An electrifying case
Almost nine years ago, the Long Island Power Authority filed a lawsuit seeking a 90 percent reduction in the $175 million a year in property taxes it pays on two generating plants in Nassau County as well as ones in Port Jefferson and Northport.
The question was always whether the towns, county and school districts involved would settle before the case finally got to court. With the trial on LIPA’s demand for lower taxes just for year 2014 set to start Monday before Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson, the answer in the case of Huntington and Nassau County appears to be no. LIPA and Huntington even held six mediation sessions, two of them in January, to no avail.
The risk for the remaining defendants is that if LIPA wins, the communities and school districts that are so dependent on the huge taxes LIPA pays would see them plummet immediately. Worse, Nassau County and Huntington would owe hundreds of millions of dollars each for taxes over-collected from LIPA since the suit was first filed.
The relief LIPA offered from that threat, which Brookhaven accepted last year, was an agreement offered to all parties to agree to reduce the plant taxes by 50 percent rather than 90, and to do so over nine years rather than immediately.
Rightly or wrongly, municipalities holding out may be hoping that local state legislators can get the state to help soften the blow if it falls.
Last month, the Huntington Town Board voted to ask local Assembly and Senate members to change state law to include Huntington and the Northport-East Northport School District in the state’s Electric Generating Facility Cessation Mitigation Program, and to fight for more money in that fund.
Their reasoning is that if the plants’ valuations have sunk so much it’s because LIPA won’t repower them with newer and better technology. But the program currently only allows for payments to municipalities and school districts when plants have been closed completely, which is something the communities have fought in the past.
Beyond that, the slowly growing fund now has a total of $56 million in it, far too little to address the needs for the LIPA plants, and has never been tapped. And they will have to wait in line. The first power plant to close and activate this fund is likely to be Indian Point in 2021.
A well-oiled machine
With former Rep. Joe Crowley’s resignation as head of the Queens County Democratic Party he led for more than a decade, what comes next for one of New York’s most powerful political machines?
Technically, that depends on the whims of the party’s executive committee, made up of district leaders. The committee runs the organization with limited checks, according to rules on file with the state Board of Elections.
Crowley was the chair of the executive committee, and for now his post is being filled by district leader June Bunch. She can remain in the job to fill the rest of Crowley’s term or until the next time the party selects its leadership, which could be months from now, a district leader tells The Point.
This insider also tells us that as per the rules, any replacement would almost certainly be a current district leader in Queens.
That would seem to rule out Rep. Grace Meng, who is not a district leader but whose name was floated in the hours after Crowley’s resignation.
Another name in the rumor mill: Rep. Greg Meeks, who is a district leader and shares an Assembly District with Bunch. (Meeks’s congressional district also includes a sliver of Nassau County.)
Outside the executive committee, reformers like the New Queens Democrats group have pushed for a voice in chair selection. NQD has asked for more direct voting and openness within the county party and Tuesday night tweeted disparagingly about a party controlled by insiders at secretive meetings, appearing to reference the Nassau County location of the Sweeney, Reich & Bolz law office whose principals conduct much party business.
But if the acting chair doesn’t have to go anywhere and a replacement is chosen from a list of incumbent district leaders, Crowley’s political machine may remain intact -- despite his surprise defeat to progressive superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in June. Ocasio-Cortez has so far not used her huge Twitter presence to wade into county party politics.
Not so radical now
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Tunnel of love in dire straits
If you’re thinking it’s crickets around the proposal to build a Long Island Sound bridge or tunnel, you might not be listening closely enough.
A group advocating for a study to quantify the economic benefits of a bridge/tunnel is conducting an on-line survey of business executives regarding their views on potential use of the crossing.
The group was put together by Raymond Tillman, a New York City engineer now in private practice whose previous jobs include a stint as president of a public-private partnerships division at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. His team includes the Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut and REMI Inc., a well-known economic modeling and forecasting company whose work includes the economic impact study of Amazon landing in Long Island City.
“We don’t want an opinion survey,” Tillman told The Point. “We want a survey of folks in a decision-making capacity who could route their trucks or otherwise take advantage of the crossing.”
Modeling to date on a Sound crossing has focused on transportation, not economic benefits, said Tillman, which he said is a mistake in selling the proposal, which has faced fierce community and political opposition.
“The economic benefits will dwarf all of the other costs and benefits,” Tillman said. “The key is translating it into money to pay for everything.”
Tillman said financing a bridge-tunnel would require a combination of loans, toll revenues and contributions from the state governments in New York and Connecticut. But the economic benefits, he said, are quantifiable based on Connecticut businesses having a closer market in Suffolk County and Long Island gaining cheaper goods and cheaper transportation.
The hope is that the survey of business leaders will produce a groundswell of support — and funding — for REMI to do the modeling.
The survey can be found at http://liscrossing.com.
“There are good reasons to oppose this and unless someone thinks, wow, I could use this or I could make more money or I could see more economic development, there’s not a reason to say, let’s build the darn thing,” Tillman said.
Even with the support of the business community, this could be a tunnel dream that goes nowhere.