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Long IslandPolitics

Suffolk ballot won’t have campaign finance measure

Suffolk Legis. Robert Calarco is seen in this

Suffolk Legis. Robert Calarco is seen in this undated photo. Credit: James Escher

A proposed referendum to publicly finance Suffolk County lawmakers’ campaigns with future casino revenues and double legislative terms to four years won’t be on November’s ballot after a committee voted Thursday to delay the bill.

Sponsor Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said he didn’t want a pending referendum to be seen as an attempt to influence the Village of Islandia’s decision on whether to allow a video slot machine casino at the site of the Islandia Marriott Long Island.

Calarco said he wanted the village board to decide, “without any pressure from the county or other entities.”

The unanimous committee vote to table the bill means the full Legislature won’t vote on the item Tuesday, the deadline to put the referendum on the November ballot.

Calarco said he would revive the bill “if the VLTs become a reality in Suffolk County, and I believe it will. I want to make sure some of that money goes to good purposes, and not the generic general fund.”

Residents near the proposed Islandia casino said earmarking revenues from the proposed casino would make it harder to stop the casino and benefit the Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting, the bankrupt horse race wagering operation authorized by the state to open a casino.

“I don’t feel it’s a great way to publicly finance campaigns on the back of our residents,” said Bruce Edwards, president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association.

Good government groups back the campaign finance measure, which would give a 4-to-1 match on donations of up to $150 for candidates who agree to cap contributions at $1,000. Supporters of Calarco’s bill also say extending county lawmakers’ two-year terms would allow them to focus on policy instead of constantly running for re-election.

“It will empower average voters to have a real voice in the political process,” Lisa Scott, president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, told the Ways and Means Committee Thursday.

Islandia canceled a July 12 vote on whether to allow the Suffolk OTB and Buffalo-based Delaware North, the firm OTB has selected to run the casino, to convert the Marriott into a gambling parlor. Islandia Mayor Allan Dorman and Suffolk OTB President Phil Nolan didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Also Thursday, the Ways and Means Committee tabled a campaign finance proposal, by Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), to limit contributions to countywide office holders to $2,000 and prevent county unions and contractors from donating to county office holders.

Trotta complained that his measure was tabled without discussion.

“It wasn’t even debated, it wasn’t even thought about, it wasn’t even considered,” Trotta said during the committee meeting.

Calarco’s bill wouldn’t have affected countywide elected officials.

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