Bipartisan praise for Hinchey as a fighter and environmental champion

Sen. Charles Schumer and former Rep. Maurice Hinchey both made their political debuts in 1974, elected to the New York Assembly in a Democratic wave that flipped the Republican-controlled chamber in the midst of the Watergate scandal and a backlash against President Nixon’s party.

Of all the elected officials praising Hinchey after his death on Wednesday, few had as long a history with the 79-year-old former congressman as Schumer, whose career overlapped with Hinchey’s in both the Assembly and the House of Representatives.

“‘Mighty Moe,’ as I used to call him, was a man of great conviction, principle, endless energy and rare legislative ability,” Schumer said in a statement. “He cut a unique figure throughout the Hudson Valley and the Southern Tier, and was passionately committed to the environment and to preserving that region’s priceless open and wild spaces.”

Schumer happened to be meeting with the Times Herald-Record editorial board in January 2012 when Hinchey announced his retirement. He recalled then working with Hinchey on a number of reforms when they joined the Assembly in the “Watergate class” of Democratic freshmen. “He figures out what he believes in, and he fights as hard as he can for it,” Schumer told the Record at the time. “And I think that’s been one of the main reasons for his success, because people know he’s the real deal.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the Cold Spring Democrat who now represents the Orange County areas of Hinchey’s former district, which was carved up in the last round of  redistricting in 2012, was elected to Congress the same year that Hinchey left it. He said in a statement after Hinchey’s death that he has often been counseled to “do exactly what Maurice Hinchey would do” since taking office.

“Easier said than done,” Maloney said. “Maurice was a living legend — principled, tough, passionate, and effective. I have modeled my own service on his, and I am proud to have called him a mentor and a friend. Now more than ever, our nation misses and longs for leaders like Maurice.”

Rep. John Faso, a Republican who also served in the Assembly with Hinchey, and who now represents Ulster and Sullivan counties and other pieces of Hinchey’s former congressional district, praised his former colleague from across the aisle for his “distinguished and notable career.” He called Hinchey a “fierce defender of the environment,” who left a mark on New York as chairman of the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee. Faso remembered Hinchey as “an articulate and dedicated proponent of the causes he believed in and the people he served.”

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, a Republican who interacted with Hinchey when he was an assistant to the Newburgh city manager in the 1990s, called Hinchey a “true gentleman” and environmental advocate who was “passionate about serving his constituents.”

“We worked on many projects together, and I always enjoyed talking with Congressman Hinchey about his service in the U.S. Navy, which he was very proud of,” Neuhaus said.

Gareth Rhodes, an Ulster County native and one of six Democrats vying to challenge Faso for the 19th Congressional District seat next year, called his former congressman a “model of a true public servant” for him while he was growing up.

“From his unwavering work to protect our environment, to his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War even when that position wasn’t popular, Congressman Hinchey never wavered from his convictions,” Rhodes said. “He had the courage to stand up to U.S. presidents, the selflessness to spend hours talking to one constituent about his or her concerns, and the eloquence to capture why we love our community so much.”

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Poll finds 28 percent support for GOP tax plan in Faso’s district

A poll conducted in Rep. John Faso’s district on behalf of the League of Conservation Voters found far more opposition than support for the Republican tax plan wending its way through Congress.

According to results announced on Tuesday, 28 percent of the 250 voters surveyed in New York’s 19th Congressional District supported the tax code changes, and 55 percent opposed them. The poll was conducted from Nov. 9-14 by Global Strategy Group and Bellwether Research and had a 6.2-point margin of error.

Respondents were also asked about allowing oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a proposal included in the Senate tax bill to help cement the support of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Opposition to drilling was even higher than to the overall tax bill: 68 percent of surveyed voters in Faso’s district were against the idea, and 25 percent were for it.

The League of Conservation Voters, which staunchly opposes opening the protected Alaskan territory to oil drilling, circulated those results and others from the district of Rep. Elise Stefanik – another New York Republican – as the Senate prepares to vote next week on the tax bill and its drilling provision. Both Faso and Stefanik opposed the House Republicans’ proposed tax changes, and they could vote in coming weeks on a version that’s even worse for New Yorkers – and has the Alaskan drilling thrown in – if the Senate bill goes through.

“The GOP tax plan is unpopular to begin with, but Rep. Faso and Rep. Stefanik’s constituents oppose drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge even more,” Alex Taurel, the leauge’s deputy legislative director, said in a press release“Selling out one of our nation’s most iconic wild places to Big Oil has no place in the tax debate. Reps. Faso and Stefanik should listen to their constituents and commit to vote against any tax bill that includes this polar payout to the oil industry.”

Faso opposed the bill that House Republicans passed because it would eliminate the deduction for state income taxes and cap the property-tax deduction at $10,000, harming households in high-tax states like New York (the Senate version is harsher because it would kill the property-tax deduction altogether). But in spite of his vote, the campaign arm of the House Democrats signaled this week that it plans to saddle Faso with his party’s tax plan, launching web ads that declared that “Faso’s Republican Congress has just sold out New York’s middle class families.”

Republicans have proposed eliminating or capping deductions like the one for state and local taxes to help offset revenue that will be lost by slashing the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent.

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Dems want to close LLC loophole in Pay-to-Play law

Three Democrats who are departing the Orange County Legislature have suggested tightening the county’s restrictions on campaign donations on a final wish-list of items before they leave office at the end of the year.

In a memo to the Legislature’s attorney on Monday, Jeff Berkman of Middletown asked, on behalf of himself and Matt Turnbull of Hamptonburgh and Chris Eachus of New Windsor, for a draft amendment that would require businesses organized as limited liability companies to comply with the same contribution limit as other companies that do business with the county. The county’s 2013 Pay to Play Law prohibits county contractors from giving more than $4,000 to the county executive in a four-year term, but LLCs have been deemed exempt and allowed to give County Executive Steve Neuhaus more than $4,000 because the law doesn’t specifically use the term “limited liability company” it its list of covered businesses.

Democrats want to add those words to close the loophole, and hope to have lawmakers take up amendment at upcoming committee meetings.

“In our opinion it is clearly in the public interest not to provide LLC’s with a way to avoid compliance required of corporations,” Berkman wrote in his memo to Antoinette Reed, the Legislature’s attorney.

Among other suggestions, Berkman also proposed establishing a nonpartisan commission to review and suggest changes to the county charter, and said that Democrats want the Legislature to hold its December meeting in the rebuilt and expanded Government Center, which has been closed since 2011 and has undergone a $74 million overhaul.

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Faso solicits input on tax overhaul from businesses, local officials

Rep. John Faso held two conference calls on Thursday afternoon to discuss the potential impact of Republicans’ tax overhaul plans with business leaders and elected officials in his congressional district, his office said afterward.

Each call lasted 30 to 45 minutes, a spokesman said. The Kinderhook Republican plans to solicit input next from the public at large in New York’s 19th Congressional District, although that call has not been scheduled yet. His office says that call will be open to any residents of his district, which includes Ulster and Sullivan counties.

Faso announced the calls Thursday afternoon, saying his goals for the tax proposal were to “get our economy moving again, increase worker paychecks, incentivize small business investment and ensure New York families are better off.”

“I am committed to fighting for hardworking taxpayers and creating a fairer tax code for all,” Faso said in a statement.

Two top New York Democrats – Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer – have been slamming the House bill for curtailing and ending deductions that are vital to taxpayers in high-tax states like New York. They point out the tax overhaul President Trump has trumpeted as a “major, major tax cut” actually would raise taxes for some middle-class families to help pay for the business taxes that the plan would slash.

In the latest salvo, Schumer pointed out on Thursday that the version Senate Republicans are preparing would be even worse for New York, since it would eliminate the deduction for property taxes rather than cap it at $10,000, as the House bill proposed. The House bill also would kill the deduction for state income taxes, forcing workers to pay taxes twice on the same income.

“It is crystal clear: Republicans are on a fast track to fully eliminate the state and local tax deduction, which would be disastrous for New Yorkers who rely on the savings from these deduction for home repairs, groceries, school supplies, or even the yearly vacation,” Schumer said in a statement. “The bottom line is this money belongs in the pockets of New Yorkers, and with the Senate now looking to eliminate SALT, it’s even more important that New York’s House members stand up for New York and vote no next week.”

Citing an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Schumer said the House bill would raise federal income taxes for 14 percent of New York taxpayers next year and for 27 percent of New Yorkers by 2027.

Cuomo, in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, declared:  “The tax plan is a tax break for corporations. It’s a tax break for the richest Americans. It’s exactly the opposite of what they promised when they ran in the campaign. It was supposed to be about the middle class and the working men and women of this country. And they’ve given us trickle down on steroids.”

Schumer, in a joint release with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Thursday, offered an illustration of how the Republicans’ plan to nearly double the standard deduction is no help at all to New Yorkers who now itemize deductions for property taxes, mortgage interest, state income taxes and personal exemptions of more than $4,000 for each household member ($20,250 for a family of five). Personal exemptions would end under the House bill.

In Schumer’s example, the House bill would raise taxes by $1,249 for a couple with three children, a $75,000 household income and a hefty $10,000 in medical expenses that year (another deduction the House bill would eliminate).

The same press release listed the percentages of taxpayers in each of New York’s 27 congressional districts that use the state and local tax deduction and their average SALT deduction. In Faso’s 19th District, it was 31 percent of taxpayers and a $12,501 average deduction.

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Palm Tree support was broad in KJ and outside it

The idea of separating a slightly enlarged Kiryas Joel from the Town of Monroe was nearly as popular in the Monroe areas outside the Hasidic village as it was inside it in Tuesday’s referendum.

Overall, the proposal to turn Kiryas Joel into the Town of Palm Tree passed with a resounding 83 percent of Monroe voters in support, a 8,656-1,749 tally. Inside Kiryas Joel, where the majority political faction directed its voters to support the proposal and the minority faction stayed neutral, the proportion was even higher: 87 percent. According to the village’s vote tally, there were 4,378 votes cast in support of Palm Tree and 624 votes against it in Kiryas Joel.

Subtracting those numbers from the townwide count leaves a 4,278-1,128 vote on Palm Tree in the Monroe areas outside Kiryas Joel, or a 79 percent approval rate.

The referendum passage means that Kiryas Joel – including 164 acres it annexed in 2015 with the Monroe Town Board’s approval – and 56 additional acres will be carved out of Monroe and incorporated as the new Town of Palm Tree, the first new town in New York in 35 years. It wouldn’t come into existence until 2020 under current state law, although Assemblyman James Skoufis of Woodbury plans to introduce a bill to speed up the effective date and secure additional state aid for Monroe-Woodbury School District to compensate for lost revenue.

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One KJ bloc backs Neuhaus, the other stays neutral

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus stands to pick up roughly a couple thousand votes in Kiryas Joel for his re-election bid today, despite his efforts to tie his opponent to the Hasidic community in the closing days of the campaign.

Anash, the majority party in Kiryas Joel, declined to endorse either the Republican incumbent or Democratic challenger Patrick Davis, which likely means that most voters in the larger of Kiryas Joel’s two voting blocs will simply skip over that race on their ballots. But the opposition party, known as the Kiryas Joel Alliance, backed Neuhaus and will deliver whatever share of its own voters turn out at the polls today.

Both parties are distributing their customary sample ballots outside Kiryas Joel’s two polling stations to tell their respective supporters which candidates to support.

The marked ballots show that both factions backed Republican District Attorney David Hoovler and Republican County Clerk Annie Rabbitt over their Democratic challengers, Michael Isgur and Deborah Mulqueen.

Anash will steer its votes to Republican County Legislator Katie Bonelli, while the Alliance supported neither Bonelli nor her Democratic opponent, Stephen Hunter.


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On the ballot Tuesday: stripping corrupt politicians of their pensions

On the back of the ballot in county and local elections in New York on Tuesday is a referendum voters shouldn’t have to think too long about.

The proposal is an amendment to the state constitution that would allow a judge to revoke or reduce a public employee’s state pension if he or she has been convicted of a work-related crime. It’s the second of at least three propositions on the back of every ballot in the state, after the one about whether to hold a constitutional convention.

This proposal is the no-brainer outcome of a debate on ethics reform that raged and predictably fizzled in Albany in 2016, following the corruption convictions of both prior legislative leaders – former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Casting aside proposals to limit or ban outside income by lawmakers and other reform proposals, lawmakers finally agreed on yanking the pensions of corrupt politicians, but only after haggling over what officials it would apply to and whether to give the courts discretion.

New York already passed a law in 2011 to allow courts to cut or revoke pensions in such cases, but it didn’t apply to the public officials already in office at that time. A constitutional amendment was needed to affect their pensions as well.

The two lawmakers whose convictions motivated the proposed amendment have since had their convictions overturned, based on a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made public corruption more difficult to prove. Federal prosecutors plan to retry both cases. Silver is scheduled to go on trial again in April, Skelos in June.

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Faso, Maloney seek better data on Lyme cases

Reps. John Faso and Sean Patrick Maloney are among a dozen House members from both parties asking the administration for better tracking of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses and the government’s programs to combat them.

In a letter on Oct. 27 to the Department of Health and Human Services’ acting director, Eric Hargan, the House members dove into the regulatory details of those programs, suggesting three “performance indicators” and five “strategic objectives” HHS should use. The objectives included better coordination among state and federal health agencies and more research on reducing the tick population.

In a press release announcing that letter on Wednesday, Faso said he and his colleagues offered their recommendations out of concern that measuring the progress of the tick-disease programs has been difficult. He said the improved data they sought would help Congress make funding decision for programs through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Upstate individuals and families are unfortunately very familiar with the perils of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease,” the Kinderhook Republican said in his press release. “This is why I have made it a priority in Congress to advance efforts to improve research and awareness to ultimately prevent future cases and mitigate the harmful effects of the disease.”

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Rockland County councilman creates Senate campaign account

A town councilman from Rockland County has opened a campaign account to run for fellow Republican Bill Larkin’s state Senate seat, but says he’ll do so only if Larkin doesn’t seek a 15th Senate term next year.

Tom Basile, a Stony Point resident and Town Board member, created a fundraising committee for the 39th Senate District on Sept. 26, according to state Board of Elections records. When contacted this week about the filing, he issued a statement in which he praised Larkin and clarified that he planned to run in 2018 only if Larkin retired. “Any effort on my part at this time is intended to simply lay a proper foundation for a vigorous, well-funded, well-organized campaign,” Basile said.

Larkin, who has been a state legislator since 1979 and will turn 90 in February, has made no public statements about whether he’ll run again, and has no immediate need to do so. State candidates begin collecting petition signatures for the November 2018 election next June, which is seven months away.

The 39th District consists of 10 towns and the City of Newburgh in Orange County, plus two towns each in Ulster and Rockland. Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis, a Town of Newburgh Republican, and Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, both have expressed interest in that Senate seat in the past. Skoufis also created a campaign committee to run for the 39th District in early 2016, but decided a few months later to run for re-election to the Assembly instead.

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Davis proposes full ban on pay-to-play money

Patrick Davis, right, and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus at Times Herald-Record debate on Wednesday

The question for the Orange County executive candidates on Wednesday was whether they would ask the county Legislature to insert the words “limited liability company” into the county’s 2013 Pay to Play Law to close a glaring loophole.

But Patrick Davis, the Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Steve Neuhaus, said he’d go much further during their debate at the Times Herald-Record. He said he would propose banning all campaign donations to the county executive from companies that have or are seeking county contracts, rather than limiting how much they may give. The 2013 law lets them give the county executive up to $4,000 over a four-year term.

Taking any campaign money at all from companies with business interests before the county is bad for the office itself, he argued.

“It’s not an ethically safe place to be, and it compromises the integrity of the office and of the individual sitting in it,” Davis said. “And it’s just a way to protect the county executive from allegations of conflicts of interest in making decisions that aren’t in the best interests of the people.”

Neuhaus said in response that the county has a strong campaign finance law and that he has “lived within those rules.” He also taunted his opponent for his fundraising efforts, saying Davis had hired a consultant to help and yet “he can’t raise a dime.” Then he complained that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein – whose campaign finance reform proposals Davis invoked – raises more more than him and has some of the same contributors, but faces no criticism.

“There’s not a peep about it,” he said.

Neuhaus also seemed to dismiss any mercenary interest on the part of his donors, saying, “People believe in what we’re working on, whether they work for the county or not.”

Asked again the specific question – if he would ask lawmakers to close the LLC loophole by adding those three words – Neuhaus was noncommittal.

“I have no problem either way on it,” he said. “I just want one thing: I want a fair playing ground. So if I’m running against somebody, they shouldn’t be exempt from those type of restrictions.”

The county law does apply to candidates, as well as current office holders.

Under that law, county contractors can’t give the county executive more than $4,000 per term. But businesses organized as limited liability companies have been allowed to give Neuhaus more. County Attorney Langdon Chapman argues LLCs are exempt from the limit because the Pay to Play Law didn’t include that specific term in its definition of entities that are covered.

Davis, in his remarks, also called the state’s campaign finance laws “a mess” and criticized in particular the $10,900 individual donation limit, which is more than triple the $2,700 maximum one person can give a congressional candidate per election under federal rules.

“It’s crazy that people, individuals can give more to a county-level race than they can give to someone running for Congress,” he said.

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    Chris McKenna

    Chris McKenna covers Orange County government and politics for the Times Herald-Record. He has been a reporter at the newspaper since 1999. Read Full
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