Tax Caps, “Fracking,” and More
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
New York State Sen. Greg Ball Thursday night (Aug. 4) endorsed bipartisan Albany political reforms and property tax caps, opposed the MTA payroll tax and “puppy mills,” and expressed doubts about both hydro-fracking and the repercussions of shutting the Indian Point nuclear power plant. In a legislative briefing to the Philipstown Town Board, the Republican, elected last November, also described passage of the state’s new Marriage Equality Act – which he voted against – a notable example of democracy in action.
Ball praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for fiscal and governmental reform initiatives. Shortly after taking office early this year, Cuomo proposed a $132.9 billion state budget that cut spending. Long known for its less-than-speedy approaches, the state legislature passed a slightly lower budget – $132.5 billion – in March. The governor and legislature also enacted a cap that limits increases in property taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Working with Republicans, Cuomo managed “to turn back the tide” of Albany’s intransigence, Ball said. In such efforts,“whatever’s he’s doing, I like it” in Albany, “the land that common sense tends to forget.” But he said more hard work lies ahead, in dealing with high school taxes and eliminating unfunded mandates – demands for programs passed along to lower levels of government without state funding to implement them.
“Is this property tax cap perfect?” Ball asked. “It is absolutely not, but it’s a start,” he said. “The school tax [burden] is destroying our communities,ripping them apart,” he said. Dealing with school taxes will hurt in some ways, he acknowledged. “Will it help people over time – it certainly will.” The tax cap also affects unfunded mandates, which often begin as seemingly worthwhile ideas, piling up year after year, Ball added. “That waterfall of unfunded mandates would have continued, were it not for the tax cap.”
Although he admitted that many constituents rely on MTA to get to work, he called for elimination of the MTA payroll tax. “We’ve to get rid of this thing. To tax payrolls is just not the way out of this hole. But then we have to find a way to fill the gap.” To do so, he suggested slightly higher fares, a toll or fee on bridges, ending cost-overruns on MTA projects, and federal aid. “I do support mass transit,” he assured the Town Board and approximately 35 members of the audience.
Given the changed attitudes in Albany, Supervisor Richard Shea asked Ball “why they can’t do a better job” of reining in public employee health-care and related benefit costs. “The governor is pushing on the pension front and I think you’ll see real progress there” and in related areas in the future, Ball said.
Shale fracturing and Indian Point
On two controversial energy issues, Ball questioned the merits of so-called hydro-fracking, a controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale by fracturing the rock formations. While in the State Assembly, New York’s lower legislative house, “I supported a moratorium,” the first Republican to do so, Ball said. “Even if there is serious job creation we don’t want to poison our drinking water. “ He said the state senate would hold a hearing soon and also send a committee to visit hydro-fracking sites and communities elsewhere in the country to get a better perspective on possible adverse consequences of the practice. “There are some real horror stories. It’s an extremely important issue.”
At Indian Point, the nuclear power plant near Peekskill, “jobs are critically important but from a homeland security standpoint there are some problems,”? the senator said. However, closing the nuclear power plant would still leave the problem of dealing with spent nuclear fuel, he said, terming the whole question a matter of great complexity. An audience member scoffed. “We’re in a dead-zone,” facing mass destruction if a disaster occurs, Paul Tschinkel told Ball. “That’s not complex.”
Marriage equality act
Ball voted against the Marriage Equality Act, but said the fact such a controversial piece of legislation made it to a vote is significant. Previously, a few influential members would have held up the bill, preventing action. This time, that didn’t happen. “No matter where you stand” on same-sex marriage, “that really makes it a new day. It’s not even about Republicans or Democrats. Democracy happened and that’s what this bill is all about.” Over the July 30-31 weekend, Ball likewise issued a statement opposing a lawsuit brought by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, contesting the law’s enactment. “While some, like this group, would have liked to have seen dysfunctional Albany bottle up any vote or debate, democracy won the day over old dysfunctional politics,”Ball said in the statement. “This group apparently would have liked to see old Albany rear its ugly head, where a small minority controlled by the extreme and petty interest, could have killed democratic action. Democracy won.
On other issues addressed Thursday night, Ball:
- An avowed dog-lover, promoted legislation to “get rid of these horrible puppy mills,” breeding operations often criticized for keeping dogs in cruel conditions.
- Cited a lack of conveniently located veteran’s cemeteries in the state and urged creation of one in Putnam County.
- Declared that “nearly 10 years after 9/11, we are not secure” and that in New York State “we’re in that strike zone” still for terrorism, with “a lot that needs to be worked on.”