Driver’s licenses for all?
Advocacy group Make the Road Action tells The Point its canvassers have knocked on more than 5,000 doors in four Long Island State Senate districts to gin up support for “Driver’s Licenses for All” legislation pending in Albany.
After years of debate in New York about allowing immigrants here illegally to obtain licenses, the argument is heating up with Democrats in control of the State Legislature. And Long Island is a key battleground: a March Quinnipiac University poll found significantly less support for the licenses in the suburbs than in New York City.
An April poll from the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress also found more opposition to the license initiative on Long Island than elsewhere in New York, but the opposition dropped after further questioning that pointed at benefits of the licenses.
So Make the Road Action has canvassed across the districts of Democratic State Sens. Monica Martinez, Jim Gaughran, Kevin Thomas and John Brooks for approximately the last month. The group has targeted registered voters in the districts, not just Democrats or Latino residents, says managing director Daniel Altschuler. Of the more than 5,000 door-knocking attempts in which residents were urged to call their senators about the issue, around 1,200 resulted in signatures to a petition urging senators and the governor to pass the bill.
Meanwhile, the senators are not jumping to express public support for the legislation, despite the concerted push by Make the Road Action and other advocates.
Gaughran had provided a middle-of-the-road statement on the issue to news site The City last month, in which he said he was “supportive of increasing access to a driver’s license” but still examining public safety implications. On Monday, his spokeswoman emailed a slightly more negative statement to The Point: “The current version of the bill raises serious public safety concerns by law enforcement, including ensuring that people with dangerous driving histories are not issued a license, which must be fully addressed before the Senator can consider this bill.”
A spokesman for Thomas noted in an email that the bill is still in committee, and that “the senator would like to wait and see if there [are] any amendments made before making a determination. There are still privacy and law enforcement concerns.”
- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
LIPA punches back
Stung by effective social media attacks, the Long Island Power Authority is fighting back online with its own new website, taxfairnessforlongisland.com.
Although the assessment fight has gone on for a few years, it was only in March that grassroots activists took action to try to stop LIPA from drastically reducing the $84 million in annual property taxes it pays on the Northport Power Plant.
The group created a Facebook page, Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA, that quickly grew to more than 4,000 members, energized a public forum held by state Sen. James Gaughran, and began organizing its own meetings, rallies and protests.
LIPA and the Town of Huntington are in a drawn-out court battle over the $3.4 billion valuation the town has placed on the 52-year-old plant owned by National Grid, with LIPA arguing in court the plant is worth less than one-tenth that much and offering a deal to reduce the plant’s taxes by 50 percent over nine years to drop the case. The trial resumes in July.
The activists are mostly residents of the Northport-East Northport school district, which faces the biggest potential hikes if LIPA prevails, or strikes a deal with Huntington. The town faces less of a loss in tax revenue if LIPA wins or a deal is made, but it would be on the hook for nearly $700 million in prior-year refunds if LIPA prevails in court. The Town of Brookhaven already accepted a deal similarly structured to the Northport offer on its Port Jefferson plant.
Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA’s efforts have been focused mostly on debunking or combatting the points LIPA has made about how overtaxed the Northport plant is, arguing that its power generation is crucial, its tax burden is fair to the community that hosts it and that LIPA is skewing numbers to make its case.
LIPA’s new website fights back against this campaign, laying out its argument that old plants aren’t worth much, Northport no longer generates much, and much newer and more productive plants are taxed far less.
On both sides, it’s a lot of public relations over a legal matter that’s set to be decided by a judge. But no one really seems to want the courts to decide, so the jockeying is crucial in the fight over exactly how much a negotiated settlement would cut taxes.
- Lane Filler @lanefiller
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion
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- Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello explained his opposition to a fee on paper bags by saying, “I would encourage people to use reusable bags, but I don’t believe it’s the role of government to add another fee.” But Rich, if people would use reusable bags, they wouldn’t pay a fee.
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- Michael Dobie @mwdobie