N.Y. State ‘Sick But Getting Better’ Gianaris Tells UCCA
“The state of the state is sick but getting better,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said in response to a question from United Community Civic Association (UCCA) President Rose Marie Poveromo at the UCCA meeting at Augustana Lutheran Church in Astoria Heights on October 6. Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature cut $10 billion from the budget and there is still a $2 billion shortfall coming this year, he added.
“It was very difficult,” Assemblymember Aravella Simotas concurred. “There were drastic cuts to health care and education but we closed the deficit without raising any taxes.” She noted that the budget was the first on time in years.
Both voiced concern about more cuts. “I don’t think I could support another round,” Gianaris said. “Next year we may have to look for other ways,” Simotas agreed.
Other topics of discussion at the UCCA meeting were hydrofracking, power plant siting, hospital closings in Queens and auto insurance fraud.
The Assembly held a public hearing in Albany the same day as the UCCA meeting on the environmental impact of hydrofracking, a technique using high volumes of water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas from dense rock. “We care about [hydrofracking] a great deal,” Gianaris said. “We should not be doing any hydrofracking until we are a lot more sure about its safety.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) estimates hydrofracking could create 37,000 jobs and generate $31 to $185 million a year in added state income taxes. Arguments against the method point to water contamination and other environmental hazards. The DEC released a draft environmental document on September 7 and will hold a public hearing in Manhattan on November 30. Public comment will be accepted until December 12. New York has proposed a ban on hydrofracking in watersheds and aquifers that supply drinking water and in other sensitive areas but would allow hydrofracking in a dozen other counties along the rich natural gas field known as the Marcellus Shale.
“The upstate economy is significantly worse [than downstate and hydrofracking] is viewed as a development tool,” Gianaris said.“We need 100 percent assurance that [hydrofracking] is a completely safe thing to do. I am in favor of caution.”
Simotas agreed. “There is nothing more important to us than our natural resources, than our drinking water,” she said. “It’s fundamental that you should not endanger our drinking water.”
In August, Cuomo signed a new power plant siting law, the first since the previous one expired eight years ago. “The number one concern of this community is to reduce [power plant] emissions,” Simotas said. “For the first time, the siting law mandates community input.”
Gianaris said the new law requires a cumulative impact analysis for any proposed power plant. In the past, plants were evaluated in isolation, while now it is required that all power plants operating in the community be taken into consideration as well, he said. The Department of Correction has announced plans to build a power plant on Riker’s Island. The $100 million project will convert eight existing boilers to produce 15 megawatts of electricity at a new cogeneration facility.
Gianaris and Simotas said they support the expansion of Mount Sinai Queens. “Everybody in this community is going to benefit,” said Simotas. “We are trying to help [Mount Sinai Queens],” Gianaris said.
Proposed legislation to combat auto insurance fraud in New York state can help lower high rates, said Gianaris. “We have to do something to correct this,” Simotas concurred.