, these attacks struck a most personal chord in ways once thought unimaginable. So many family members, friends, and neighbors were possibly within the vicinity of these attacks and Long Islanders very anxiously awaited assurances that loved ones were safe; some received the most devastating news possible. Like most Americans, many on Long Island could only helplessly watch in horror as evil struck at the heart of our nation. For other Long Islanders, they would courageously and selflessly risk everything responding directly into the danger to help strangers. Many innocent Americans were murdered that day and what was once a normal Tuesday would forever change our lives and our world. On this 16th Anniversary, we renew our pledge to “Never Forget”.

Nicholas P. Chiofalo of Selden, NY, was not like most Americans. An FDNY firefighter with Engine Company 235 in Brooklyn, as well as the Fire Chief for the Selden Fire Department, Mr. Chiofalo had already been on duty for 24 hours when the call came that there was an attack on the World Trade Center. Without a second thought, Mr. Chiofalo remained on his truck and traveled straight into Manhattan to selflessly serve the nation he loved so dearly. Aiming to save as many lives as possible, this hero in every sense of the word went into the South Tower three times to fulfill his mission. Along with his entire crew, Mr. Chiofalo perished when the South Tower collapsed. His sacrifice was not in vain though, and we will never forget what he did that day. Nicholas, among many others at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and on United Airlines Flight 93, gave up their lives with infinite courage and honor that day. FDNY, NYPD, all firefighters, police officers, EMS personnel, and any other first responder who served on September 11th deserve our unyielding support.

Many of our surviving 9/11 first responders continue to suffer from illnesses arising from their heroic work at Ground Zero. Exposure to the toxic fumes, ash, and debris have caused many to suffer from deadly illnesses and diseases, including cancer and lung disease. While they may have walked away from Ground Zero, many of these first responders have carried the deadly effects of these attacks ever since. That is why the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act continues to be so critically important for our 9/11 first responders and their families. Through this law, the World Trade Center Health Program and September 11th Victim Compensation Fund ensure proper care for those who answered the call that day and in the weeks and months to follow. These heroes must be provided every ounce of support we have to offer as citizens of the greatest nation on Earth, and we must never fall short in this essential obligation.

We also honor all of the brave servicemen and women who have fought, bled, and fell in the war against terror over the past 16 years. The resolve of the United States led to significant actions taken to secure our country at home and abroad. Our nation’s courageous defenders have put themselves in the line of fire time and again in defense of our freedoms and liberties. We must remain eternally grateful for their countless sacrifices on our behalf.

Like so many others, Nicholas Chiofalo did not wake up that fateful Tuesday with any idea that it would be his last. When that call came though that urgent help was needed at Ground Zero, he knew exactly what he needed to do to selflessly save his fellow man. As Americans, we will never forget what Nicholas and many others sacrificed that day. Despite the darkness of thousands of lives innocently lost, heroes like Nicholas Chiofalo fill our hearts and our nation with a strength that is so powerful and positive. That brightest light will surely never be forgotten nor should it ever.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Financial Services Committee, represents the First Congressional District of New York.

Monday
Jun122017

Op - Ed Congressman Lee Zeldin - Eradicate Heroin And Opioid Abuse

We Must Eradicate Heroin and Opioid Abuse in Our Communities

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

The rise of drug abuse, addiction, and crime related to the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic is a deadly and destructive scourge that must be directly combatted and eradicated. Too many lives have been cut short; too many families ripped apart. No parent should ever have to bury their child for any reason, especially because they were suffering from a drug addiction and could not get the help they desperately needed. This problem is not going away unless something bold and massive is done that squashes this plague at the root of its source.

Our communities and families on Long Island have been especially impacted by the rise of prescription drug abuse and the growing heroin epidemic. As such, it is so important that we ensure every available resource is utilized to eradicate drug abuse from our neighborhoods. A key aspect of achieving this objective involves collaborative efforts with local elected officials, law enforcement, health professionals, community groups, parents, concerned residents and those in recovery, to discuss and develop localized community based solutions to tackle this crisis, by increasing treatment, recovery services, and education.

To further support our communities as they take on this challenge, I was proud to have cosponsored and helped pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (S. 524), or CARA, in the last Congress. This critical legislation provides a total of $8.3 billion in funding over five years to help combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic, and funds many initiatives on the local level. This includes $103 million over the five year authorization of the bill to establish a community-based competitive grant program to address and treat the challenges associated with heroin and opioid addiction and abuse, $160 million in funding over the authorization period for newly created treatment programs, the expansion of existing medically assisted treatments, and specialized treatment programs for pregnant women, veterans, and children through community based initiatives, and so much more.

Improving access and affordability of healthcare in America is another critical aspect of this fight. Addiction is a disease, and it should be treated as such. Unless we systematically and proactively restructure our existing options in healthcare positively, many Americans suffering from drug addiction will never recover. This includes ensuring access to insurance policies which cover long term treatment for those who desperately need it. Too often, those suffering from drug addiction are unable to receive the continuous coverage required for true recovery, and tragically lose their lives as a result.

I have also made it a priority to ensure that our communities are provided with higher supplies of Naloxone, or Narcan, a life saving medication that is safe and easy to administer, and has been proven to reverse an overdose within minutes. In addition to a provision of CARA which gives additional funding for a greater community supply of Narcan, I was a strong cosponsor of the Stop Overdose Stat (SOS) Act (H.R. 2850) in the 114th Congress which would provide an additional $25 million over a 5 year period for production and distribution to make sure that medical professionals and families have it in their possession, and are trained and ready to administer it. However, we must be sure that those who are saved by Narcan do not just return right away to using again and are immediately provided with the help needed to fully recover.

Through the Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 244), bipartisan legislation which recently passed the House, $3.6 billion will be provided to aid in the implementation of CARA. The bill funds the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) at $130.5 million above the previous Administration’s budget request to aid in these efforts, while maintaining robust funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant at $1.8 billion. In addition, $500 million in funding will be authorized through the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34); bipartisan legislation which was passed and signed into law at the end of the last Congress. This provides a total increase of $650 million for initiatives to address the opioid crisis. I also announced last week that, through H.R. 244, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made available over $70 million in community based grants to combat this threat, which includes $28 million in funding for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help treat those suffering.

In addition to providing vital funding for treatment and education efforts, it is imperative that we take the necessary steps to secure our borders against those who bring in illicit substances which have wrecked havoc within our communities. It is good news that H.R. 244 also includes $1.5 billion in increased funding for border security to strengthen infrastructure and technology, and improve Border Patrol hiring initiatives. As part of a legislative package to combat drug abuse, several bills to cut the flow of drugs coming into our nation have passed the House. This includes H.R. 3380, a bill to help law enforcement officials identify and target drug traffickers, as well as the Kingpin Designation Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R. 4985) to further combat narcotics trafficking, by allowing for easier prosecution of these criminals.

Addiction is a devastating disease that takes lives, tears families apart, and destroys our communities. The heroin and opioid abuse crisis has severely impacted our local community and has become a major issue across the country. It must be stopped. This is an effort that must be addressed at all levels of government. In Congress, I’ll continue working to advance legislation that helps those coping with drug addiction, by increasing treatment and recovery services to stop the tragic loss of life, family, and community as a result of addiction. This problem is far too serious to ignore, fail and not confront head on boldly and massively. I’ve personally been to too many wakes and funerals for young men and women who have lost their lives way too early and sadly. There remains so many lives that can still be saved.

Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York. The Congressman serves as a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic in the House of Representatives, which focuses on finding solutions to this crisis, spreading awareness and increasing educational efforts.

Thursday
Jun012017

Editorial - Smithtown Republicans Call Foul At Convention

 

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott, “Marmion”

Truer words have never been spoken especially when it comes to this year’s Smithtown Republican convention. The convention, held at the Elks Club Tuesday night was plain old ugly. Instead of Edward Wehrheim, the Republican designee for Smithtown supervisor, going to the podium to thank the committee and to celebrate, there was screaming and outward rebellion as Vecchio supporters accused Chairman Bill Ellis of conspiring to defraud Patrick Vecchio his rightful nomination.  Charges which the chairman denied.

In politics it is not unusual for committee members to submit a proxy allowing a chairperson to use their vote to support a candidate. Many, many committee persons did just that. Many of them submitted their proxy with the expectation that the candidates for supervisor would be Patrick Vecchio and John Zollo, the only announced candidate challenging incumbent Patrick Vecchio. John Zollo was considered a long shot to beat out Vecchio. According to Vecchio supporters committee members sent in their proxies well in advance of the convention with the expectation that their vote would go to Patrick Vecchio. What happened next could only be considered a bait and switch scenario where Ed Wehrheim replaced John Zollo as the candidate and all the signed blank proxies submitted to Ellis were cast as votes for Wehrheim.

Bill Ellis notified Patrick Vecchio on Thursday May 25th that the nominating committee would be endorsing Ed Wehrheim for supervisor. In addition, he advised that the committee would not be endorsing Councilman McCarthy nor Councilwoman Nowick, but would be supporting newcomers Robert Doyle and Thomas Lohmann. According to some members of the executive committee they had no indication that this was happening, a charge Ellis denies. 

Several executive committee members have confirmed that they were not aware of Wehrheim replacing Zollo, nor were they aware that Nowick and McCarthy were being replaced even though they had attended all scheduled executive board meetings. 

When the roll call was read with the word proxy, almost every time Ellis said “Wehrheim” indicating the votes would go to the Wehrheim. The room was silent as people realized there were more proxy’s than people in the audience and that the nominee would be Ed Wehrheim. There was nothing they could do but express their frustration. And they did loudly and passionately. 

Ed Wehrheim took to the podium and thanked the committee promising to continue to serve the community with “honor and integrity.” Those words were lost on the Vecchio supporters who emphasized that there was no honor, only dishonor in lying to committee members and swapping out John Zollo for Ed Wehrheim.

Supervisor Vecchio, Councilman McCarthy and Councilwoman Nowick have promised to primary. The primary will take place in September.

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

Pat

Monday
Mar062017

Op-Ed Congressman Lee Zeldin - The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism

The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

The recent threats and property crimes targeting institutions and symbols of Jewish faith demonstrate that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United States and globally must be combatted forcefully and decisively. While the tragedy of the Holocaust happened decades ago, we still feel the effects of its hatred and intolerance. Anti-Semitism, terror, and racism must be fought and vanquished in every form; we can never do enough to put an end to prejudice, both within our nation and around the globe. 

Our First Amendment protects Freedom of Religion and is one of our most precious liberties. When Americans are threatened with violence because of their free expression it is not only reprehensible, but unconstitutional as well. This liberty is a cornerstone of our freedom as Americans.

Recently, a number of Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) nationally have been targeted with anonymous bomb threats made by telephone and email. These threats targeted a Long Island JCC as recently as this past week. These centers are meant to be havens where families can come to enjoy social, recreational, and educational activities, while continuing to develop their Jewish faith with members of the community in a safe and comfortable environment. Many Jewish children receive schooling in these facilities; as a parent, the thought that any child may be threatened with violence because of their faith is absolutely sickening.

Additionally, there have been a number of incidents in the United States and abroad in recent weeks, months and years where sacred religious symbols have been destroyed with the intention of intimidating Jewish Americans. Jewish cemeteries, for example, in the United States and in other countries around the world are being desecrated. I recently sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director James Comey, regarding the increasing number of anti-Semitic acts, which you can read here. In the letter, I asked that, in light of these shameful attacks, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice update Congress as to which specific steps are being taken to identify and prosecute those who would perpetrate these crimes against the American Jewish community.

Anti-Semitism is rearing it’s ugly head on college campuses with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, and in foreign countries and companies trying to harm the Israeli economy today. Anti-Semitism is rising at the United Nations as well where the Security Council recently passed a resolution seeking to ethnically cleanse Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem. For the first time ever, the United Nations formally declared it a violation of international law for Jews to live in this area, which is the same land that the Macabees lived on, prayed, and fought for freedom. It is that fight celebrated on Hanukkah, which started just one day after the United Nations Security Council passed their anti-Jewish, anti-Israel resolution.

Israel, our greatest friend and ally, is surrounded by terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and ISIS that would like nothing more than to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is a beacon of liberty and freedom in a very dark region of the world, and we as a nation must do everything we can to protect our ally and the Israeli people from these disparaging, divisive and dangerous tactics that threaten both their national security and ours. 

There must be zero tolerance for anti-Semitism in any form at home or abroad.

Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York. In Congress, Rep. Zeldin serves as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Co-Chairman of the House Republican Israel Caucus. He is one of only two Jewish Republicans in Congress.

Friday
Feb242017

Editorial - A Telephone Town Hall Meeting Is NOT A Real Town Hall Meeting

Listened in on Congressman Lee Zeldin’s Telephone Town Hall meeting last night. It was not democracy at its finest. A town hall meeting is an opportunity for the elected to give a brief overview of what they are working on and to bring people together. Town hall meetings provide the public an opportunity to ask questions and to hear what their neighbors are concerned about. Town hall meetings are about dialogue.  Some town hall meetings are more controversial than others. When people take the time to attend a meeting it is because they want to discuss something or learn something regarding an issue they are passionate about.  

A Telephone Town Hall meeting is sterile - there is no excitement and there is little passion. Last night’s meeting hosted by Congressman Zeldin was no exception. The meeting, which lasted about an hour starting close to 7:15 and ending at 8:15, was boring. No doubt the Congressman wanted it that way and considers it a reasonable forum for him to speak with constituents. 

Despite there being 9,000 plus people who participated in the meeting (according to Congressman Zeldin’s spokesperson Jennifer DiSiena) and despite Congressman Zeldin offering people the opportunity to ask a question by pressing *3, only twelve questions were addressed and there was no follow-up question from the audience.  In addition to the twelve questions, the Congressman asked people to respond to five benign poll questions. 

Callers were asked their questions in advance of speaking with the Congressman. Online comments after the meeting indicate that some callers were left dangling, waiting on the phone with no indication that their call would lead to a conversation with the Congressman. 

Many left the call early. Not much passion.

For his part Congressman Zeldin answered the questions presented to him (sometimes longwinded) without follow-up from people who may not have been accepting his comments as an answer to the question. The Congressman talked of his support for the environment and defended his vote to allow companies to degrade the waterways in coal country. His defense was that an industry was involved and jobs were being lost. If this was a true town hall meeting someone would have jumped on it and perhaps questioned the Congressman on how diluting protection of water and the environment a bona fide health and safety issue is negotiable.  Perhaps there would have been a question about Scott Pruitt becoming the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is a staunch opponent of the EPA’s agenda having sued the EPA fourteen times. Perhaps a questioner might have asked about Scott Pruitt’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry or perhaps his desire to block the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States” rule.

There were questions about President Trump’s tax returns, transgender bathroom use, VA, ACA and more that would have benefitted from additional information gathered through public questioning.

We will never know if those questions would have been asked because the Telephone Town Hall was not a true town hall meeting. It was at best an appeasement of the masses who expect a town hall meeting. I did my job, I hosted a public event and I am always available for questions. Really?!

No, Congressman Zeldin, a Telephone Town Hall meeting is not the same as a Town Hall meeting which you are very capable of hosting. Many of your colleagues are hosting meetings. I get it that sometimes they’re pleasant and some time not so much. Not hosting a REAL Town Hall meeting is giving up on yourself, its sending a message that you are unable or unprepared to explain and yes defend your position.

Congressman Zeldin, it’s time for you to host a Town Hall meeting your constituents are entitled to one. For better or worse do your job!

Pat

Tuesday
Feb072017

Editorial - Rising Suffolk County Fees Back Door Tax Or A Behavior Changer?

Administrative fees are a necessary evil. Most people have at one time or another paid a fee to a government agency for things like building permits, licenses, filing a deed or getting a copy of a document. The administrative fee typically covers the cost of the service provided. Historically fees have not been seen as a way to generate income or balance a budget. What has been true historically is not true today according to Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta. 

Legislator Trotta has not been shy in expressing his concern that the Bellone administration has been using administrative fees as a way to generate money to help balance the County’s budget.  According to Legislator Trotta the county has raised fees on recording mortgage records - created a mandatory registry wich includes a $50 residential and $100 fee for business alarms. Last week the Ways and Means Committee discharged a bill that will go before the full legislature this week and is is expected to pass doubling the administrative fee on traffic and parking tickets.

According to Trotta the fees go above and beyond the costs of running the programs. The fees says Trotta are a “backdoor tax” that is being used to pay the costs of police contracts.

Is Trotta correct and does it matter?

It seems that not a day goes by without some governmental entity telling us that their actions are necessary and too often we are told it is for our own good.  Taking money because you can is bad enough, but telling tax payers it is for their own good is too often a false fact.

Recently, County Executive Bellone’s spokesperson Vanessa Baird-Streeter issued a statement to Newsday reporter David M. Schwartz (Bill to double $55 fee on tickets advances in Suffolk), “This fee can be avoided altogether by obeying traffic law, that the way to avoid the administrative fees for parking and traffic tickets is drive according to the law.”  Legislator Flemming (Southampton) in the same article suggested “high fees could help discourage unsafe driving. ‘We have to consider public safety and reduce the carnage we see on highways and roads.” That is one rationale but the reality is many of the people receiving the tickets are working people with little money to spare. They get their tickets as they head out to the store to buy groceries or school supplies, they head home to meet the school bus or to pick up children at day care they are not consciously thinking about breaking rules. Deterence only works when someone is concious of doing wrong. People will be hurt by the additional fees. The question is not whether or not a ticket, which is the punitive part, is warranted it is a question of whether the ticket recipient should be an ATM for county finances. 

Last year the county legislated an alarm program (for residents and businesses served by SCPD) the program Alarm Management Program of Suffolk (AMPS)  was represented as a way to control the number of false alarms requiring a police response. In 2015 the Suffolk County Police Department responded to 97,000 false alarms According to the county close to $2 million dollars was spent responding to false alarms and often times the alarms came from the same address. The fee of $50 for residential alarms and $100 for business alarms is expected to raise as much as $6 million dollars. The intended purpose of the registry is to minimize the number of false alarms and to charge residents who have multiple false alarm calls. The problem is that many if not most false alarms are the result of an unintended action, like leaving a pet roaming around a sensored area. According to safeties.com an unintended result of programs that seek to weed out the false alarms is fewer people using their alarm which may lead to more burglaries. A false alarm is already unpleasant for the great majority of  owners, embarrassing and sometimes frightening.  Maliciously pulling a fire alarm or calling 911 is a different issue. 

One other troubling comment to come out of the David M. Schwartz’s article comes from Ms. Baird-Streeter who said “The fee hike will cover administrative costs associated with issuing the tickets and brings Suffolk in line with a newly approved hike in Nassau County.” Parity with Nassau County is really not the path that Suffolk County residents should aspire to be on.

In January 2017 Legislator Trotta held a press conference during which he proposed capping administrative fees. Trotta contends that the Cuomo tax cap has been successful in keeping costs down for tax payers. A fee cap in Suffolk County would limit the “backdoor tax” that unfairly targets those who are required to use a county service. 

What legislators do does matter. Declining to raise taxes and raising administative fees is not the solution to the County’s fiscal problem. Raising fees on traffic and parking tickets and telling people that if they would only behave is an insult. Suggesting that higher administrative fees will promote safer driving should be backed up with facts. Suffolk County residents NEED to speak up and let their legislators know their thoughts.

Pat

Tuesday
Jan102017

Op Ed NYS Constitutional Convention A Con

 By Anthony Figliola

 NYS Constitutional Convention is Nothing But a Con

This year, one of the most important legislative issues that will confront Albany legislators will be to approve a ballot proposition slated for November 7, 2017, to hold a constitutional convention.  

On its face, a convention makes sense given the many issues that have stalled in Albany’s black hole of bureaucracy over the years. The problem with this philosophy is that it ignores the history of past conventions and the powerful role that politics played in the process.

History has shown that a con con is nothing more than a carbon copy of a typical legislative session.  In short, it’s a $335 million plus workforce development initiative for the politically connected. 

Many good-government groups who have pushed for ethics and campaign finance reform in New York are keen to support a convention, because their efforts over the years have been thwarted by the culture of the status quo. Many reformers naively accept the premise that seizing on a possible vote for a New York Constitutional Convention (e.g., vote slated for November 7, 2017) will force the state legislature’s hand to pass meaningful reforms. In theory, it makes sense, but the one variable that will dilute this purist approach is politics. The same people who are impotent on the issue of reforms are the same folks who will set the rules, select candidate delegates and ultimately run the convention.

History shows us that while some worthy policies were developed and ratified by the voters, much of the conventions were riddled with rigged agendas and uncontrolled costs. It is important to note that in past conventions, elected officials, including state legislators, have served as delegates at the convention. These pols essentially “double dipped”, collecting two salaries that significantly boosted their government pensions.

Let’s not forget the lobbyists who love the idea of a conclave, so they can charge their clients another fee to represent them at the convention.  The 1967 convention charged taxpayers more than $45 million ($335 million in today’s dollars) and very little was achieved that could not have been accomplished through a statewide referendum.

Constitutional conventions are not cost-effective. Not only are the politically connected delegates well paid, they get to hire staff. There are 189 delegate spots and they all need help. Administrative, legal, and research are just some of the staffing positions that have been filled in past conventions. Then you add per diems, food, transportation, lodging, and printed materials to the bottom line. You can even hire a special consultant or two.

Historians and legal scholars will point to the 1894 convention that brought us the “Forever Wild” amendment, which protects the Adirondacks from development or the 1938 convention that authorized public funds for low-income housing, all of which were important pieces of legislation. Other conventions in 1915 and 1967 produced nothing for the voters.

Legal scholars have also argued that a conclave could develop critical judicial reforms, such as streamlining the court system and adding an amendment that would guarantee legal aid in civil cases.  These proponents have an opportunity every year during a regular legislative session to educate the public, in order to galvanize support for specific constitutional amendments to be brought to the voters.  

In developing the convention rules, many supporters have stated that there will be checks and balances in the rule making process that will give the power to the people.  History has proven that nothing could be farther from the truth. 

It has been almost 80 years since a convention has produced any constitutional amendments, because politics has been the poison pill.  

There is a less costly and more effective approach to changing our constitution and that is the public referendum process, which has successfully amended the constitution more than 200 times.  In fact, the constitution has been amended seven times in the last few years using this process, which included the voters approving casino gambling. 

Voters seeking good government solutions can’t afford the luxury of another convention.

About the Author

Anthony Figliola is Vice President of Empire Government Strategies and co-author of “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism – A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions.”