Senator Ken LaValle spoke at the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association meeting on Tuesday, April 24, taking questions from members who expressed concerns about issues ranging from school taxes to voter identity fraud.
LaValle said that normally at this time of the year he would be in session in Albany but he was home because of Republican primaries were being held in New York State that day.
He said all of his trips to the capital this year have been “delightful” because of the mild winter. The legislative session starts in January. The senator described his commute of four hours that starts at his home in Port Jefferson village and takes him across the Long Island Sound on the ferry on up to Albany.
Stony Brook University and Medical Center
As the chairman of the Higher Education Committee in the Senate - LaValle was once a school teacher - the senator wanted to highlight the importance of the biggest education and research center in the area: Stony Brook University.
“We should all be proud of Stony Brook University,” he said.
He mentioned two projects that will get started at the hospital within the next 12 months and cost $450 million. There are plans to build two new towers on the site. One will serve as a new . The other tower will be a clinical research center to join patient care with researchers “to see if we can deal with particular illnesses,” according to LaValle.
These projects are expected to create new jobs in the construction industry and staff in the towers once work is complete.
In a statement released by the senator’s office in April it said that $53 million in capital appropriations were allocated for the Stony Brook Medical and Research Translation Center that includes the Children’s Hospital.
A question was raised by an audience member about the push to attract other types of industries to the area like in nanotechnology or green technology.
LaValle promised that the State is working on attracting more high tech businesses. He described how incubators can bridge new tech companies to universities like Stony Brook and said they are planning things for the farming community and small technology companies.
“This has been an area I’ve talked about my entire career,” he said of the incubators.
State Budget and Aid to Schools
LaValle told civic members that the New York State budget increased aid to schools this year.
Earlier the senator’s office reported that the New York State budget included a total of $20.4 billion in aid to education, “including an increase in school aid of $805 million - a four percent increase.
“I said when we get a real governor we’ll be back on track,” he said at the meeting.
The senator also said that the State resolved a $14 billion problem without increasing taxes or fees. He had previously stated that the new budget reduces state spending, does not raise taxes and creates new private sector jobs.
One of the first bills passed this year was oversight legislation on LIPA, unanimously passed by both houses of the New York State legislature and signed into law by the Governor in January.
LaValle, who said he authored the bill stressed that the law - called “Long Island Power Authority Oversight and Accountability Act” - will keep tabs on management, rates and operations at the utility.
“The process will be so complete it will take 18 months,” LaValle said.
He touted the formation of a consumer protection board where residents can call to get a response to their problem. He encouraged people to call his office if consumer protection board doesn’t work.
Homelessness in Port Jefferson Station
Ed Garboski, President of civic told LaValle that Port Jefferson Station has “a big problem around here.” He said that many in the hanging around the hamlet have mental problems and that the closing of state institutions led to people being cast out on the street with nowhere to turn.
“Can state do something?” he asked.
LaValle did not have an immediate solution to the difficult problem.
“That’s something we’ll look into,” he said.
Route 112 Construction
Last year, the State completed . The first project cost $37.9 million and according to New York State Department of Transportation spokesperson, Eileen Peters, the work renovated a three-mile section of Route 112 between Pine Road and Route 347. The second project bookended the first on Route 112 costing $33.1 million and upgraded Route 112 between Old Town Road and Pine Road then skipped over to Routes 347 north up to Route 25A.
“There was a lot of angst and meetings on how this would impact business,” LaValle said of the project to renovate the aging roadway.
Because of the state of the economy there was a lot of debate but the senator said he’s happy with the results.
“From my vantage point, the state did a good job,” he said. “Everything south of Route 347 is more artfully done and a pleasure.”
A piece of legislation pushed in the State legislature called “The Dream Act” would allow “undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements in New York to access state financial aid for higher education,” according to Nydreamact.org.
LaValle said that he opposes the bill saying the program would cost $45 to $62 million and that New York doesn’t have enough money to deal with citizens of the United States to get financial relief for education, much less illegal immigrants.
“We need to help low income and middle income people who are citizens of this county,” he said.
LaValle said that the legislation promoted by Democrats representing urban areas in New York City doesn’t have support in the majority in the Senate.
“As long as the Senate if Republican, that will never happen,” he said.
Photo ID and Voter Fraud
A question raised by an audience member addressed voter fraud. New York State primaries were held on the same day LaValle spoke at the civic meeting.
An audience member said he was concerned about voter fraud comparing his experience having to show a photo ID to get a new cable box versus not having to when he showed up at the polls to vote in the primaries that day.
The senator talked about the make-up of the State legislature by party saying that Upstate and suburban areas have Republican representation in the Senate. By comparison, the State Assembly is well represented by Democrats from New York City.
“For whatever reason, the Assembly believes it’s anti-immigration,” LaValle said about passing legislation to require a photo ID to vote. “We can’t get it.”
Defending the Tax Cap
The Senator faced some inquiry from members over the State’s tax cap implemented this year. One member said that even with , Comsewogue School’s budget is built on the “backs of the kids.”
"We have turned things upside down to increase school aid," LaValle said. "My colleagues worked hard to . I think we increase aid by $450,000 to ."
LaValle said that the number one priority of the New York State budget is education. He defended the cap saying that there are many families and individuals in school districts affected by school taxes.
"We leave our offices everyday with a heavy heart," he said of the phone calls he gets from constituents about their financial struggles. "People do not advertise on Facebook that they lost their jobs. People do not advertise on Facebook that their houses are underwater."
He stressed that the debate must take place on a local level in the community and that schools need to work together to consolidate services.
"This is all local," LaValle said. "You can do it without jeopardizing your child’s education."
He said that he likes Comsewogue’s Superintendent and that he thinks he’s doing a good job but said that there needs to be more work done to cut costs.
"The shame is you didn’t need to get to this conflict, tension point," he said.
In an email to Patch, civic Vice President Laurie Green said that she thinks - unlike in other schools - Comsewogue's administrators have connected with the public to work out financial solutions.
"Superintendent Joseph Rella and the Comsewogue School District Board of Education reached out numerous times and specifically asked the community for assistance in thinking outside of the box," she said.
They have come to the civic meetings, held public meetings and sent a mailing to residents asking for opinions, suggestions and what people could and were willing to do to help close the gap.
"The unfunded state mandates play an enormous role in contributing to this dilemma as well as the contractual agreements already in place from years ago through the teachers unions," she said. "Essentially I guess one way to put it is the state wrote checks yesterday that we are struggling to find ways to cash today."
She pointed to the Comsewogue administrator and teacher givebacks that faculty used to help offset budget costs last year.
"That was a gift and more than likely a one time deal that was very much appreciated by this community," Green said.