Metzger, Gunther oppose proposed cuts in municipal aid

State Sen. Jen Metzger and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther joined several local leaders from Sullivan County at the Liberty Senior Center on Friday afternoon to oppose the state’s plan to strip most towns and villages of an annual aid stream that goes to all municipalities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal last month would preserve the payments – known as Aid and Incentives For Municipalities, or AIM – for cities, which get much larger amounts, but end them for all towns and villages for which AIM made up less than 2 percent of their budgets. In Metzger’s 42nd Senate District, which takes in all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware counties, all 19 villages and 31 of 37 towns would lose AIM.

“You can’t bleed a stone and that’s exactly what this proposal is doing,” Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat who took office last month, said in a statement afterward. “I served as a Town Councilwoman and previously as a Deputy Supervisor. I have a deep understanding of what every single penny we have means as a local government.”

Gunther, a Forestburgh Democrat, said the $59 million that the state would save by cutting AIM was “really a drop in the bucket” for a $170 billion state budget. “But for our rural areas this money is a lifeline,” she said. “Every penny counts.”

Gunther and Metzger were joined at the press conference by  Liberty Supervisor Brian Rourke, Liberty Mayor Ronald Stabak, Thompson Supervisor Bill Rieber, Callicoon Supervisor Tom Bose, Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Louis Alvarez and Delaware County Chamber of Commerce President Ray Pucci.

Opposition to the AIM cuts is bipartisan. Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who took office last month, held a similar press conference at New Windsor Town Hall a week earlier with a gathering of Orange County elected officials to protest the proposal. AIM’s fate will be determined in budget negotiations between the Cuomo administration and Legislature next month.

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Cuomo signs bill to extend tax deadlines for unpaid federal workers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed a bill giving federal workers affected by the recent shutdown the possibility of 90-day extensions on paying property-tax bills that were due one day earlier or they would start accruing penalties.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, gives counties and municipalities the option to pass resolutions granting delays to federal employees who were either furloughed or forced to work without pay during the 35-day shutdown. Both chambers had passed the bill with only two Assembly dissenters on Monday and rushed it to the governor.

Cuomo also announced Friday that the same federal workers will be granted a 90-day extension on the April 15 deadline for filing income tax returns, and will be given expedited unemployment service and public assistance for rent, groceries and utilities.

“While the federal administration played politics with the livelihoods of thousands of workers, the State of New York is once again stepping up to help working families,” Cuomo said in a statement. ”Many New Yorkers have state and local tax bills or installment payments due in the first few months of the year, and the actions we are taking today will provide badly needed relief for federal employees who were forced to miss paychecks because of the federal shutdown.

Skoufis had sent out his own press an hour before Cuomo’s to blast him for not signing the bill yet in spite of the passed due date. “Any action at this point is too little, too late since the vast majority of the 16,000 furloughed families were required to send in their property tax payments by yesterday’s deadline,” he said.

Workers affected by the shutdown included roughly 230 employees of Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in western Orange County, who were forced to continue working during shutdown. They missed one paycheck in January and were on the verge of missing another one week ago when President Trump relented in his standoff with congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall.

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Seward blasts Dem legislative sprint in January

Sen. James Seward teed off this week on Democratic lawmakers for the surge of legislation they passed in their first month with two-chamber majorities, saying their election reforms, abortion-rights and gun-control laws and other actions will do “precious little” to “make the everyday lives of real people any better.”

Seward, an Otsego County Republican who has been in the Senate for 32 years and whose district includes part of Ulster County, accused Democrats of “making grandiose speeches and appeasing special interest groups,” while neglecting “affordability and upstate jobs.” He vented about the DREAM Act, while allows the children of undocumented immigrants to apply for college tuition aid, and about new election laws – presumably meaning early voting – that will impose new costs on counties, unless the state covers the expense in the upcoming budget.

He charged that “the Second Amendment came under fire” with the new gun laws, which included a “red flag” law that allows police, school administrators and family members to petition a judge to confiscate firearms from someone found to be dangerous to himself or others.

“These bills, sponsored by downstate Democrats, fail to recognize the importance of firearms to upstate hunters and sportsmen, or to those who live in rural areas where police response can be lengthy,” Seward said. “These measures will increase costs and barriers for law-abiding gun owners while criminals will simply ignore them.”

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Skoufis rips MTA head for service shortfall in Orange, Rockland

Sen. James Skoufis has been a short-order cook of late, working the grill last week when the environmental conservation commissioner took questions from lawmakers and again on Wednesday when Metropolitan Transportation Authority representatives went to Albany for the Legislature’s latest budget hearing.

The Woodbury Democrat, who served six years in the Assembly before becoming a senator this month, didn’t hold back as he opened his questioning of Pat Foye, telling the MTA president that the mass-transit system he oversees has achieved a globe-topping level of badness.

“I can say with a high level of confidence,” Skoufis told Foye, “that the MTA is the dirtiest, least reliable, slowest, and most expensive mass transit system in the industrialized world.”

He then cited, by way of contrast to the MTA’s subway breakdowns, an abject apology that a Japanese railroad issued last year for the inconvenience it caused riders when one of its trains arrived 25 seconds early. He asked Foye if the MTA owed its customers an apology.

“The short answer is absolutely yes,” Foye responded, adding, “No, we’re not happy with the service, and we do owe the public an apology.”

Skoufis moved on to his more local interest, which was the disparity in commuter service the MTA offers in Orange and Rockland counties in comparison to what is available on the east side of the Hudson and on Long Island. He rattled off some numbers to illustrate: 56 daily inbound Metro-North trains on the west side of the Hudson on weekdays, versus 239 on the east side and 418 inbound Long Island Railroad trains.

His underlying complaint was that Orange and Rockland taxpayers get only 65 to 70 cents of train service for every dollar they give the MTA.

“What can you tell west-of-Hudson riders that see this value gap every day and feel so marginalized in the MTA system?” he asked.

A week earlier, Skoufis sharply questioned departing DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos about the Competitive Power Ventures plant in Wawayanda and the disclosure in a federal corruption trial that an unnamed DEC official had asked for a “push from above” to approve an agreement that the energy company wanted. He also pressed Seggos on whether he plans to decide on requests that the plant’s air-pollution permit be withdrawn to allow an investigation of the permitting process in the wake of that trial.

Seggos responded that a judge has instructed the DEC to allow the plant to continue operating until a decision is reached in a dispute between the department and CPV over renewing the plant’s expired air permit.

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Gunther voted with Republicans on two gun bills

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther broke with her fellow Democrats on two of the six gun-control bills that both the Assembly and state Senate passed on Tuesday.

Gunther, a Forestburgh resident whose 100th District takes in most of Sullivan County and part of western Orange County, supported the “red flag” law that got much of the attention and that passed largely along party lines, with Republicans in opposition. That bill will enable the police, school administrators and family members to petition a judge to order the removal of firearms from anyone found to pose a danger to themselves or others.

Gunther, who got a “B” grade last year from the NRA-affiliated New York State Rife and Pistol Association that marked her as a “generally pro-gun candidate,” also voted with Democrats on three other gun control bills. The two proposals she opposed were a prohibition on allowing teachers to carry firearms in school; and an extension of the time limit on criminal background checks before gun sales, which will allow authorities to take as long as 30 days instead of three before the buyer must be given the gun.

All five Republican state lawmakers representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties voted against all of the bills, except in one instance. Assemblyman Brian Miller, a New Hartford Republican whose 101st  District crosses seven counties and includes seven towns in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan, sided with Democrats on banning bump stocks, the gun attachment used by the gunman in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre that allows a semiautomatic rifle to be fired like a machine gun.

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Brabenec opposed ban on gay “conversion” therapy

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican, was one of only 11 lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly to oppose a new law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday that prohibits professional therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of patients younger than 18.

The ban on so-called “conversion therapy” – described as cruel and traumatic by its critics – applies only to licensed mental-health professionals, who would face professional misconduct sanctions ranging from a reprimand to license revocation and fines for violating the law. It does not apply to counseling by clergy or other non-licensed figures.

The Assembly had passed the bill twice before, but it stalled in the Republican-led Senate until Democrats won a majority and took control this month. Both chambers passed it with little dissent on Jan. 15. The vote in the Senate was 57-4, with Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, among those voting against it; in the Assembly, it was 141-7.

Explaining his vote in opposition, Brabenec told the Times Herald-Record by email that he saw no problem with conversion therapy if a teenager chose to undergo it. “My vote against banning conversion therapy was because I don’t want to see a teenager especially a 16 or 17 year old who wants to engage in this on the basis of their own free will denied the opportunity to do so,” he wrote. “If the bill only banned forced conversion therapy, or on young children who cannot make this decision for themselves, I would have voted no.”

On Friday, Cuomo signed the conversion-therapy ban and another bill known as GENDA that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

“As the most progressive state in the nation and as the home of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, New York has always been on the front lines fighting for full protections for every individual,” he said in a statement. “By signing into law GENDA and a ban on the fraudulent practice of conversion therapy, we are taking another giant step forward in advancing equal justice for every New Yorker – regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

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Schmitt, municipal leaders blast proposed aid cut

Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt stood with local officials at a press conference at New Windsor Town Hall on Thursday to denounce Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to eliminate a modest state aid stream for most towns and villages.

Cuomo’s budget would zero out the annual payments through the Aid and Incentives for Municipalities program, or AIM, for any towns and villages for which AIM payments last year amounted to less than 2 percent of their previous budgets. That means 75 towns and villages in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, with New Windsor set to lose the biggest amount – more than $121,000.

“It is unacceptable to cut AIM funding in this year’s budget,” Schmitt said in a statement after the press conference, noting that the aid cuts would total $3.3 million in Orange and Rockland counties.

State officials reply that cities get the bulk of AIM funds and will continue to do so, as will towns and villages that rely more heavily on the aid. They also argue that towns and villages that lose the funding will make up for it through increased sales tax from internet purchases, and also can get state matching funds for shared-service arrangements with other governments.

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Senate passes Skoufis bill to expand TAP eligibility

The Senate unanimously approved a bill by Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, this week that would make more New Yorkers eligible for state tuition grants for college by raising the maximum income for those who qualify.

The bill would increase the income cutoff to $95,000 from $80,000, and also would raise the minimum aid amount to $750 from $500. (It doesn’t change the $5,165 maximum award for the Tuition Assistance Program.) The estimated cost of those two TAP updates is $24 million.

Senators approved the bill on Wednesday as a bipartisan companion to the more controversial DREAM Act, a Democratic proposal that will enable undocumented students to apply for TAP grants if they meet certain conditions. Republicans opposed the legislation, which had stalled in the Senate for six years under GOP control but sailed to passage in a 40-20 vote on Wednesday with the new Democratic majority.

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Three Dems seek to run for Ulster County executive (updated)

Three Democrats are now angling to succeed Ulster County Executive Mike Hein in what could be two or three or competitions this year, first to finish Hein’s term after he leaves office and then win a four-year term in the general election in November.

Hein, a Democrat who has led the county for a decade, has been named commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and is expected to move to that new post in Albany after the state Senate confirms his appointment. Ulster must hold a special election within 90 days of his resignation to fill his office until the end of the year.

Fellow Democrats currently courting party support for the job are Pat Ryan, a 2018 congressional candidate; Pat Strong, a Kingston business owner who ran for state Senate last year; and Mark Rider, a deputy county executive in Ulster. On the Republican side, Town of Ulster Supervisor Jim Quigley expressed interest in running after Hein’s departure was announced earlier this month, although it’s unclear who the current Republican contenders are.

(Update: Ulster Republican Chairman Roger Rascoe said Friday the party has more than one potential candidate but won’t reveal their names for a couple weeks. The county committee will hold its endorsement convention – and choose its candidate for the special election – on Feb. 23, he said. Candidates start collecting petition signatures on Feb. 26.)

The first nominations will be made not by voters but by the Democratic and Republican committee members in Ulster, who will hold conventions to choose their party’s candidates for the special election. Democratic Chairman Frank Cardinale said Tuesday that his committee will meet in late February to make that decision, shortly before candidates begin collecting petition signatures to compete in the general election.

That nomination for the special election will double as the party’s endorsement for the general election, although any Democrats would be free to file petitions and compete in a primary in June. Cardinale said he would prefer to see his party’s candidate chosen that way, by Democratic voters. “I honestly would like to see a primary,” he said.

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Maloney named to House intelligence committee

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has been appointed to the House committee that oversees the FBI and CIA and that is expected to dig deeper into Russian interference in the 2016 elections with Democrats now in control of the House.

Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat elected to his fourth term in November, invoked 9/11 and the Hudson Valley residents killed in those attacks in a statement on Wednesday about his joining the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “New York was hit with the worst terrorist attack in our country’s history on September 11th  - and the Hudson Valley in particular paid a terrible price,” Maloney said. “We need an Intelligence Committee representative in the majority who knows our state and can help look out for our best interest.”

Maloney, whose 18th District includes all of Orange County, is expected to remain on the Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He will be joined on both of those panels by Rep. Antonio Delgado, the Rhinebeck Democrat who took office this month and represents the neighboring 19th District, which includes Ulster and Sullivan counties.

“From Day One I’ve said I want to focus on the priorities of our district, and these committee assignments will give me the ability to do that every day in Congress,” Delgado said in a statement on Thursday. “As a member of these committees, I can advocate for key issues ranging from supporting our farmers to expanding rural broadband to improving our water infrastructure.”

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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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