Metzger opposes NYSEG proposal to hike rates

State Sen. Jen Metzger is urging the state Public Service Commission to reject a request by New York State Electric and Gas Corp. to raise electrical delivery rates by 23 percent, a proposal she said would add $10.20 on average to customers’ monthly bills.

In a seven-page letter released Thursday, the Rosendale Democrat argued the rate increase would place “an unreasonable demand” on her constituents and objected that it had been justified largely by the desire to increase the utility’s profits by 9.5 percent. Parts of her 42nd Senate District that get electrical service from NYSEG include much of Sullivan County and the Town of Shawangunk in Ulster.

“The rate plan must be affordable to residents, many of whom struggle to pay their bills,” Metzger wrote in the Dec. 30 letter. “Nearly 80 percent of the communities that I represent in NYSEG territory fall below the state median household income.”

Metzger also criticized NYSEG for poor “preventive maintenance,” which she blamed for excessive power outages in the Catskills, and urged the commission to ensure that NYSEG’s rate plan supports the state’s carbon-reduction goals. She also opposed the closure of NYSEG’s walk-in office in Liberty in Sullivan County as a hardship for the poor and elderly.

The Public Service Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed rate hike on Feb. 3.

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Man who intervened in Monsey attack to receive Senate award

State Sen. David Carlucci will award the New York State Senate Liberty Medal on Sunday to Josef Gluck for his bravery and quick thinking during the brutal attack in Monsey over Hanukkah in which five people were slashed with a machete.

Gluck escorted a small child out of harm’s way and threw a coffee table at the attacker, then rushed outside to get the assailant’s license plate number before he drove away. That number enabled police to find the suspect, Grafton Thomas, in Harlem shortly after the Dec. 28 rampage.

The Senate Liberty Medal is given for exceptional, heroic or humanitarian acts on behalf of fellow New Yorkers.

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Brabenec announces Assembly re-election run

Assemblyman Karl Barbenec will hold a campaign kickoff in Port Jervis on Saturday to announce his plans to seek a fourth term.

The Deerpark Republican represents the 98th Assembly District, which takes in six towns and the City of Port Jervis in Orange County and part of Ramapo in Rockland County. He was the Deerpark town supervisor before winning an Assembly seat in 2014 that last had been held by Republican Annie Rabbitt, now the Orange County clerk.

Brabenec’s announcement is at noon at the Erie Trackside.

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Maloney calls U.S. killing of Iranian general a “dangerous gamble” (updated)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney offered a tempered statement on the U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Thursday that killed an Iranian military commander, saying Qassim Soleimani had caused countless deaths through terrorism but warning that his assassination was a dangerous escalation of the conflict with Iran.

Here’s the full statement by the Cold Spring Democrat:

“General Soleimani has been responsible for the deaths of countless American service members and other innocent victims during his years of leading Iran’s terrorist actions. No one who loves freedom and justice should mourn his death. 

“But to order his killing in Iraq represents a dangerous gamble in the escalatory cycle the President has undertaken with Iran. 

“As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I will be seeking a classified briefing at the soonest opportunity to better understand the President’s rationale for ordering this killing as well as the Administration’s planning for the inevitable repercussions, the potential for a major conflict, and the immediate threats to our personnel and partners in the region.”

Update:

Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Rhinebeck Democrat who represents the neighboring 19th Congressional District, took a similar stance. He said in a statement: “Qassem Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of American service members and innocent civilians throughout the Middle East—he met the fate he deserved. That said, last night the Administration took an enormous and escalatory step in a volatile area of the world without clear coordination with our allies, Congress, or stakeholders in the region, and with no explanation for how it will manage the inevitable repercussions.”

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Metzger introduces bill to codify NY’s fracking ban

State Sen. Jen Metzger announced a new bill on Tuesday that would enshrine in law the prohibition on hydraulic fracturing that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration imposed by regulation in 2014 without going through what was then a politically divided Legislature.

Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat, chose the five-year anniversary of Cuomo’s fracking ban to herald her bill, which also would outlaw a newer form of fuel extraction known as gelled propane fracking. She added star power to her announcement by enlisting actor Mark Ruffalo and singer Natalie Merchant, both of whom are environmental activists, to join her and other supporters in a conference call with reporters.

“The science on the dangers of high-volume hydraulic fracturing is really clear and non-controversial at this point,” Metzger said in a statement afterward. “More than 1,700 studies — triple the number in 2014 — show that Horizontal Drilling and HVHF pose significant and unacceptable risks to New York’s drinking water, environment, air quality, climate, and public health.”

Roger Downs, conservation director for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, argued the bill would protect New York’s fracking ban from the shifting sands of politics as the state moves toward the goal of having no net carbon emissions by 2050.

“While the ban has withstood court challenges and regulatory end-arounds, it is hard to ignore the ephemeral nature of Albany politics and the powerful interests still keen on reversing this historic prohibition,” Downs said.

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Farley blasts impeachment vote

Republican congressional candidate Chele Chiavacci Farley condemned the House Democrats’ vote to impeach President Trump on Wednesday as a partisan maneuver with no legal basis and the fulfillment of a Democratic quest since Trump took office.

Farley, who plans to challenge Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney next year for New York’s 18th Congressional District seat, quoted hearing testimony by a law professor who warned that Trump’s impeachment would stand out as the “shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.” She argued that Democrats’ “abuse of power” should “terrify all Americans, regardless of party affiliation.”

“The Democrats have not made their case,” Farley said. “They have not clearly explained the egregious crimes for which President Trump is being impeached.”

Maloney, taking his turn in the marathon debate that preceded the vote, argued in his floor statement that the evidence had proved clearly that Trump had “abused the power of his office for personal gain and sought to cover up his misconduct by obstructing the Congress.”

“It is the president, not any member of this House, who has brought us to this sad place,” the Cold Spring Democrat said. “His actions echo in this chamber and, like a tin can tied to his leg, will rattle behind him through the pages of history.”

He summarized actions Trump had taken that he called “unworthy of the presidency,” including his refusal to provide records Congress requested, and cast the vote as a matter of accountability and precedent.

“Today is about right and wrong and whether we still know the difference,” he said. “Today, we hold the president accountable. If we failed to do so, future presidents would see corruption as without consequence – and there, our democracy goes to die.”

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Two Skoufis FOIL bills await Cuomo decision

Two bills sponsored by state Sen. James Skoufis that would strengthen access to public records were delivered this week to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and are awaiting his decisions to sign or veto them.

Both proposals were approved by the Legislature during the session that ended in June, by unanimous votes in the Assembly and with some Republican opposition in the Senate.

One, delivered to the governor on Tuesday, would speed the handling of lawsuits by companies that are trying to block the disclosure of state contracts or other records they claim are private for business reasons. The other, given to Cuomo on Thursday, would let judges decide whether to grant requests for state records that are involved in a pending court case, rather than allow state agencies to automatically reject the requests.

The government reform group Reinvent Albany recently reiterated its support for the bills by releasing memos it gave the Legislature during the session. It argued, for example, that protracted lawsuits can “delay disclosure of information that is not a trade secret or will not cause substantial injury to the company’s competitive position.”

“This information is valuable to the public’s understanding of how tax dollars are being spent,” the memo read. “This bill will ensure that proceedings are resolved in a timely manner.”

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House Dems vote to repeal 2017 cap on state and local tax deduction

The House approved a bill on Thursday that would remove the $10,000 federal cap on state and local tax deductions that Republicans included in their 2017 tax overhaul and that both Democrats and Republicans from high-tax states like New York and New Jersey have opposed.

The proposal, which would raise the cap to $20,000 for couples in 2019 and largely eliminate it for the next two years, passed nearly along party lines by 218-206, with most Democrats in support and most Republicans opposed. Five Republicans, four of them New Yorkers, joined Democrats in support.

The bill, sponsored by a Long Island Democrat and dubbed the Restoring Tax Fairness for States and Localities Act, also would reverse a 2017 cut in the top federal income tax rate, restoring the rate to 39.6 percent instead of 37 percent.

Opponents have condemned the so-called SALT deduction cap as “double taxation” – forcing some homeowners to pay federal taxes on income they already spent on local property taxes and state income tax – and even as a cynical retaliation against Democratic-leaning states. Both Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Antonio Delgado voted for the repeal proposal and applauded it in statements afterward.

“Middle-class families across the Hudson Valley have been absolutely slammed by the GOP tax bill and its unfair cap on state and local tax deductions,” Maloney, D-Cold Spring, said. “I’m proud to help pass this bill, which will right this wrong by ending this double taxation and bring fairness back to states like New York.”

Delgado, a freshman Democrat from Rhinebeck, said he had been working on legislation to repeal the SALT deduction cap since his second month in office.

“Working people in upstate New York are paying too much in taxes already, and the 2017 Republican tax law creates double taxation for middle and working class families while adding more than a trillion to the deficit,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has railed against the SALT deduction cap and sought ways for New Yorkers to circumvent it, cheered the House repeal bill as a restoration of fairness and urged the Senate to pass it.

“The Trump administration’s SALT policy was a politically motivated economic assault on New York,” Cuomo said. “As the number one donor state, New Yorkers are sick and tired of being used as ATMs, footing an additional $15 billion each year that will be redistributed to red states and big corporations.”

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Maloney, Delgado tout bill to lower prescription drug costs

Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Antonio Delgado cheered the House passage on Thursday of a bill that would cap prescription drug expenses and seek to lower them for seniors by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.

The bill, named after the late Maryland congressman Elijah Cummings, was approved in a party-line vote of 230-192, with all Democrats in support and all but two Republicans opposed. Among other steps, the legislation would cap out-of-pocket drug expenses for Medicare recipients at $2,000; set an international index for drug prices to keep U.S. costs in line with those in other countries; and expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing care.

“No New Yorker should be forced to choose between paying for the prescription drugs they need or putting food on the table,” Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat, said in a statement. “Today, we stood up to powerful drug companies and demanded that patients come before profits. This bill will lower drug costs for thousands of folks in the Hudson Valley and millions of Americans – and I’m proud to support it.”

Delgado, a Rhinebeck Democrat whose district neighbors Maloney’s, noted the Cummings bill included a proposal he had introduced to exempt seniors’ retirement-fund income from their eligibility to receive a subsidy for Medicare’s Part D drug coverage.

“As I hold town halls across NY-19 and hear about the issues facing seniors, skyrocketing prescription drug costs are at the top of the list,” Delgado said in a statement.

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GOP candidate announces 2020 run for Orange County Court judge

A former chief assistant county attorney declared her candidacy this week for the Orange County Court seat that Judge Robert Freehill will vacate next year after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Hyun Chin Kim, who worked in the Orange County Attorney’s Office for 13 years and ultimately supervised all civil litigation for the office, made her campaign announcement on Thursday, after filing papers on Dec. 3 to open a fundraising committee.

Kim is a Republican and has been working since 2018 as the court attorney for Orange County Court Judge William DeProspo, whom she now will be looking to join on the bench. Orange County has three county court judges, all of them Republican. Elections are for 10-year terms.

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