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Ciolli: Andrew Cuomo says moment is right to remake LIPA

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to Newsday's editorial board.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to Newsday's editorial board. (Feb. 14, 2013) Credit: Sam Guzik

The enormous power of Sandy savagely exposed the flaws of the Long Island Power Authority -- flaws that had been hidden for years by a political establishment that benefited from its cronyism.

LIPA’s vulnerable. The public is demanding change. But do state legislators have the political will to make a bold move? Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told Newsday’s editorial board Thursday that “the moment is now” and that he wants to take action before the legislative session ends in June.

“This is not a new problem," he said. "It was a problem visualized during Sandy ... but this is a situation that hasn’t worked in a long, long time. Hopefully, we can take this moment to change it once and for all.”

Cuomo says that communicating with elected officials, business groups and other interested groups will be “exhaustive” but expedited. On Wednesday, Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, and the team working on alternatives to LIPA, briefed a committee of the Long Island Association business organization on the team's findings to date. The team has goals to provide:

1) Reliable service and improved customer service.

2) Stable and affordable rates.

3) A guarantee of payments to local municipalities currently benefiting from property tax revenue, also known as PILOT payments, from either LIPA or the operators of local power generating plants.

There is no voice clamoring to keep LIPA as it is. And Cuomo doesn’t think a full municipal utility would provide any savings or better performance. The choices that remain are either full privatization with strong regulatory oversight, or a reworked “LIPA on steroids” that lets a private utility operate it, with tighter controls, while keeping the shell of a private authority. In the end, the same politics that created LIPA will be called upon to fix it. And that means there is a very real chance that the "moment" created by Sandy will slip away.