2011-05-25 / Political Page

Cuomo, Lawmakers Turn Back Power Moguls’ $ Grab

Governor Andrew Cuomo led a coalition of Washington and Albany lawmakers last week in a successful protest to block power generators from getting a multi-billion dollar bonanza from city ratepayers.

Heavy pressure from the governor, backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and state lawmakers, forced the Republican-led senate to get in line, while the city’s delegation in Congress and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer put pressure on federal energy regulators to deny electricity generators a $1.5 billion windfall.

State Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria), a constant thorn in the side of the power companies, also played a part in convincing the GOP senators to withdraw a bill they had previously passed and instead back a bill that had been already passed by the Assembly.

After the rug was pulled from under the sweetheart deal the power generating companies were getting, Cuomo stated on May 18: “With New York City ratepayers facing hundreds of millions of dollars in unwarranted electricity rate increases, we moved quickly to protect consumers.”

Gianaris stated: “I’m glad this misguided rate hike has been reversed and proud that the state took swift action to save ratepayers millions of dollars.” Gianaris stated: “I’m glad this misguided rate hike has been reversed and proud that the state took swift action to save ratepayers millions of dollars.” From Washington, Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) applauded Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and the state legislature for expediting passage of a tax relief bill that would prevent homes and businesses in Queens and The Bronx (his district) and elsewhere in the city from being hit with a spike in electricity bills this summer due to an adverse ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Crowley said last month, that “working closely with Mayor Bloomberg, he led a bipartisan city delegation in Congress in posting a letter to FERC seeking an appeal of its ruling and a delay in any resulting electricity price increase until all appeals are final.

In the letter, Crowley said, FERC’s order “could contribute to a rate increase for New York City electric customers of up to $525 million annually” which would “represent up to a 12 percent increase in summer electric bills for the average residential customer in the first year alone”.

Among the signers of the letter besides Crowley, were Congressmembers Anthony D. Weiner, Gary Ackerman, Gregory Meeks and Carolyn Maloney.

Gianaris also put out a statement saying:

Following the announcement that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has reversed its decision to allow power generating companies to massively increase their electric rates, Gianaris said:

“I’m glad this misguided rate hike has been reversed and proud that the state took swift action to save ratepayers millions of dollars. Governor Cuomo deserves thanks for working closely with those of us who were alarmed by the FERC decision to resolve the problem.”

Gianaris had previously blasted the GOP lawmakers for their strong support of the power companies. He had stated, “I am disappointed the senate Republicans decided to pass a bill that serves the energy industry instead of one that would protect ratepayers. We should pass Governor Cuomo’s proposal to reverse the rate hike caused by the misguided decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rather than hand out massive tax breaks to power generating companies.”

Gianaris said the GOP-sponsored bill guaranteed tax abatements to an industry that already benefits from large profits and does not need such a gross windfall. The power-generating industry had also said that New York does not need additional generation in order to meet its power demands.

The bonanza for the power companies was based on their claims that since their city property tax rebates were not granted by state laws, they were entitled to charge their customers as if the firms were paying full taxes.

But the matter had been resolved when the governor called on the legislature to pass legislation declaring the tax abatements permanent. The Assembly immediately passed the bill and sent it to the senate which, after passing its own bill, gave into the governor’s urging to the GOP to pass the Assembly bill, which it did.

Gianaris last week voted against the Republican sponsored bill to expand existing tax abatements for electricity generating power companies.

The legislation permits tax abatements for all power generating plants and does not offer any provisions to offset electricity rate increases for ratepayers, such as the increase in rates approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in January.

DA BROWN HONORED: In recognition of his more than 50 years of public service, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown was presented the Career Public Service Award of the Fund for Modern Courts, a statewide organization dedicated to improving the courts in New York state.

Victor A. Kovner, the chairman of the honoring organization, declared, “As District Attorney, Counsel to the Governor, and a trial and appellate jurist, Richard Brown has devoted his career to public service and has inspired so many others to work for the improvement of the administration of justice in New York state.”

In accepting the award, Brown stated, “Over the past half century I have had the unique opportunity of serving in each of the three branches of our city and state governments—and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

“Whenever I speak to young people, I tell them that the public needs them. It needs their talent, their idealism, their creativity. It needs their insight and and their energy. They will find public service to be unbelievably rewarding and the world will be a much better place as a result of their efforts.”

The award was presented to DA Brown by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance.

The Career Public Service Award is presented to an individual who throughout his or her lifetime has demonstrated a commitment through service in government to the pursuit of justice, fairness, inclusiveness and equal opportunity in the judicial system of New York state. Previous honorees include the Honorable Zachary W. Carter, the Honorable John R. Dunne, the Honorable Judith S. Kaye and the Honorable George Bundy Smith.

Founded in 1955, the Fund for Modern Courts is a nonpartisan, nonprofit statewide organization dedicated to improving the courts of New York state through advocacy, public education and incourt programming. The award was presented to Brown at a reception May 16 at the Bryant Park Grill in Manhattan.

Also honored was New York State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger.

GAS DRILLING MORATORIUM ADVANCES IN ASSEMBLY: A bill banning natural gas drilling in New York state until June 1, 2012 was reported out of an Assembly committee last week. Governor Cuomo must make a decision regarding the controversial drilling process called hydrofracking by June 15. A moratorium on the drilling is presently in effect.

Hydrofracking is drilling underground to access natural gas deposits which reportedly exist in large quantities in the Adirondack region upstate, but environmentalists oppose it because the water and chemicals applied under extremely high pressure to penetrate the rock formations create a hazard to drinking water sources as it runs off.

State and city officials are especially concerned about the contaminated water runoff in the Catskills because the reservoirs which hold New York City’s drinking water are located there. The situation has created a dilemma for the state because the search for natural gas on a large scale would create jobs and help the state’s economy.

In reporting on the proposed drilling moratorium legislation, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D–Manhattan) said, “For the sake of our environment’s safety and the integrity of our drinking water, I think that it is appropriate and responsible for the state to take additional time to thoroughly study all the data that is available and forthcoming about hydrofracking before approving any additional permits [for drilling].”

The data Silver referred to are studies being done by state and federal environmental agencies regarding the possible drinking water contamination resulting from the hydrofracking which is going on in several other states.

A continuing moratorium, as provided under the pending bill, would be welcomed by Cuomo if he isn’t ready to make a decision clearing the way for the natural gas industry to undertake extensive operations in this state. But if the governor wants the industry operating here on a major scale, he would likely want some assurances that hydrofracking will not be a rampant menace in our state.

SILVER PRAISES CUOMO’S CALL FOR STRONGER RENT LAWS: On another issue, rent controls, Silver and Cuomo are pretty much in agreement. The present law expires on June 15 and about a month ago, the Assembly passed a bill continuing controls and making a major change from the present law by raising the cutoff for deregulation to $3,000 a month, up from $2,000.

Last week, Cuomo repeated his prior position of extending the expiring law, but he came closer to the Assembly’s position by also saying we should strengthen any new law and we need to do it now. However, he did not amplify what he meant by strengthening the present law.

Commenting on the governor’s statement, Silver said, “Working with Governor Cuomo, we are confident that we can provide hard working families with the protections they deserve. That is why we are pleased that Governor Cuomo is providing strong leadership to renew and strengthen our rent law.”

Meanwhile, Republicans who control the senate have agreed to renew the rent law without any changes. Commenting on the Republican proposal, Silver stated:

“Unfortunately, senate Republicans have instead focused on giveaways to landlords and policies to undercut rent protections which would have devastating consequences for middle and lower income New Yorkers.”

ADDABBO: ‘NO BETTER TIME TO REFORM ALBANY THAN NOW’: State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Howard Beach) reports that he and six other Democrats, “answering the public outcry for immediate action on ethics reform and addressing a top priority of Governor Cuomo’s agenda, “held and participated in the first public forum assembled by the senate Democrats in nearly two years.

Besides Addabbo, the other Queens senators in attendance were Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Whitestone) and Malcolm Smith (D–St. Albans). Addabbo stated that these and the other five Democrats “used news media and social networking tools to open up government and engage the public in an unprecedented effort to reform Albany…”

The bills that were the basis for the discussion included: establishment of an independent commission on government ethics; financial and client disclosure for legislators; eliminating pensions of public officials convicted of misusing their offices; restricting personal use of campaign funds; and Addabbo’s bill prohibiting political contributions by businesses that have been awarded state contracts.

Among the groups attending the forum were the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), the League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Action of New York, Citizens Union, and Common Cause.

Addabbo said officials from each of the abovementioned groups participated in a lively discussion and he pledged, “As we continue our work here in Albany to come to a consensus on an ethics reform package, I will remain mindful of the will of the people that unethical actions in Albany are not warranted.”

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