Martens: Courts Will Decide Drilling Bans On Local Level

As more local governments face court challenges to their zoning limitations on natural gas drilling, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said today he thinks some of those bans exist in a legally murkey area.

Interviewed this morning on Fred Dicker’s Talk-1300 AM radio show, Martens said the courts will likely decide whether local governments can place strict bans on drilling.

The draft evironmental review for high-volume hydrofracking, a controversial natural gas extraction process, does include some provisions local governments to supersede authority of the state and place restrictions on gas drilling.

But whether a local government can ban gas drilling outright within its boarders is unclear, Martens said.

“Can you ban drilling across the board? I think that’s a far murkier issue and one that will be decided across the board,” he said.

Hydrofracking uses a mixture of chemicals and water to access underground natural gas. It is seen as a potential economic boon for the jobs-starved Southern Tier region where the resource is expected to be especially rich. However, envrionmentalists charge the process could pose a danger to the area water quality.

In the interview today, Martens said the concerns largely stemmed from a “fear of the unknown.”

He compared the process to using cars, saying, “There’s a downside to everything we do.”

“But in this case when I mention the fear of the unknown, people have a difficult time grasping just how extensive this will be,” he said.

Survey: Few Boy Scouts Before Storm

Only 28 percent of New Yorkers followed the Boy Scouts motto of “be prepared” before Tropical Storm Irene slammed into the east coast last month, a Siena College poll released today found.

Though more than a quarter of respondents said they were “very prepared,” 42 percent said they were sufficiently ready for the storm.

The survey also underscored how the storm affected many New Yorkers despite the relative easy going city residents had.

One in 10 New Yorkers were evacuated due to the storm and 38 percent of those surveyed said the storm had a “serious impact” on them and their household.

“From Long Island, into the city, up the Hudson and along the Susquehanna, this storm will be remembered for a long time,” said Dr. Don Levy, the poll’s director. “In the areas hit by the storms, three quarters said roads were blocked or inaccessible, sixty-one percent had wind damage, downed trees, or roof damage and sixty percent experienced power outages. A majority in those areas say that there was local flooding and public buildings were closed. Nearly four in ten had water in their basements. Over one in ten faced evacuation.”

Damage from the storm is expected to cost at least $1 billion and produced heavy inland floods in large swaths of the Catskills, North Country and Hudson Valley. Long Island and Westchester County, also, faced widespread power outages.

Concerns also run deep among New York residents that 10 years after Sept. 11, a terrorist attack could still take place.

Fears are highest in New York City, were 44 percent of residents remain “very concerned” about a terrorist attack. Still, a majority of residents believe the U.S. overall is safer after Sept. 11.

“Although concern over a terrorist attack remains disquietingly high, over half of all New Yorkers and slightly more Gotham residents must be somewhat reassured by their belief that the U.S. is safer today than it was ten years ago. Still, for those that choose the half empty outlook, a third believe we are no more nor less safe than in 2001 and one in ten actually say we are less safe today than we were on the day the nineteen terrorists attacked our nation,” Levy said.

Preparedness0911 Crosstabs

Here And Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is holding a meeting of the Upstate Flood Recovery Task Force in the Capitol’s Red Room at noon. The get-together is closed to the press, but there will be a media availability to follow.

Mayor Bloomberg is meeting at 8 a.m. with newly-minted Rep. Bob Turner at the Cross Bay Diner in Queens. Reporters are invited, but only to take pictures.

The mayor will later kick off Climate Week NYC 2011 (the Clinton Global Initiative starts today) and meet with Medal of Honor recipient US Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer (again, photo-op only).

The Clinton Global Initiative is focusing on job creation this year. President Obama is scheduled to make an appearance at the three-day summit Wednesday.

Obama is in NYC today as the UN General Assembly prepares to consider Palestine’s request for recognition of statehood.

The Hunger Action Network of NYS is holding its 29th annual meeting from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany.

Obama will unveil a deficit-reduction plan today that uses entitlement cuts, tax increases and war savings to reduce government spending by more than $3 trillion over the next 10 years.

Obama’s plan includes $1.5 trillion in new taxes – mostly on the nation’s wealthiest residents. The GOP is calling this “class warfare.”

Debt limit battle, take II?

Top legislative leaders are indicating support for limited non-Indian casino gambling in NYS.

Senate Republicans might try to add a 63rd seat during redistricting in hopes of boosting their chances of retaining the majority and ending the 31-31 problem.

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The Weekend That Was

President Obama plans to unveil a new minimum tax rate for millionaire’s (AKA the Buffett Tax).

Needless to say, Republicans are not supportive. Rep. Paul Ryan accused the president of engaging in “class warfare.”

An attorney in the AG’s office who moonlight’s as a dominatrix has been suspended without pay.

Ex-President Bill Clinton accused ex-VP Dick Cheney of trying to cause trouble by talking about his wife, Hillary, running for president.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent the day cruising on Long Island in his Corvette.

A Democratic legislator called on Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano to cancel the car cruise, calling it a “frivolous” event at a time of fiscal crisis.

“Mayors of large cities should not say “riot” unless there is one. Period,” says Dan Collins, who thinks Bloomberg is burned out.

Baruch College Prof. Doug Muzzio doesn’t think what Bloomberg said was so bad – for Bloomberg.

Larry Kudlow adds Bloomberg to a list of “liberals” – including Matilda Cuomo – who have used the specter of riots to make a political point.

Residents of storm-ravaged communities were pleased to see Cuomo’s rapid attention to their plight, and hope he remains interested.

AG Eric Schneiderman asked a state court to throw out a lawsuit challenging the new same-sex marriage law.

The Rev. Jason McGuire, whose group, NYers for Constitutional Freedoms, brought the suit, said Schneiderman’s move is “not unexpected,” adding “The last thing the Governor and the Republican leadership in the State Senate want is any sunlight shining on the shady process that allowed for this bill to become law; we look forward to our day in court.” (No link).

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Extras

Mayor Bloomberg warned there will be riots in US streets – just like in Cairo – if Washington doesn’t suceed in fixing the economy and creating jobs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a self-professed gearhead, will drive in Nassau County’s “Cruise to the Show” parade and car show on Sunday.

President Obama really does have a Jewish voter problem, according to a new Gallup poll.

The NY-9 outcome could give former New York City Mayor Ed Koch a national stage for Israel-related issues.

Another “next NY-9″ – the W. Virginia governor’s race.

New York lost 22,700 net jobs to lead the nation in August. It was followed by Georgia, with 18,200 lost jobs, and the District of Columbia, with 12,500 fewer jobs. Both Georgia and D.C. saw big declines in government jobs.

Ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner gets Chris Cillizza’s “worst week in Washington” award for causing the NY-9 special and much embarrassment for his party.

Bob Shrum thinks Democratic leaders “out-dumbed themselves” by picking Assemblyman David Weprin, adding: “They got the patsy they wanted, only he inconveniently disappeared 14 months early.”

Donald Trump just loves that Jim Perry. (Technically speaking, that’s not a flub, since the governor’s full name is James Richard Perry).

Forty-eight percent of Americans see no further need for labor unions, according to Rasmussen, though (not surprisingly) union support is stronger among Democrats than Republicans.

The largest-ever increases in bridge and tunnel tolls and PATH fares are set to take effect Sunday.

Bloomberg on the toll hike: “It will hurt some things. Certainly hurt some businesses and some people. On the other hand, if one of the bridges fall down, how would you feel about that for the economy?”

A NYC Bar Association Committee supports Sen. Tony Avella’s bill to ban commercial horse-drawn carriage rides in NYC.

Lots of moving parts in the 54th AD’s future.

Some questioning of Assemblyman Joe Morelle’s effectiveness as Monroe County Democratic chairman.

Seventy percent of state School Boards Association members think teachers should not be allowed to score their own students’ tests.

LIPA says that while Irene will cost the utility $176 million, no fare hikes are planned.

Yet another lawsuit has been filed against a local government’s ban on gas drilling.

Mazel tov, Rabbi Sheinkopf.

President Obama passed the 10 million followers mark on Twitter.

It turns out Willow the cat didn’t walk from Colorado to New York; she flew.

Redux: Grisanti To The IDC?

Bob McCarthy’s Wednesday story quoting Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti not ruling out joining the Independent Democratic Conference caused some minor titillation in Albany during an otherwise slow week in state politics.

Grisanti has until mid October to switch his party affiliation from R to D in time for the next election, if he so chooses.

Back in June, tn the wake of his vote in favor of same-sex marriage, the lawmaker didn’t rule out running for re-election as a Democrat. But as we approach the new legislative session and that October deadline, Grisanti’s next move will be closely watched.

It’s not impossible, as Erik Kriss writes in The New York Post, to imagine a nutty scenario next year in which the Senate returns in January 31-31, giving the now five-member IDC led by Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx new clout.

The Senate is currently divided 32-30 in favor of the Republicans, whose single two-year term in the minority seems to have shell-shocked them into pulling out all the stops when it comes to keeping control of the chamber.

The rule change passed earlier this year, essentially taking away the power of the lieutenant governor to ties during procedural votes, will probably be challenged in some form by Bob Duffy.

But! It’s all very hypothetical. Gristanti could simply vote to support Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and conference with Senate Republicans, though certainly some GOP lawmakers would wonder why a registered Democrat was sitting in on their meetings.

Or, he could join the Independent Democratic Conference, which would be wooed to form some sort of governing coalition in the chamber.

In a chamber that’s seen its share of turbulence over the last several years, (see Espada, Pedro) it’s not inconceivable that a Grisanti defection could have major implications next year for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislative and budgetary agenda.

Grisanti, who is a former Democrat before he unseated Sen. Antoine Thompson last year in a heavily Democratic district, would also likely face a Democratic primary in 2012. Senate Democrats probably would not have trouble finding a primary challenger to Grisanti.

He could conceivably, in turn, benefit from the IDC’s newly formed political action committee, which already has $100,000 in the bank, thanks to Klein’s fundraising capabilities.

Again, this is all hypothetical!

But Grisanti is the best chance the IDC has to grow its ranks, remain relevant and increase its clout.

They would not want to upset their good feelings with the GOP by running a candidate against a Republican, nor would running a primary challnege against an establishment Democrat be the best use of their money.

But will Grisanti even do it? It seems increasingly clear the IDC is making public entreaties for him to do so.

Consider IDC spokesman Rich Azzopardi giving a variation of the same quote lauding Grisanti to this space, to Dan Janison at Newsday and to Jimmy at CapCon.

Sales Tax Revenue Stagnant For Counties

Sales tax revenue in New York’s 62 counties for the first eight months of 2011 remains largely stagnate over this time last year, state Department of Tax and Finance records show.

January through August collections showed total receipts of $4.3 billion, up by about $100 million over last year.

Sales tax is a major cash cow for counties that have little property tax base. It will likely become a more important source of revenue next year, when counties are required to limit their property tax increases at 2 percent or the rate of inflation.

The sluggish receipts, however, are not necessarily an indication of how well the economy is faring. Tax and Finance officials caution that it is only a piece of a much larger puzzle, and say that the outlook could change due to late filings and new assessments.

Sales Tax.ynn.Request.09.14

AAA New York Tries To Block PA Toll Hikes

On the eve of the Port Authority’s toll and fare hikes taking affect, AAA New York is attempting to block the increases by appealing to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

But the auto club is holding off on legal action, for now, even though they argue the toll hikes are illegal.

Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA’s government relations arm, said the organization would have filed suit had it seen a copy of the PA’s capital plan. Instead, AAA New York filed a FOI request for the documentation. He said the AAA would have acted earlier had it seen a copy of the plan.

“We didn’t have the capital plan and the thing went through so quickly,” Sinclair said. “We thought that appeal to the DOT was the best route to take for the redress of grievances for motorists.”

He added that the hikes were really paying for the rebuilt World Trade Center “what is basically a speculative real estate project. They’re building the most expensive office building in the world with money they do not have.”

The organization’s New York chapter posted a news release on its website late yesterday calling on motorists to write to Transporation Secretary Ray LaHood to oppose the hikes.

“Clearly, drivers are already paying more than their fair share – and they are doing so at a time when federal, state and local authorities are hard pressed to meet routine road and bridge maintenance needs. Today, more than ever, tolls on the Northeast corridor’s busiest interstate transportation facilities should not be diverted to unrelated and speculative projects,” AAA wrote.

The Port Authority, which manages bridges, tunnels between New York and New Jersey and the PATH train, initially planned on higher toll increases, but those were quickly opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Instead, a compromise plan was reached. Drivers with E-Z Pass will pay up $9.50 during peak hours, and cash tolls will grow $12. Future increases will bring E-Z Pass tolls to $12.60 and $15 for cash tolls in four years. The hikes were due to take effect Sunday.

The governors wrote in a letter to the Port Authority that while it pained them to institute higher fares, the state of the fragile infrastructure of the bridges and tunnels showed there is a need for the increases. They also called for great financial oversight and accountability at the authority.

Already, opposition to the AAA effort is coming from the General Contractors Association of New York, which has called for infrastructure improvement projects, claiming the filing was “short-sighted.”

“At a time when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey lacks the financial resources to advance critically needed capital projects, the AAA of New York’s lawsuit challenging the upcoming toll increase is shortsighted. While motorists are not pleased by the new toll rates, they understand the importance of maintaining an aging road and infrastructure system and the long term benefits of new roads which will serve us all throughout the end of the 21st century,” said Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York.

Usdot Sec Lahood Letter 9-13-11aaany

NARAL Pro-Choice NY Gets New President

After going nine months without a permanent replacement for its former president, Kelli Conlin, NARAL Pro-Choice NY has tapped Andrea Miller, the executive director of its Massachusetts counterpart, to serve as its new head.

As of Oct. 24, Miller will also take the helm of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL’s 501(c)3 organization. Conlin also used to hold both titles until she abruptly stepped down with neither an advance warning nor much of an explanation last January.

NARAL’s Board Chair Donna Bascom said there had been a nationwide search for Conlin’s replacement. She called Miller “the perfect leader,” adding:

“Andrea brings to the organizations outstanding expertise developed over twenty years in the field of reproductive health and justice.”

“This extensive knowledge, combined with her proven executive experience both in advocacy and in the private sector, and her political savvy, will ensure that New York remains a beacon for pro-choice policies and legislation. She’s the whole package, and we couldn’t be more excited for her to serve at the helm of our extraordinary organizations.”

Miller has served in her current Bay State post since 2008, which means she was on hand when Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to implement health care reform – an experience that will no doubt serve her well as New York struggles to set up a health care exchange as required by the federal Affordable Care Act.

Prior to joining NARAL, Miller was a principal and co-owner of Public Interest Media Group, a national communications and public affairs firm based in New York City, where her clients included a host of prominent national reproductive rights organizations. She also helped found the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she served as communications director for its first five years.

As you’ll recall, Capital Tonight exclusively reported about one month after Conlin’s departure that she had been forced out due to a forensic audit that found extensive financial mismanagement had occurred at NARAL on her watch.

In June, Conlin, once a powerful figure in New York Democratic circles, cut a deal with the Manhattan DA and pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of falsifying documents. She had to make restitution to the tune of $75,000, but served no jail time.

DiNapoli: August Revenue Projection Off By $75M

The estimated revenue for New York’s coffers was off by $75 million in August, showing that New York is operating on a “razor-thin margin,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in his monthly revenue report.

Though more money, $3.3 billion, came into the state coffers in August compared to this time last year, the state is relying on one-time revenues from tax settlements to shore up its budget.

This could complicate matters down the road, DiNapoli warned.

“Revenue collections, as anticipated, have grown from last year,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Still, the Blue Chip consensus economic forecasts for growth continue to be revised downward, raising concerns for the remainder of the fiscal year. We should be prepared for the possibility that revenue growth may falter, requiring downward adjustments to the Financial Plan.”

Meanwhile, spending is up across the board by 2.7 percent or $1.3 billion, which is attributed to the increased spending for Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor, which is up $851 million.

Some lawmakers were heartened earlier in the summer by a $800 million surplus reported by DiNapoli. Some, including Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, wanted to use that money to offset unemployment insurance fees that businesses took on this year.

But both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DiNapoli threw cold water on that idea almost immediately, saying the surplus was only reflective of the timing of tax payments.

August 11