The 2009 Legislative Session saw substantial progress made on a number of important matters facing our State and our towns and villages. We passed groundbreaking legislation that will establish a Clean Energy Loan Program to encourage green job growth, reduce energy costs, and combat climate change. Also passed into law was a new DWI initiative which requires an ignition interlock after a first DWI conviction as well as increasing the penalty for drunk driving with a child in a car. I was also successful in passing legislation that strengthens the ability of Suffolk County to enhance and stabilize its important tourism industry, parks, and cultural institutions.
The 2009 Legislative Session was also one of the most difficult in our State’s history. The global economic crisis that New York and our Nation face continues to be the worst since the Great Depression. Yet, it is during trying times like these when we, as a people, must pull together to ensure our State’s future is as great as its past. It will not be easy, but I continue to be certain that our State’s best days are yet to come.
As we move forward towards the 2010 session, a great deal of work remains to be done on issues relating to property tax relief, the sustainability of our schools, universities, hospitals and nursing homes, and the protection of our environment. These are the momentous issues we must boldly engage to ensure that, despite the current economic difficulties, our State remains a vibrant place to live, work, vacation, and do business in.
As always, please call or stop by my local office at 149 Main Street in Setauket to share your comments, concerns or problems with state or local issues. My office also offers complimentary notary public service, senior citizen cards, and a selection of informative brochures.
Member of Assembly
May marked the opening of the Port Jefferson Station to Setauket Greenway. This new recreational trail allows residents to walk, jog, bike, and rollerblade through beautiful woodlands and meadows. Beginning near the LIRR overpass on Gnarled Hollow Road in East Setauket, the Greenway runs 1.5 miles to the east of Sheep Pasture Rd. in Setauket. Future segments of this new community amenity will extend east to Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station south of the train station, and west to NYS Route 25A just west of the East Setauket Post Office for a total of 3.3 miles, one of the longest such trails on Long Island.
During the 1960’s, the New York State DOT acquired a right of way running from East Setauket to Port Jefferson Station to construct a Route 25A bypass. In the 1980s, Assemblyman Englebright and members of the Three Village civic community, concerned that a major highway cutting through our neighborhoods would seriously harm our quality of life, began to enable an alternative plan of a greenbelt for this undeveloped corridor.
Through Assemblyman Englebright’s efforts, state funding was made available to initiate the project. Planning efforts for the Greenway Trail began with the creation of the Greenway Task Force which included town, county and state officials, community and service group representatives, bike club and greenbelt representatives and residents who lived along the DOT Right of Way. More than 50 representatives were part of the Task Force. In addition, Congressman Tim Bishop secured federal funds that will enable completion of the western and eastern ends of the path during the next two years. Assemblyman Englebright also provided a grant to the Town of Brookhaven Traffic Safety that has allowed installation of state of the art safety features where the Greenway crosses three major roads – Old Town, Gnarled Hollow and Sheep Pasture – motion sensors on the path cause LED lights both on signs and on the road to blink and alert cars to slow down.
This “pathway to recreation” helps to connect communities, neighborhoods, and parks. In the near future, when the eastern and western portions of the trail are completed, many residents will also be able to use the Greenway to safely bike to work.
Green Homes Loan Legislation Signed into Law. Residential and commercial buildings account for more than 40 percent of all energy use in our nation. Coupled with the fact that most buildings have not been constructed with an eye to conserving energy, it is apparent that the majority of structures on Long Island are wasting considerable amounts of energy and contributing unnecessary greenhouse gasses to the environment. With fuel costs high and utility rates among the highest in the nation, families and businesses can no longer afford to waste energy.
Knowing that most residents don’t have the up-front costs necessary to make their homes more energy efficient or install solar generating systems, Assemblyman Englebright introduced legislation to authorize municipalities to establish sustainable energy loan programs to finance energy-efficiency improvements to residential property as well as installing renewable energy generating systems. When it became known that our state could get its fair share of the $454 million in PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy Funds) bonds recently made available by the federal Department of Energy if enabling legislation was passed, the bill was amended and passed into law with multiple sponsorship.
The infusion of low-interest PACE federal funds will act as seed money to jumpstart municipal green loan programs. Homeowners will be able to borrow money to install energy-efficient improvements and renewable energy generating systems and pay it back at low interest over 20 years. These improvements will create green collar jobs, advance the development of clean energy technology, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil while fighting global warming and protecting our environment.
The Town of Brookhaven is creating a Green Home Loan Program that is expected to be up and running in early 2010.
Children, unlike adults, rarely have the choice to refuse to get into a car with a drunken adult, especially if that person is a parent or guardian. Adults who choose to drive drunk with children in the car have made a decision to put those children at risk of harm or death. Legislation recently passed into law addresses the gravity of this act by elevating to a felony the charge of operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08, or impaired by drugs, with a child passenger who is 15 or under, punishable by up to four years in prison.
The new law also mandates that after a first DWI conviction, an ignition interlock device must be installed. Such devices prevent intoxicated drivers from starting vehicles. A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that repeat drunken driving offenses dropped 65 percent among those with interlock devices.
Stabilizing Suffolk’s Tourism Industry (Englebright- Chapter 159 of 2009). Tourism is Suffolk County’s largest industry and, like many destination regions, Suffolk assesses a lodging fee on the mostly out-of-town guests of hotels and motels. Assemblyman Englebright sponsored the original enabling law in 1992 and, since that time, the proceeds have been used to promote tourism and support museums and parks as well as valuable historical, cultural, and arts programs. Englebright’s new legislation increases the lodging fee, bringing Suffolk in parity with Nassau County. As a result, the increased revenue will allow Suffolk to remain a competitive tourist destination. A portion of these revenues will be used to stabilize and prevent closing of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and the Walt Whitman Birthplace, two of Suffolk’s most celebrated international tourist destinations.
Assemblyman Englebright knows that homeowners are overburdened by ever escalating property tax bills and that this problem threatens the very sustainability of our communities. Young people cannot afford to buy a house and pay property taxes, and older residents on fixed incomes are too often forced to move to other states. To address this critical issue Assemblyman Englebright has advanced the following measures in the 2009 session:
Middle Class Circuit Breaker Tax Credit. (A.8702/Englebright) The middle class property tax circuit breaker program is a concept that has successfully been used in several states to provide relief when a residential homeowner’s property tax exceeds a certain portion of their household income. The bill would establish a personal income tax credit for certain property taxpayers who pay a disproportionate share of their income to property taxes. This bill would be phased in over four years in order to take the state’s fiscal situation into consideration while ensuring that the most over-burdened property taxpayers–based on the percentage of income they are paying in property tax on their home–will get relief quickly. Additionally, this bill creates a tax reform study commission to provide the governor and the legislature with a long range plan for reforming the state and local tax systems.
Making the School Aid Formula More Fair. (A.3275/Englebright) Did you know that–through no fault of their own– if a very wealthy family moved into your school district, you could end up paying more property taxes? That’s because the State School Aid formula uses the average of all a district’s household incomes to calculate its wealth profile. This means that a handful of high earning households can result in lower state school aid and higher property taxes for everyone in a district. There are a number of school districts in the 4th Assembly district that are penalized by this formula quirk. Assemblyman Englebright introduced legislation that would make the school aid formula more fair by eliminating the top and bottom .5 percent of household incomes from the calculations. This will help hold down property taxes by creating a more fair and accurate “average” wealth computation for a school district.
School Property Tax Reform Act. (A7209/Englebright) This bill reforms real property taxation by making the State a larger partner in funding public schools and pension costs. Also addressed in this legislation is the prohibition of new unfunded state mandates, and the promotion of consolidation of services.
Assemblyman Englebright has been a long-time proponent for clean, renewable energy policy since pioneering solar net-metering in the mid 1990s. This year he introduced a green energy legislative package to help propel energy efficiency and renewable energy, and streamline the process of change.
Uniform Building Code for Wind and Solar. (A7653-A/Englebright) By 2015, New York State is striving to receive 45 percent of its electricity through energy efficiency and clean renewable energy – with 30 percent met by renewables. If we are to meet that goal, our state needs a uniform building code for wind and solar. In the absence of clear direction from the state, many local permitting authorities have developed their own interpretation of how the state building code applies to renewables. This renders the permitting process fractured, uneven and a deterrent to the growth of solar and wind energy in New York. This measure would establish a task force to study and report on the standardization of the state building code and local building codes and permit processes to facilitate increased use and development of solar and wind energy generating systems.
Helping Businesses Go Solar. (A7672/Englebright) Current law exempts residential solar systems from sales tax. This measure would extend that savings to business. Coupled with the state’s net-metering legislation for commercial consumers (also sponsored by Assemblyman Englebright) a commercial sales tax exemption will provide a more realistic investment climate for business. Because businesses typically require larger generating systems, the installation of commercial solar will significantly advance New York’s commitment to meeting its Renewable Portfolio Standard of 30 percent by 2015. A commercial solar sales tax exemption will help to stimulate and rebuild our economy, create green collar jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil while fighting global warming and protecting our environment. The measure also grants municipalities the option to grant such exemption from local sales and use taxes.
Ban on BPA Products for Babies. (A.6919-B/Englebright) This measure would prohibit the sale of any toy, child care product or beverage container containing BPA in products intended for children under three years of age. BPA, or Bisphenol-A, a known estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptor chemical, is a major component in the production of polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins used in food and drink packaging, as well as products intended for use by young children. Research studies have found that babies have up to eleven times higher levels of BPA in their bodies than do adults because of greater exposure and reduced capacity to metabolize BPA.
Endocrine disruption has been linked to a number of serious ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity as well as male reproductive disorders and lowered sperm counts, early puberty, and other changes that may lead to potential greater susceptibility to breast and other cancers later in life.
Recycling in State Parks. (A.6103/Englebright) Requires the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to collect discarded recyclable materials at parks, historic sites and recreational facilities. The legislation would reduce the amount of solid waste generated in these facilities, reduce the cost of garbage removal, and save taxpayer dollars.
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Among the more difficult issues the Legislature considered in 2009 was the MTA bailout funded by the recently-enacted Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax. In addition to the payroll tax, the MTA bailout included fare hikes and increased DMV fees on vehicles and drivers. Assemblyman Englebright voted AGAINST this new tax.
Not only does this bailout unfairly and disproportionately affect Suffolk County taxpayers, but it offers limited benefit to our region. Access to mass transit for commuters and New York City residents at a reasonable rate is unquestionably a public benefit. Assemblyman Englebright voted “no,” however, because he believes that the cost of ensuring that access should not inordinately be placed on those who are least likely to benefit from it.
No improvements for the LIRR are planned with the increased cost to our residents, despite the fact that Suffolk County already subsidizes the MTA with taxpayer dollars. And the retroactive payroll tax, which is imposed upon businesses, not-for-profits, school districts, colleges and universities within Suffolk County, may help to stabilize mass transit in New York City, but it will have a catastrophic impact on a region already suffering from the high cost of living and excessively high property taxes.
To stimulate home sales across the state and assist first-time homebuyers in purchasing a home, New York State now has a new tax credit available that is expected to save homeowners thousands of dollars over the life of their loans.
The New York State Mortgage Credit Certificate (MCC) will enable first-time homebuyers to claim a federal tax credit equal to 20 percent of their annual mortgage interest costs, potentially saving the average homebuyer $1,500 each year. This credit is in addition to the $8,000 tax credit the federal government is offering for first-time homebuyers. Unlike the federal tax credit that has been extended to April 30th, 2010, the state program has no expiration date.
For more information about the first-time homebuyer tax credit and low interest fixed-rate mortgages, visit www.nyhomes.org. For information on the federal First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit, visit www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com/2009/index.html.
Assemblyman Englebright supported extending through May 15, 2010, the Power for Jobs and Energy Cost Savings Benefit (ESCB) programs, which were among the most urgent end-of-session issues facing New York’s business community. With electric power costs in New York that are on average 40 percent higher than the national average for industrial customers and 65 percent higher for commercial customers, these programs support more than 500 businesses, and 300,000 jobs+ across New York State by helping energy-intensive companies in every part of the state compete economically. Roughly one third of the programs’ participants, more than two hundred organizations, are located in New York City and Long Island.