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Last-minute decision time in Albany

The State Senate chamber in Albany in March.

The State Senate chamber in Albany in March. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Daily Point

The problem with American Water

In the waning days of each Albany legislative session, unexplained bills go winging through the hallways and into the chambers at the speed of light, to be voted on by legislators left mostly in the dark. This is a problem for bills big and small but mostly it’s the hyperlocal ones that, if faced with a full session of scrutiny, would surely evaporate.

The New York State Water Tax Equality Act, passed unanimously in the Senate last Thursday and expected to die quietly in the Assembly this week, is an exemplar of the species.

The bill, sponsored by Long Beach Sen. Todd Kaminsky, is intended to help solve a very real grievance: the large water bills paid by many customers of for-profit provider American Water. About 96 percent of New Yorkers get their water from municipal non-profit providers, but those on much of the South Shore of Nassau County, and some North Shore communities, such as Glen Head and Sea Cliff, are served by American Water.

The company is regulated by the Public Service Commission, which sets its rates, but the bills can run into the hundreds of dollars a month and can be as much as three times those of Long Islanders served by non-profit systems.

The reason for the outrageous bills is the same as the reason for most outrageous bills on Long Island: property taxes. Private water companies pay them, public ones do not.

Kaminsky’s bill notes that 33 percent to 59 percent of each American Water bill is property taxes. The company's president recently said more than 70 percent of its bills go to pay property taxes.

Kaminsky’s answer? A law that over a five-year phase-in excuses American Water from its $25 million annual state franchise fee, and passes that savings on to the company’s customers. The catch? The lost money would be made up with increased taxes billed to the Long Island Power Authority, Verizon and Altice, who would have to decide how to make up for the extra expense and would likely pass it on to local customers, and a monthly surcharge on the bills of every National Grid customer in Nassau County, which is allowed by the Public Service Commission to increase rates any time its taxes increase.

At the moment, though, the bill seems to have no momentum with Assembly members or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo  reportedly because they understand that splashing one community’s property taxes -- disguised as water bills -- onto other communities is the ultimate slippery slope.

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Under the wire

Add balm for residents near Belmont Park to the long list of items that is likely to get stuffed into the final package of bills in Albany.

For years, Assemb. Michaelle Solages has introduced a bill that would establish a local advisory board for Belmont Park. Similar boards exist for Aqueduct and Saratoga, but Solages’ attempts to amend that legislation to include Belmont had failed. Efforts to create such a board for Belmont even predated Solages, going back to when Craig Johnson was in the State Senate in 2009.

Now, however, Solages has a partner in the State Senate in Sen. Anna Kaplan, who has introduced her own legislation to mirror Solages’.

The bill, which would amend state racing law, would establish a 15-member board tasked with advising the New York Racing Association on issues related to Belmont Park.  

Five would be appointed by the Nassau County executive, four of whom would have to reside in Elmont. Two others also would live in Elmont, and would be appointed by the Town of Hempstead. Two members would be chosen by the mayor of Floral Park, and would have to live in that community; and one would be chosen by the mayor of South Floral Park, and would have to live there. Two would be appointed by a Queens community board to represent the Queens side that borders Belmont Park. And three would be appointed by NYRA. The board would meet twice a year.

“The goal is really to act as a liaison between NYRA and the local communities to ensure that voices in those communities are being heard,” Kaplan told The Point Monday. “I’ve heard from my constituents that this is what they wanted and I made it my mission to get it done.”

Solages said the board would focus on horse racing-related topics, but that could include concerns such as those that emerge after the Belmont Stakes, like traffic and garbage, and plans for the future of horse racing at Belmont.

“We need to ensure that we’re protecting the horse racing industry,” Solages said. “This will be important to the future of Belmont.”

A Belmont advisory board has been a long-standing ask from Elmont residents, including those who are part of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, a group that has expressed concerns about the broader Belmont development efforts. But the board won’t advise directly on anything related to the planned arena and retail village at Belmont, because there have been separate community advisory committee meetings and other public hearings for that purpose. Nonetheless, Kaplan noted that the board might help to “bring a divided group together, to hear each others’ concerns and what’s important to them.”

Just in time. The final environmental impact statement for Belmont’s redevelopment is due to come out by the end of the month.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Battling the dragon

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Quick Points

  • After word leaked about President Donald Trump’s campaign’s polling results that showed him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in several battleground states, the campaign fired three members of its polling crew. But that didn’t change the numbers.
  • You think getting a federal budget and debt limit deal is going to be easy? The Trump administration and Senate Republicans can’t agree on a path forward, and they’re on the same team.
  • O.J. Simpson has launched a Twitter account with his first post being a video in which he says he’s got a “little gettin’ even to do.” Don’t think that’s going to change a lot of minds.
  • The U.S. is burying sabotage-enabling computer code in Russia’s electric grid as a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s a response to his country’s digital incursions into America’s power grid and sure to ratchet up tensions between the countries. But that’s nothing compared to the likely new tensions between President Donald Trump and American cyber officials who apparently didn’t tell Trump what they were doing.
  • Two days after President Donald Trump turned 73, the Israeli Cabinet renamed a tiny settlement in the occupied Golan Heights as Trump Heights and encouraged new settlers to move in, which generally is considered illegal under international law. U.S. Ambassador David Friedman said, “I can’t think of a more appropriate and a more beautiful birthday present.” Friedman suffers from a deficit of imagination.
  • After being criticized for running up the score in a 13-0 World Cup victory over Thailand, the U.S. women’s team beat Chile in its next contest, 3-0. No, it wasn’t that the Americans somehow displayed more “sportsmanship”; Chile is just a better team.
  • President Donald Trump said in an ABC interview, “I like the truth. You know, I’m actually a very honest guy.” Sometimes, the set-up is the punch line.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie