States Considering Green Light For Gas Tax Increase
Transportation infrastructure lost the battle over the summer, but it may not have lost the war just yet.
Months after Republicans in Congress nixed a plan to raise the federal gas tax to balance the Highway Trust Fund, the idea is growing among individual states with oil prices taking a nosedive.
In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is trying to sell his own party members on doubling the state’s tax on gas over time, to more than $1 billion. Nobody in the state can afford great roads, he said. Instead, Snyder hopes increasing the Michigan gas tax can maintain fair or good roads.
Created in 1956, the Highway Trust Fund was designed to finance the country’s Interstate Highway System. In 1982, funding for mass transit was added. The fund has been the home for federal fuel tax beginning at 3 cents per gallon in the beginning to 18.4 cents per gallon in 1993. For years Congress passed long-term plans and properly funded the account. But since the new millennium, the Federal Highway Trust fund has been leaning heavily on transfers from the general fund – including $12 billion in 2014 – and short-term fixes by Congress.
This past summer, senators acquiesced to a House of Representatives plan to find $10.8 billion to sustain highway and transit projects in all 50 states until May 2015. That included increasing customs user fees, transferring $1 billion from a fund to fix leaking underground fuel tanks and authorizing controversial pension smoothing – companies making fewer tax-deductible pension contributions now and more in the near future to give the federal government more revenue earlier.
Four months later, however, but a noticeable contingent of GOP congressmen are on board with the idea, even if it’s unlikely Congress will take any action before the end of 2014. Lawmakers from New Jersey to Utah are actively considering gas tax increases, according to nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
"The federal gas tax hasn't gone up in over 21 years and the states don't have the luxury of just sitting around and doing nothing on this issue. They have to find a way to keep their bridges from falling down and keep their roads from developing too many potholes," senior analyst Carl Davis said.
For more on this story, check out NPR and Time magazine.
Spreading The Buy Local Message In Nassau County
Alone, small businesses don’t have the resources to make a stand against big box stores this holiday season. But by working together, they can sway people into downtowns.
That was the message when the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano held a press conference on Monday. Gathered in Alpers, a 100-year-old Port Washington hardware store, Nassau Council President Julie Marchesella spoke about their partnership to launch a media campaign with a shop local message.
"Small businesses, individually, do not have the marketing budget to promote themselves on TV, radio, print and social media," Marchesella said. "This media campaign will help us battle big box retailers and Internet-based businesses that dominate the airwaves and our screens, and raise awareness of the quality of the mom-and-pop retailers across Nassau County."
The campaign began in early November with $250,000 from the Nassau County IDA to promote the campaign across airwaves, in print and on television. This advertisement was repeatedly aired on News 12 before Thanksgiving.
Vision Long Island Director Eric Alexander joined North Hempstead Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio and community organizations like Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington at Monday’s event.
“Shopping locally keeps money within the community. It creates jobs and a vibrant downtown, especially in the holiday season,” Alexander said. “Downtown merchants are friendlier and create a more pleasant shopping experience than big box stores.”
According to published reports, the increase in Internet shopping has contributed to a projected shortfall of $90 million in the county's sales tax budget. Lost local sales could translate to fewer jobs, a drop in wages and, and increased commercial vacancies.
For more on shopping downtown in Nassau County, check out Newsday (subscription required).
LI Wins $81.9 Mil From State For Econ Development
When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the latest results of his Regional Economic Development Council initiative (REDC), there was positive news for many in Nassau and Suffolk.
Used to fund economic and community development across the state via 10 Regional Councils, Cuomo awarded $709.2 million; as much as $750 million was available. And on Long Island, the $81.9 million for 97 projects was the second most.
The major prizewinner was Albanese Development Corporation for winning $4.7 million towards their Wyandanch Rising project. The funds are slated for construction of a three-story commercial building adjacent to LIRR station, part of a $500 million Transit-Oriented District. The future mixed-income community is slated to feature 177 residential units and 37,500 square feet of retail space in two buildings plus another 77,000 square feet of commercial space in a third building.
Occupancy of 177 apartments in the future 40-acre Wyandanch Village development is expected to occur this fall. About 30 percent of the apartments will be rented at market price. More than 100 of the units will be restricted to those with an income of 50-60 percent of the area's annual median income, with the final 18 going to those with a 90 percent income restriction.
Molloy College received $2,395,248 from round IV for their Complete Green Homes Project. The project is a community-scale collaborative venture between municipal governments, not-for-profit organizations, and a local college to promote residential energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout Long Island. This project will educate homeowners about utility and other programs that provide incentives, rebates, and financing for home energy audits; efficiency retrofits; solar PV; oil heat conversions; and home EV charging.
Another $675,000 was allocated to the Village of Great Neck Plaza for a sustainable parking lot on Maple Drive that will feature porous pavement.
The REDC grants also included several designed to help Long Island recover and rebuild after Superstorm Sandy. Suffolk County pulled in $4 million for design of wastewater infrastructure that provides treatment in high groundwater areas along the South Shore. The Nassau County Department of Public Works received $1.6 million for installation of 800 check valves along South Shore to mitigate flooding and another $1 million for a road drainage project in Long Beach.
Applications for the latest round opened to businesses, nonprofits, municipalities and the public on Thursday. The program is designed to create bottom-up regional economic growth by funding local projects designed to create jobs and support communities.
In round IV, $150 million in capital funds, $70 million in Excelsior Tax Credits and $530 million from state agency programs were on the table. To win the funding, participants had to focus on implementation of regional strategic economic development plans, encouraging economic growth through job creation and investment, and identifying global marketing and export strategies. The latter is part of Cuomo’s 2014 focus on international business.
More than $2 billion was invested via REDCs prior to Thursday’s announcement. The first three rounds funded more than 2,200 projects supporting more than 100,000 jobs statewide. Recipients of the third round were announced shortly before Christmas, with 98 Long Island projects receiving grants, tax credits and other funding totaling $83 million – the single most of all 10 regional economic development committees in the state that round.
Check out the full list of awards here and the governor’s announcement here.
DiNapoli: DEC Doing More With Less Funding Since 2003
The state’s agency responsible for protecting the environment is expected to do more with less over the past 11 years.
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a report reviewing the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on Thursday questioning the course it’s on.
“DEC’s staff has declined while funding has barely kept pace with inflation and now is projected to decline,” DiNapoli said. “Our natural resources are major assets for the state’s economy and New Yorkers’ health and quality of life. We must continue to safeguard these assets.”
Created in 1970, the DEC is responsible for most of New York’s programs to protect wildlife, natural resources and environmental quality. Programs range widely from managing fish and game populations and overseeing the extraction of natural resources to monitoring the discharge of pollutants and hazardous materials and cleaning up contaminated sites.
Since 2003, they’ve also been tasked with more than a dozen additional responsibilities, including: the Brownfield Cleanup Program; development of a State Climate Action Plan; Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; Waste Tire Recycling and Management Act; regulation of shale gas development; and the Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act of 2013.
At the same time, agency staff and spending has been trimmed back. DEC spending was $795.3 million in 2003-04 and $1 billion in 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, DEC spending rose by a total of 1.7 percent over the period examined. Since 2008, funding from state sources is down 15.1 percent. While federal funding has helped fill the gap, those resources are now declining as well. According to the state’s Division of the Budget, total DEC spending will decline this year and in each of the next three years by a cumulative total of 25.9 percent from the 2013-14 level.
The DEC workforce shrunk by 10.4 percent down since 2003-2004 to 2,917 full-time staff in 2013-2014. Staffing levels peaked at 3,779 FTEs in 2007-08. Staffing in programs such as enforcement, air and water quality management, and solid and hazardous waste management has experienced significant cuts.
DiNapoli’s report also finds two of the state’s major funds dedicated to the environment – the Environmental Protection Fund and the Hazardous Waste Oversight and Assistance Account – combined have been subject to sweeps in excess of half a billion dollars to provide general state budget relief in the past. The Oversight and Assistance Account received $75 million over five years, ending in 2007-2008, to establish the account for funding Brownfield project, only to lose $45 million in 2007-2010.
Check out the full report here.
LI Planning Chapter Announces $1,500 Scholarships
The 2015 American Planning Association (APA) National Conference is a premiere organization for professionals tackling regional and city planning across the country.
When the conference begins April 18 in Seattle, Wash. until it wraps up three days later, planners will look learn about sustainability, parks, transportation, new economies, planning law, ethics and other topics.
It’s a valuable learning and networking experience for all planners, but it doesn’t come cheap. The price tag typically begins at $730 early registration for APA members and planning officials and peaks at $1,045 for nonmembers. APA students and emerging professionals may sign up for a severely reduced rate, but that still ranges from $125-$165 depending on early bird rates.
Enter the Long Island Section of American Planning Association's NY Metro Chapter. The local chapter of the APA is accepting applications for three Arthur H. Kunz Memorial Scholarships – $1,500 scholarships to send Long Islanders to the conference.
“The Long Island Section of the American Planning Association, New York Metro Chapter, encourages young planners and those in a planning-related course of study to take advantage of this opportunity to gain valuable experience and participate in networking at this year’s National Conference in the great city of Seattle, Washington!” said Sean Sallie, incoming director of APA’s American Institute of Certified Planners.
The scholarship is named after Arthur H. Kunz, a Long Island planner who was committed to preserving and enhancing Suffolk County by balancing its growth and development with environmental protection. Since 1994, the Long Island Section of the APA has been offering scholarships in his memory.
Applicants must be entry-level planners with less than six years of professional experience and students enrolled in a planning-related program – graduate or undergraduate. Email a resume and letter of interest, including your interest in planning, goals for a career on Long Island and what you hope to gain from attendance at the National Conference. Applications must be submitted by Jan. 9.
McCaffrey Named Suffolk Legislative Minority Leader
Once just a friendly face in one Long Island downtown, Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) is moving up the ranks in local politics.
McCaffrey will become the next Republican Leader. He was the unanimous pick last Friday to replace outgoing Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who is leaving the Legislature to become Suffolk County Comptroller. The 60-year-old Teamsters union leader will lead the GOP’s five-person caucus in the legislative body.
"The Republican caucus will support legislation that is good for Suffolk residents, regardless of which party introduces it," McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey is no stranger to leadership positions. Prior to winning a seat with the county last fall, he served 23 years on the Lindenhurst Village Board – the longest tenured trustee in history. He also served as deputy mayor during that time, helping to create a budget surplus.
The legislator has also been an advocate for many victims of Superstorm Sandy. He supported the county’s decision in October to offer $8 million in tax relief and assisted grassroots Sandy relief volunteers with Friends of Long Island clean up and rebuild damaged homes on the South Shore.
For more about the appointment, check out Newsday (subscription required). For more about the Suffolk County Legislature Republican Caucus, visit them on Facebook.
Rights To New Cassel Workforce Housing Announced
Dozens with dreams of moving into a new housing development just outside the Village of Westbury gathered yesterday to hear just who will turn fantasy into reality.
The Long Island Housing Partnership, Town of North Hempstead Community Development Agency and town board held the Workforce Housing Lottery at the “Yes We Can” Community Center Thursday evening.
“The development of 15 affordable homes in downtown New Cassel is another significant step in the revitalization of the community,” Long Island Housing Partnership CEO Peter Elkowitz said.
Applicants entered for a chance to own one of 15 homes. That includes a trio of new, two-story, three-bedroom single-family homes, 11 new, two-story, three-bedroom townhouses and a renovated, existing home.
All of the single-family homes are being constructed by a CDA contractor while Cornerstone Properties of New York is the developer for the townhouses. All 15 units are expected to be finished next year, with occupancy set for the spring or summer.
Since the Long Island Housing Partnership began accepting applications in October, 39 have been submitted. While winners of yesterday’s lottery will have the first crack among those 39, each candidate must be reviewed to meet the financial requirements. Eventual homeowners must have a household income below 80 percent of the Nassau-Suffolk median - $84,100 for a family of four or $67,300 for a family of two, be first-time home buyers and possess a good credit history to obtain a mortgage. While it’s unlikely, new applicants can still be added to a waiting list in case there are not 15 eligible applicants among the 39 received.
Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth joined Nassau County Director of Housing and Community Development John Sarcone and Unified New Cassel Community Revitalization Corporation’s (UNCCRC) Bishop Lionel Harvey at the lottery.
“Home ownership transforms a person, giving him or her dignity and a safe place to raise a family. It is only through the cooperative efforts of the Town, the CDA, the Long Island Housing Partnership, Inc., Nassau County and the State that we are able to produce such positive results that benefit our entire community. I wish all of our hopeful lottery participants the best of luck,” Bosworth said.
“I am very pleased to see the Town of North Hempstead and the Community Development Agency in continued partnership with UNCCRC to assist in the New Cassel Revitalization and with the Town’s North Hempstead Workforce Housing Program more families will have the opportunity to become homeowners,” Harvey said when the program was announced in September. “This Community continues to get the victory as we stay focused on the goals of revitalization and affordable housing. It’s a blessing what we can do when we all work together.”
For more about the housing available, check out the Long Island Housing Partnership online.
The YMCA Boulton Center
37 West Main Street, Bay Shore
Tickets and more information available here
Cold Spring Harbor
The John W. Engeman Theater
250 Main Street, Northport
A Christmas Story - The Musical - Friday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13 at 3 and 8 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 14 at 2 and 7 p.m.
Frosty - Saturday, Dec. 13 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, Dec. 14 at 10:30 a.m.
Tickets and more information available here
9 Railroad Avenue, Patchogue
Nine Deeez Nite - Friday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m.
Saturday Night Dance Party - Saturday, Dec. 13 at 10 p.m.
Tickets and more information available here
Bay Street Theater
The Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
STAGES Holiday Fairy Tale Spectacular - Saturday, Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m.
Tickets and more information available here