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Assemblyman
Robert K. Sweeney
Assembly District 11
Chair, Environmental Conservation Committee
Assembly Seeks to Ban Public Authorities from Political Polling
March 9, 2004

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney today announced that the Assembly is expected to consider legislation this afternoon that would prohibit public authorities from conducting political public opinion polls.

The measure (A.8004) responds to an incident last year when the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) conducted a poll that included questions about the performance of the governor, other elected officials and specific individuals seeking elected office.

"It’s outrageous that LIPA’s trustees thought it appropriate to spend public funds for partisan political purposes," said Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), the bill’s sponsor. "LIPA is a large monopoly with a lot of money and no accountability, and that is a dangerous combination."

"Using public funds to conduct a political poll is an absolute breach of trust. LIPA had no business asking its customers to rate the popularity of Rick Lazio or any other public official," said Assembly Energy Committee Chair Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam).

"There is no reason why public authorities – like LIPA – should ever engage in political polling. The polls LIPA conducted didn’t help lower our electric rates; in fact, Long Island ratepayers were stuck with the bill in the form of higher surcharges," said Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington (WFP/D/I-Medford). "A recent audit by the state comptroller clearly shows how LIPA has not been acting in the best interests of ratepayers. LIPA’s questionable dealings have made this legislation more than necessary. They have made this reform urgent."

In addition to this polling measure, the Assembly also passed legislation (A.8005) last month that would require the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to review LIPA budgets, rate increases and plans to meet its customer needs.

"This earlier bill, approved overwhelmingly, would provide an opportunity for public review and input, two features that have been sorely missing from the current LIPA regime," said Sweeney. The bill would also create an independent consumer watchdog to represent ratepayer interests before the PSC and require an annual independent audit of LIPA.

Sweeney noted that the two bills build on a major reform initiative (A.9010-C), also passed last month by the Assembly that would provide critically needed oversight of the many public authorities and public benefit corporations that have been created by the state.

The landmark bill would implement a system of accountability that includes a statewide, independent inspector general and independent budget officer and would require each authority to appoint a central procurement office to monitor procurement lobbying contracts.

Other provisions of the bill would establish comprehensive rules for the sale or resale of personal property owned by public authorities and other public benefit corporations.

 
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