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Long Island

LI speed cameras clear State Senate

Traffic moves past the sign for the red-light

Traffic moves past the sign for the red-light camera on Old Country Road in Westbury on Aug. 18, 2011. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

ALBANY -- The State Senate approved a bill Wednesday to allow up to 125 school-zone speed cameras on Long Island, paving the way for the possible end of a three-year wage freeze in Nassau County.

Senate officials hadn't planned on taking up the bill this week. But with an important Nassau deadline looming, the Senate changed plans. The chamber easily passed the bill, 49-11. Three Long Island lawmakers voted no.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is likely to sign the bill soon, a spokesman said.

Timing was key for Nassau County. On Friday, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state board that controls county finances, is scheduled to consider labor agreements that would end a wage freeze for most county union employees. Nassau is depending on speed camera revenue to help pay for the contracts. Nassau, union and Cuomo administration officials met Tuesday, a day before the Senate vote, a source said.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has said the county could realize $25 million or more annually from speed-camera revenue. His office didn't immediately return calls for comment Wednesday.

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman, who was appointed by Cuomo, said after the Senate vote that "the county is coming forward with revenue and savings that give me greater confidence that they can cover the costs."

NIFA is scheduled to meet Friday to consider approving Memorandums of Agreements with four of the five county unions -- the Civil Service Employees Association, the Police Benevolent Association, the Detectives Association, and the Superior Officers Association. A deal with the county's correction officers has yet to be finalized.

The agreements would end the wage freeze NIFA imposed in March 2011 and give union workers raises retroactive to April 1.

The school-zone speed camera bill authorizes 69 cameras in Suffolk County and 56 in Nassau, one per public school district. It also would expand the number of speed cameras in New York City from the current 20 to 140. Net proceeds from tickets generated on village streets would go to villages.

Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) had held up negotiations on the bill, pushing for a share of the money to go to public safety programs in some jurisdictions. He indicated Wednesday that the sides had reached an agreement to that effect. Details weren't immediately available.

Backers said speed cameras would improve safety in school zones.

"The evidence is clear -- when drivers know they might be caught, they slow down," said Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "We need to make people think twice before they hit that accelerator in a school zone and these cameras will do exactly that."

Opponents called it a "money grab" and recalled the hidden cameras that watch citizens in the novel "1984."

"I believe that the effort for more speed cameras kept being disguised as a public safety measure when it was all about generating more revenue," Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who voted no, said after the vote. "We're seeing more and more cameras in our neighborhoods, and enough is enough. I've heard from many of my constituents who agree with me."

Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also voted no.

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) supported the measure, along with Sens. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and Jack Martins (R-Mineola).

The Assembly approved the speed camera bill Monday. Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) was the lone Island Assembly member to oppose.

With Celeste Hadrick

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