The NYC subway system and talk of congestion pricing dominated the conversation at Wednesday’s state budget hearing featuring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
But the Long Island Rail Road got a moment or two on center stage -- thanks to State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemb. Edward Ra.
Kaminsky read an email from a Rockville Centre constituent named Jennifer. She said that in the last two weeks, nine of the 16 trains she was on were shortened, creating crowding conditions, and that five of her eight travel days included delays due to broken rails and signal problems.
“What do we tell Jennifer?” Kaminsky asked MTA President Pat Foye.
Foye noted that he, too, is an LIRR commuter, via the Port Washington branch, and emphasized that the LIRR’s new chief, Phil Eng, was working to improve service.
“He will move the dial and fix the LIRR,” Foye said.
MTA managing director Veronique Hakim added that the LIRR is receiving significant capital investment, too, and she noted there are ongoing efforts to clear vegetation, take care of utility poles and improve communication. And MTA chief development officer Janno Lieber chimed in, too, noting that the LIRR’s third track will make a big difference.
Ra, meanwhile, was the only legislator to question MTA officials about Belmont Park, and the desire for a full-time station there. He didn’t hear much new in response -- just that conversations are underway, but the MTA would need significant private funding to make it happen.
Both Kaminsky and Ra joined the chorus of legislator concerns regarding congestion pricing, the effort to toll New York City roads and provide a new revenue stream for the MTA. Kaminsky said there’d have to be mass transit improvements before making customers pay more to drive into the city. Ra wanted -- and got -- assurances that congestion pricing funds would not just go toward the subways, but to the capital needs of the LIRR, too.
The hours-long hearing came with two steady drumbeats: the desire of MTA officials for legislators to support congestion pricing, which the MTA estimates would raise $1 billion a year, and lawmakers’ desire for details on what a congestion pricing plan would look like, and what the tolls would be.
Four hours into the hearing, however, it seemed neither side was going to get what it asked for -- at least not on Wednesday.
Randi F. Marshall
A catch for fisheries board
Long Island fishers have a new advocate when it comes to setting fair quotas and limits on catches. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky has been appointed to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, one of two federal interstate commissions that regulate near-shore fisheries.
Kaminsky told The Point Wednesday that he is aware of the eternal tensions inherent with the job.
“There are lots of people worried about overfishing,” he said. “At the same time, people have to make a living.”
Kaminsky emphasized the need for smart conservation, mentioning striped bass in particular.
“I think there’s a need for more conservation-minded people on the board,” he said. “As somebody raising a young family on Long Island, I don’t want to have to talk to my family about a fish that used to be on Long Island and isn’t anymore.”
Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), appointed by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to replace Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), will be one of three New Yorkers on the board that has representatives from 15 states bordering on the Atlantic Ocean. His appointment pairs nicely with his promotion to chair of the environmental conservation committee, and adds to his rapidly expanding portfolio; he also was named Wednesday by Stewart-Cousins to serve as the Democratic conference’s liaison to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office.
One of the region’s most contentious fishing issues is the ridiculously inequitable quota system for fluke that leaves New York commercial fishers with an unfairly low percentage of the catch. New York for years has tried to get the two federal commissions to right-size the quotas before Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced a lawsuit against the federal government earlier this month. Now Kaminsky sits on one of those commissions that sets the quotas, and its first meeting is next week.
“None of the fishermen I’ve spoken to yet have brought up the fluke issue,” Kaminsky said.
They will. And it would be a nice feather — or fin — in an increasingly crowded cap if Kaminsky could land that one.
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Making the grade
The State Education Department released high school graduation rates for 2018 Wednesday and there weren’t many surprises -- good or bad. The state on-time graduation rate is 80.4 percent, up two-tenths of a point over last year, but an impressive 9.5 percent in 10 years. While minority graduation rates continue to lag the overall average, the gap is slowly closing, with black students at 70.1 percent and Hispanic students at 69.2 percent.
On Long Island, the graduation rate dropped to 88.4 percent, down from 88.9 percent in 2017 and 89.6 percent in 2016. Those declines are not large, but the bigger story is that regional graduation rate improvements are not keeping up with state improvements.
That deviation is really sharp when viewed through the changes over several years.
In 2012, the state graduation rate was 74 percent, and Long Island’s was 13.6 percent higher at 87.6. In 2018, Long Island’s graduation rate, at 88.4 percent, was only eight points higher than the state’s, meaning the gap has been cut nearly in half.
It’s much easier to improve bad numbers than good ones. But much of Long Island’s desirability and home values have centered on how much better the region’s schools are than the rest of the state’s.
The shrinking of that advantage, while good news for regions that are catching up, could mean one of the Island’s advantages is fading away.