There was a time when the Tarrytown Urban Renewal Agency, the Peekskill Civic Center Authority and the Spring Valley Parking Authority were tasked with important missions related to economic development in their communities.
But those days have long since passed, according to two local lawmakers who are pushing to dissolve more than 100 public authorities across the state that, they say, do absolutely nothing.
The move is part of a larger effort, which seems to be reaching a fever pitch thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to take a microscope to state government and eliminate waste and duplication.
“Some of these authorities have been inactive for 30 years, and many were never even operational to begin with," said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) who, along with Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye), is sponsoring a bill that would wipe 118 public authorities off the books.
Thirteen of them are in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam.
Most, if not all, of those agencies have no budget, so their existence does not exacerbate the steady upward march of property taxes. But beyond simply "right-sizing" government, as Cuomo likes to say, the measure could pave the way for future consolidations that actually save taxpayers' money.
"If you retract it and you decide you still need to do that function, you can do it regionally rather than by individual community," Latimer said.
It's not a new idea. Just last year, Latimer helped Port Chester dissolve two authorities—a parking authority and community development agency—that no longer played any role in the village.
In Tarrytown, an urban renewal agency created decades ago to develop blighted areas of the village has done nothing since at least the mid-1980s, according to Village Administrator Michael Blau.
“It certainly makes sense to eliminate any subset of government that doesn’t serve any particular purpose at the local level," Blau said.
For his part, Cuomo has created the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission, which is tasked with identifying a range of cost-saving initiatives related to government spending. The group is expected to issue its final report in June 2012.
Cuomo also has been a vocal proponent of government consolidation. Last year, while he was the state's attorney general, he helped steer a bill through the legislature that streamlined the process for merging local governments. But since the bill became law, there have been only 10 votes to dissolve villages. Just one, in rural Altmar, Oswego County, passed.
Latimer, whose district covers a confusing patchwork of towns and villages— the town and city of Rye, Rye Brook, Larchmont, the town and village of Mamaroneck—is the co-sponsor of a bill that would pare down Cuomo's law by shortening the period that petitioners have to collect the signatures necessary to put a merger on the ballot.
The law requires that 10 percent of a village's population sign the petition. The bill's sponsors say their measure is an attempt to ensure that a vote to dissolve is not solely the result of a push by a few renegade residents.
"You will find 10 percent of people against anything at any time," Latimer said. "This is an attempt to bring the consolidation law into balance."
Here are the 13 authorities in the lower Hudson Valley that would be dissolved if the bill passes:
Town of Carmel Industrial Development Agency
Mount Kisco Urban Renewal Agency
City of New Rochelle Parking Authority
New Rochelle Urban Renewal Agency
Nyack Urban Renewal Agency
Village of Pawling Urban Renewal Agency
City of Peekskill Civic Center Authority
Peekskill Community Development Agency
Peekskill Parking Authority
Village of Spring Valley Parking Authority
Tarrytown Urban Renewal Agency
Tuckahoe Urban Renewal Agency
Yorktown Urban Renewal Agency
Here's a look at what our local lawmakers were up to between April 29 and May 6:
Castelli, who was once a nationally ranked sport shooter, polished his Second Amendment bonafides on May 6 when he spoke at a lobbying event for hunting enthusiasts. Earlier in the week, the assemblyman helped pass a bill that would lower, from 14 to 12, the minimum age to obtain a junior archery license.
Castelli joined a number of other Assembly members in applauding the chamber's passage of a package of environmental legislation in honor of Earth Day. The dozen or so bills include proposals that would streamline recycling requirements, prohibit the sale of products that contain mercury, and restrict the use of DecaBDE, a flame retardant that has been linked to neurological disorders.
The assemblyman applauded the news of Osama bin Laden's death, but noted that al Qaeda's effective commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still at large.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) introduced three bills, including a proposal to strip public officials of their pensions if they are convicted of a crime related to the abuse of their office. An identical proposal has already been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson).
Galef also wants to establish a process for removing real estate assessors from their positions if they have broken the law or have made significant errors in property assessments. The bill would allow local governments to remove assessors from office after a hearing, and would allow assessors to appeal the decision within 30 days.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) introduced a bill that would allow Kollell Shas Keren Hatorah, a Jewish organization, to apply for a property tax exemption in the town of Ramapo.
Jaffee on May 4 joined a handful of her Assembly colleagues to call for the passage of pay equity legislation, which would bar employers from compensating male and female employees differently for identical work.
The Assembly on May 2 passed a bill, sponsored by Jaffee and Sen. David Carlucci, that would with Orange & Rockland Utilities to facilitate a power project.
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) did not introduce any bills.
Katz on May 5 criticized the MTA for effectively asking state lawmakers to secure the agency $1.7 billion in state funds for capital projects. In 2009, the state passed a package of legislation that gives the MTA a $2.3 billion annual revenue stream. Those measures included a controversial payroll tax that many lawmakers are seeking to repeal. Katz and several other lawmakers are calling for a forensic audit of the agency to uncover waste and fraud.
Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye) did not introduce any bills.
Latimer is spearheading an effort, joined by the entire Westchester delegation of the legislature, to investigate delays and a blown budget on the refurbishing of a span of I-287 brought to light in an investigative piece by the Journal News. According to the paper, the project has cost $544 million since it began in 2000—$63 million over budget. The delay is being blamed on poor planning and oversight. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer also is calling for an investigation into the project.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) did not introduce any bills.
Paulin is continuing her probe into delays on the Metro North New Haven line this past winter. The agency has blamed the delays on construction going on in Connecticut. The assemblywoman is urging local residents to contact her office if they experience any problems with trains on the line.
Like most of her colleagues, Paulin over the death of Osama bin Laden, but also warned that the event does not put an end to the threat of terrorism.
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) introduced two bills, one of which clarifies existing law that allows courts, but not attorneys, to subpoena a witness' medical records without that person's consent. A 2003 court case brought to light a grey area in the existing law.
Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) seems to have been prodigiously busy during the legislature's two-week vacation last month, as he introduced more than 50 bills last week, including a proposal that would require schools to create a set of standard disciplinary actions for students involved in bullying or harassment, whether physical, emotional or electronic. A second bill would require the State Education Department to create its own set of rules related to bullying.
Ball is proposing the creation of tax credits for spaying or neutering a pet, medical services for people with autism, and the costs associated with adopting a child. The senator also wants to create two new state registries— one for domestic violence offenders and the other for employees of state-run group homes for the mentally disabled who were fired for abusing or neglecting residents. The latter is a response to a recent New York Times report that detailed shocking abuses at state-run group homes, often perpetrated by people who were fired from other homes.
Ball wants to make it a crime to perform a sex-selective abortion, in which a fetus is aborted solely because of its gender. "No nation committed to women's equality and human dignity can tolerate this shocking, discriminatory disregard for its own children," Ball wrote in a memo accompanying the bill.
Another bill would allow the Department of Health to create a grant program aimed at providing low-income New Yorkers with nutritious, local food. In a bill memo, Ball says the program would not only provide poor residents with better food, but would reduce reliance on welfare, save the state money on Medicaid expenses and increase business for local farms. The bill does not say how much the program would cost.
Finally, Ball wants to designate May 19 "Malcolm X Day" in honor of the slain civil rights leader. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925.
Ball on May 2 released a video statement applauding the death of Osama bin Laden, calling the al Qaeda leader "scumbag in chief." He used the occasion to call attention to his series of hearings on homeland security in the years after 9/11, the first of which took place April 8. The next hearing is scheduled for June 14.
Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) introduced about 20 bills, one of which would strip public officials of their pensions if they are convicted of a crime related to the abuse of public office. The measure would work by taxing those officials' pensions at a rate of 100 percent, effectively returning the money back to the state.
Carlucci also wants to allow Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties to opt out of the MTA payroll tax, which requires employers to pay 34 cents of every $100 of payroll to the beleaguered transportation agency.
The senator also introduced a number of measures concerning voter registration, including proposals to allow for electronic registration and require the Board of Elections to transfer a voter's registration to anywhere else in the state, even if he or she moves to a different county.
Carlucci also wants to make texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, sending your friend an LOL while you're behind the wheel is only a secondary offense, meaning you have to be pulled over for something else to be charged. The bill would make texting while driving a violation punishable by a fine of up to $150.
Carlucci is backing an effort by Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat, to prohibit doctors and other hospital staffers from wearing neckties. Studies have shown that ties are an effective vehicle for spreading infections. The measure could also lead to the end of long, white coats and prohibit doctors from wearing watches and jewelry.
The freshman on May 1 was by the Martin Luther King Center in Rockland for his work both as Clarkstown Town Supervisor and as a senator.
Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Port Chester) introduced two bills, including a proposal that would allow local governments to sell advertising space on public property, which is currently prohibited by state law. "Given the difficult economic times," Oppenheimer said, "municipalities have expressed frustration with this prohibition under the law."
The senator also introduced a bill that would allow the town of North Castle to impose a three-percent hotel occupancy tax.
Tony Kelso, a media studies professor at Iona who served as Oppenheimer's spokesman during her 2010 campaign, has a piece on Salon about his experience working on the campaign.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) introduced one bill, which would prohibit employers from discriminating against a job applicant because he or she is unemployed.