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NYS debates the future of plastic bags

Several jurisdictions have new rules on the use

Several jurisdictions have new rules on the use of plastic bags. Credit: Newsday / Jim Peppler

Daily Point

Paper or plastic with that?

One of the most fluid topics at this extremely fluid stage of Albany budget negotiations is a proposed ban on plastic bags.

While most everyone favors the ban itself, there is much debate about an accompanying 5-cent fee on paper bags. The general consensus is to let municipalities decide whether they want paper bags offered free of charge or to opt in to institute a fee. But while some negotiators want to give only counties the right to opt in, others say cities must be included as well to make sure that New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and others like Glen Cove and Long Beach have the option as well. And still others say if counties decide not to opt in, then the towns within those counties should have the option to opt in (as well as villages if the towns they are in do not).

Also being discussed is how to split that nickel between the state, local municipalities and/or stores, and how those shares can be spent (reusable bags, other environmental-related programs or other uses).

Environmental-minded lawmakers and advocates also were optimistic about getting approved a measure to reduce food waste and help feed the hungry by requiring big producers like hospitals, colleges and supermarkets to donate edible items to hunger-relief organizations and recycle the rest. It’s a plan Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo left out of his budget proposal after trying in vain to get it passed the last two years.

It’s also looking increasingly like the budget will include $500 million for clean water infrastructure, not the commitment for $2.5 billion over five years some advocates had been pushing. And Cuomo’s plan to use Environmental Protection Fund money to pay for staffing was still on the table, despite legislative opposition.

But the biggest environmental surprise might be that climate change, as one insider put it, “is apparently back on the table as of 4 this morning.”

The debate, which played out in legislative hearings on the Climate and Community Protection Act held by Sen. Todd Kaminsky’s environmental conservation committee earlier this year, centers on which emissions-reduction goal to adopt and by when. One camp is arguing that the state should get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by a date certain, while the other camp says that is not doable and a better target is to be carbon-neutral by that date. One difference: the second goal allows for nuclear energy, the first does not.

The conversation got so hot so fast that several organizations — Citizens Campaign for the Environment, The Nature Conservancy, National Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters and Audubon New York — quickly whipped up a letter Wednesday morning to lawmakers arguing for the carbon-neutral goal as a way to “address climate change in a bold, progressive, meaningful way that achieves durable, lasting change.”

If there’s one thing folks in Albany understand this time of year, it’s change.

Michael Dobie

Talking Point

Standing tall

Brooklyn City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr. was honored on Wednesday for being named world’s tallest politician as per Guinness World Records.

Cornegy, who was on the 1984-85 St. John’s University basketball team that went to the Final Four, is 6-foot-10.

It got us wondering the identity of the tallest politician on Long Island, or at least who is up there.

Going on self-reported figures, The Point learned that Oyster Bay Town clerk James Altadonna Jr., a Republican who is running on the Democratic line for supervisor, is 6-foot-3, height he put to good use playing football in college.

William “Doc” Spencer, a Suffolk County legislator and Democrat, is 6-foot-4. We did not hear from Nassau legislator Kevan Abrahams by press time but he is a contender. 

Then there’s Assemb. Mike Fitzpatrick of St. James, a Republican, who is 6-foot-5 and says he played basketball on the legendary 1974 St. Anthony’s high school team.

But the tallest we could find is Republican Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, who is 6-foot-6. His spokeswoman says Lupinacci happened to meet height-champion Cornegy “over cigars at the Grand Havana Room last year.”

Mark Chiusano

Pencil Point

Slam dunk

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Reference Point

Battles still being fought

A school board attorney talks to a civic association about the impact of power plant taxes on school districts.

“The question boils down to this: Should the people of Glenwood Landing get the benefit of all of the school taxes paid by the Long Island Lighting Company, on its huge powerhouse there, while the people all over the county, who keep the Lighting Company going, don’t get a nickel to help them with their school taxes?”

The speaker was John H. Borrie, president of the Association of School Board Attorneys. The audience was the Great Trees Civic Association. The date that his talk was recalled by Newsday’s editorial board:

March 26, 1951.

You don’t have to listen hard to hear the echo today. LILCO’s descendant, the Long Island Power Authority, is trying to lower unfairly high assessments on four power plants, which will reduce the taxes it pays to the school districts in which the plants are sited. Some districts are fighting that, rejecting the argument that the rest of LIPA’s customers are paying for those high taxes via higher electric rates. Nassau County is in continuing settlement talks with LIPA over what is left of that Glenwood Landing plant.

Borrie talked about the “the value of spreading the gravy from industry and business taxes throughout the entire municipality” by comparing Nassau County, which did not spread the gravy, to New York City, which did. In Nassau, Borrie said, average per pupil spending was $239.14 (imagine that!) while in NYC it was “a terrific $412.”

His first civic association questioner asked whether “unification” of all school districts into one countywide district would accomplish the same goal. Borrie said it probably would, but that the benefits of home rule argued not to do that.

Another questioner wondered whether a school board could zone a section of its district just for industry to get more taxes without getting more schoolchildren. Borrie pointed out that school boards have no authority to do zoning, while remarking that town boards “might be dumping all the local industry and business projects into the neighboring school district, where they might not need it at all.”

Sixty-eight years later, the terms of battle have scarcely changed.

Michael Dobie