03/29/13 3:50pm
03/29/2013 3:50 PM

Aside from school aid bumps, other items in the New York State budget adopted Thursday include a “middle class” tax rebate for families with kids, a creation of a bar-type exam for prospective teachers and financial incentives for top-performing teaching.

The spending plan will also increase the state minimum wage, and provide more highway improvement funds for local towns.

The budget deal extends from last year a higher tax on top earners, which reportedly raises about $1.9 million annually.

The 2013-14 budget is the third consecutive state budget that’s been adopted before the April 1 deadline by which it’s supposed to be adopted. That hasn’t always been the case, as the state routinely missed the budget deadline for many years prior to that.

This is the first time since 1984 the state made the deadline three years in a row.

Overall, the $135 billion budget increases total state spending by under one percent, according to state documents.

“This budget agreement puts New York on track to have the third consecutive on-time, balanced, budget that holds increases in spending under 2 percent,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

The adopted budget “includes direct tax relief for middle class families in the form of a $350 Family Tax Relief credit,” according to officials.

Over the next three years, each New York family with at least one dependent child and a household income between $40,000 and $300,000, will receive a “Family Tax Relief” credit in the amount of $350.  The statewide amount of these payments will be $1.23 billion over three years, beginning in 2014.

The budget extends the “middle class” personal income tax rate reductions enacted in 2011, which were due to expire in 2014. Those reductions will provide 4.4 million taxpayers with $707 million in tax relief per year, according to state officials

The new budget also calls for creation of “Bar Exam for Teachers,” officials said.

“To ensure the best and brightest are teaching our children, the State Education Department will increase the standards for teacher certification to require passage of a “bar exam,” in addition to longer, more intensive and high-quality student-teaching experience in a school setting,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The state also plans to reward “high performing teachers” under the new budget.

“To improve results and incentive high-performance, the budget implements a program that will offer $15,000 in annual stipends for four years to the most effective teachers beginning with math and science teachers,” the governor said.

A total of $11 million in incentives will be given statewide. Specifics were not available on how teacher performance will be judged.

Local municipalities on the North Fork will see an increase in Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding under the new budget, which increased that fund by $75 million statewide.

“This nearly $7 million in funding for towns and villages in the First Senatorial District will allow us to put New York back to work by repairing roads and bridges,” said state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

This is the first time since 2008 that CHIPS funding has increased.

Locally, Riverhead Town will receive $372,218 in CHIPS funding for 2013-14, an increase of 26 percent over the previous state budget allocation.

Likewise, Southold Town will get $421,071, a 28 percent increase, Southampton Town will get $842,159, a 28 percent increase, and Shelter Island Town will get $123,321, also a 28 percent increase.

Greenport Village is getting $52,902, a 24 percent increase, and the tiny Village of Dering Harbor on Shelter Island, is getting $59,891, a 27 percent increase.

The new budget also raises the minimum wage in New York State from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour, but over three years.

“Recognizing that New York’s minimum wage is unlivable and that 19 other states have higher minimum wages than New York, the budget raises the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour over three years, beginning with $8.00 by the end of 2013, $8.75 by the end of 2014, and $9.00 by the end of 2015,” the governor said.

The budget also provides hiring tax credits to businesses that hire returning veterans and young people.

The credit will equal 10 percent of wages paid for hiring veterans, and 15 percent of wages if the veteran is disabled, officials said.

The budget includes a refundable tax credit for businesses that hire people under the age of 20, which officials say will save those businesses a total of $112 million over three years, statewide.

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03/26/13 11:30am
03/26/2013 11:30 AM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO  |  A commercial fishing boat docked in Greenport.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A commercial fishing boat docked in Greenport.

A saltwater fishing license fee that East End towns successfully fought against after it was enacted in 2009 was officially eliminated as part of the state budget, New York State Senator Ken LaValle announced Tuesday.

The state Legislature repealed the controversial license in 2011 and registration was guaranteed to be free for the next two years.

“For many in our region, fishing is a way of life,” Mr. LaValle said in a statement. “Mandating a license placed a burden on individuals and families who have fished our local waters for generations. I voted against the license law and fee when it was part of the 2009 budget and I’m happy to see the demise of what was essentially a hidden tax.”

The Senate passed a portion of the state budget Sunday, which included a provision to eliminate the saltwater license fee permanently.

The $10 license for anglers age 16 or older was originally implemented by the Department of Environmental Conservation in October 2009.

Previous Coverage: Legislature sinks saltwater fishing license

03/07/13 8:00am
03/07/2013 8:00 AM
EPCAl in Riverhead, FAA

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | A view of the EPCAL site from the sky.

After years of fighting, it appears Riverhead Town and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are close to reaching a consensus on what land is developable at the town-owned Enterprise Park at Calverton, and what needs to be preserved as open space.

And by consensus, we mean the town has given up fighting over whether the grasslands by the EPCAL runways, which were once used for testing fighter jets, should be preserved for migratory birds.

It looks like Riverhead will get to develop about 600 acres on the land that was given to the town for economic development to compensate for the jobs lost when the Grumman Corporation left.

This, after the EPCAL reuse plan approved by the federal government in 1998 identified more than 2,000 acres that could be developed at EPCAL. And just a few years ago, the town planned to sell two EPCAL parcels comprising 1,055 acres, though the deals fell through.

How did the town lose all this land without a penny of compensation?

It appears the state is requiring the town to protect EPCAL grasslands for endangered birds. But birds can fly, and preserved grasslands exist at the 385-acre Otis Pike Preserve across Route 25. Supposedly, the only reason the birds started feeding by the runways is because the town didn’t cut the grass there during all the years the land sat unused.

If you believe the town got stiffed, you can blame bureaucrats, the system, politics and small-minded and short-sighted town officials. But it’s hard for the public to tell. The process by which we learn of decisions on EPCAL matters is shadowy and often secondhand, based on town officials’ descriptions of closed-door meetings between town representatives and staff at the DEC, or just DEC officials themselves.

The regional director of the DEC isn’t allowed to speak directly to the media, so questions must be addressed to public relations people, sometimes based in Albany, who never seem to answer them fully.

The people making the decisions on the state end are not elected, it seems.

So where were our elected state leaders through all of this, when town taxpayers and the region as a whole needed real leadership?

They never seem to say much of anything. State Senator Ken LaValle and outgoing Assemblyman Dan Losquadro — and before him, Assemblyman Marc Alessi — should have been out there, taking a stand on this issue.

Do they support preserving hundreds of acres for birds at the expense of development or not?

They should let the people know, one way or the other. But it seems they prefer to work (read: hide) behind the scenes and collect the endorsements of environmental organizations while never taking any responsibility for the decisions being made by state agencies.

03/02/13 8:00am
03/02/2013 8:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The Miss Nancy fishing boat moves through Greenport Harbor.

Life could get just a little easier for East End commercial fishermen if a bill Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-Port Jefferson) ushered through the New York State Senate has the same support in the Assembly.

The bill that passed the Senate with only a single negative vote would allow commercial fishermen to aggregate their daily catch limits over a seven-day period. A fisherman could, for example, catch three times his daily quota on Monday and two times the limit on Wednesday and then stay off the water until the following Monday, thereby conserving fuel. The bill that passed the Senate would also allow individuals, each of whom had a fishing license, to go out together in the same boat with each able to take a daily or aggregate limit.

“Fuel for running a fishing boat is extremely costly,” Mr. LaValle said, noting that it “significantly cuts into the already slim profits” fishermen get.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who is shepherding the bill through the Assembly, said he and Mr. LaValle drafted the bill together in consultation with local fishermen.

While the Assembly is focused on getting a budget passed by the April 1 deadline, Mr. Thiele said as soon as that’s accomplished, the fishing bill would move ahead.

“It’s a bill that is high on my list,” Mr. Thiele said.

Assuming the Assembly gives the legislation the go-ahead, it would go to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

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01/25/13 5:11pm
01/25/2013 5:11 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Toni Demeo, left, the first senatorial district's Woman of Distinction of 2012 and ELIH CEO Paul Connor.

COURTESY PHOTO | Toni Demeo, left, the first senatorial district’s Woman of Distinction of 2012 and ELIH CEO Paul Connor.

The search is on for the next “Woman of Distinction.”

In May, super-volunteer Toni DeMeo of Eastern Long Island Hospital was named 2012’s “Woman of Distinction” for the 1st Senatorial District. Now, Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) is seeking nominations for this year’s award, which honors exceptional achievement, personal excellence and outstanding, courageous or heroic actions on the part of a woman.

“In past years, honorees have joined me at a special reception in Albany to accept the Woman of Distinction award,” Mr. LaValle said. “Award recipients have had the opportunity to meet with a cross section of women from senate districts throughout New York whose hard work and dedication have helped enrich our state and communities.”

Ms. DeMeo, a Cutchogue resident, volunteered at ELIH for more than 15 years. She was chosen for the award from a pool of 10 residents.

Nominations for this year’s recipient for the 1st Senatorial District, which stretches from Port Jefferson across the East End, are accepted until April 5. Nominations can be made online.

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01/22/13 11:13am
01/22/2013 11:13 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | State Senator Ken LaValle has proposed creating a regional high school that focuses on STEM curriculum.

State Senator Ken LaValle has proposed legislation to create a new regional high school that will focus on the science, technology, engineering and math program known as STEM.

According to a press release issued by Mr. LaValle’s office Tuesday, the Suffolk School of Math, Science & Engineering Regional Technology Institute will provide STEM instruction to students in grades 9th through 12th at both Eastern and Western Suffolk BOCES facilities.

Mr. LaValle said in statement that the goal of the new school is to “expand learning opportunities for students and foster the development and advancement of emerging technologies.”

“I want to encourage students to pursue careers in math and science by introducing them to these subject areas in ways they may not otherwise be exposed to,” Mr. LaValle said. “I believe science, technology, engineering and math are the foundation for future economic growth and job creation.”

The senator first proposed the legislation Jan. 9. The Higher Education Committee, which Mr. LaValle is the chairman, is currently reviewing the bill.

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11/01/10 12:05am
11/01/2010 12:05 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO Senator Ken LaValle at an announcement Tuesday that construction will begin this winter for a new wine and agricultural processing center in Calverton to assist small businesses on the East End to commercialize products.

Construction will begin this winter on a new wine and agricultural testing facility in Calverton to help East End growers research and develop new consumer food products.

The new Agriculture Consumer Science Center will be located in an 8,500 foot addition at Stony Brook University’s Calverton Business Incubator on Route 25. Entrepreneurs will be able to rent space there at $25 an hour for access to fully equipped commercial kitchens, where they will be able to research and develop soups, sauces, baked goods and other products.

State Senator Ken LaValle, who sought a $3.5 million state grant for the project, said the center will give Long Island’s agricultural community the tools it needs to develop “new marketable consumer items and enhance their product lines.”

Mr. LaValle announced the grant Tuesday at the site, joined by SBU president Samuel Stanley, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and the Long Island Farm Bureau’s newly elected executive director, Frank Beyrodt of DeLea Sod Farms.

“With this new technology, there’s no limit of what can be accomplished,” Mr. Beyrodt said.

While construction will generate about 70 to 80 jobs, officials said it was difficult to predict how many permanent jobs the new facility might create.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in about 14 months, officials said.

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This post was originally published Oct. 26, 2010

10/11/10 6:01pm
10/11/2010 6:01 PM

ew York State Senator Ken LaValle is encouraging local college students to take advantage of a new state-sponsored loan program.

The Higher Education Loan Program first offered loans to students this past spring semester as a way to help make the continually climbing cost of college more manageable.

Mr. LaValle’s spokeswoman Jean Segall said as a ranking member and former chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, the senator is continually looking for ways to foster student achievement.

“He always keeps students informed of different programs that are there to help them,” Ms. Segall said.

The program offers low-cost, fixed-rate loans with a guarantee that monthly payments will never increase, according to its website. The program has an emphasis on informing students of their education finances.

Loans through the program are available to New York residents who attend colleges in state and need additional aid after receiving other federal and state aid. Most, but not all, colleges in the state participate in the program.

Loans of up to $20,000 are given to undergraduates attending 2-year colleges, $50,000 for undergraduates attending 4-year schools, and $70,000 for undergraduate and graduate school combined.

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