Former Malverne deputy mayor and village trustee Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick is challenging incumbent New York State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin for a seat representing the 21st Assembly District.
The Herald asked Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick and Griffin questions focusing on issues pertinent to the residents of several South Shore communities.
Herald: The coronavirus pandemic has devastated our local economy, shutting down businesses and causing steep losses in revenue. What could you do, especially as federal aid is unlikely moving forward, to help the economy recover and help get the funding to the people who need it most, like local business owners and residents?
Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick: Clearly, coronavirus has devastated our communities with its health consequences, as well as its economic impacts. Pressing the governor for the responsible reopening of society, especially businesses, is crucial to our recovery. Consistency in policy is also important to help many businesses that are suffering rebound and survive.
With regard to making funding available to businesses, I will press governments, including New York State and Nassau County, to follow the Town of Hempstead’s example on the disbursement of CARES funding and other relief. Hempstead Town has used CARES funding to open pop-up food pantries, deliver meals to senior citizens, furnish PPE kits to area businesses, outfit hospitals with Covid safety supplies, establish Covid testing sites, and more. Sadly, some other governments are merely utilizing CARES monies to plug their budget deficits.
Judy Griffin: Covid-19 has negatively impacted us in many ways. First and foremost the many lives lost is a tragedy for our community, state and country. Secondly, the economic impact and fiscal crisis that we are facing as a result is unprecedented. We still have not received the essential aid we need from the federal government. All efforts must be made to explore and develop new revenue streams that can fund schools, municipalities, health services, etc. While we wait for the federal government to act, it is imperative to assess our spending and revenues in real time in order to make informed decisions. A mid-year fiscal report from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in mid-October followed by a fiscal report from Governor Andrew Cuomo will provide essential information.
Residents, especially our seniors and essential workers, have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. I will continue to work diligently on unemployment issues, advocate for tax and rent relief as well as helping to fund health insurance initiatives to assist those that lost their benefits due to job loss as a result of Covid-19. Individual Assistance is vital during these times. I established a routine set of protocols for my staff to assist people with unemployment claims and other issues that adversely impacted their lives. We also did continuous outreach to senior citizens via wellness checks and provided support where needed.
Established businesses throughout A.D. 21 have been hit extremely hard. We are so fortunate on Long Island to have organizations that advocate strongly for our local businesses and economic development. I regularly initiate communication with organizations such as LI Vision, Chambers of Commerce and many others to address our local needs at the state level. I initiated and hosted a series of Small Businesses Conferences on Zoom in collaboration with these organizations. I advocated directly to the governor for the reopening of bowling alleys, health clubs and malls and was successful. Next, it is imperative that we open movie theatres, comedy clubs, smaller live concert venues and increase seating in restaurants now that our Covid-19 numbers have flattened. Although the State Liquor Authority has to perform due-diligence on overseeing that guidelines are followed, we must remain vigilant in ensuring that fines and closures are not punitive or excessive. These hard working businessmen and women need our support and we must make sure that executive power is not overreaching. I co-sponsored a bill that was signed into law in June that establishes a state disaster emergency loan program to be administered by industrial development agencies for small businesses and small not-for-profit corporations.
I am reviewing the viability for the New York Forward Loan Program to reduce red tape so that grants to small businesses are expedited. On Sept. 21, the governor extended the moratorium on Covid-Related Commercial Evictions until Oct. 20. Beyond that I am considering ways we can support small businesses with rent payments. I will continue to work diligently with state agencies and leaders to ensure business owners have all the support we can garner for them.
Herald: Schools are struggling to balance their budgets after seeing a small increase to Foundation Aid this year, and school officials are worried about possible cuts from the state coming later in the year. How can you help local schools get the funding they need?
Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick: The Foundation Aid did not increase at all from 2019-20 to 2020-21 and the formulas have not been fully funded for years. The process of assigning school aid has become arbitrary. At the same time, Long Island homeowners cannot afford the property tax increases that will likely result if our state legislators cannot successfully fend off prospective education aid cuts. In the alternative, Long Island’s top-quality schools would confront severe cost cutting, which would erode our quality of education. New York State’s budgets cannot be balanced on the backs of students. All other alternatives must be explored, including the restructuring of state debt, allocation of federal CARES funding to our school districts, re-ordering the state’s spending priorities and more. I will be a forceful and effective advocate for Long Island students and our taxpayers.
Griffin: Supporting our schools is one of my main priorities. In the 2019 budget I was able to secure a record $198 million in funding to schools in the 21st Assembly District. I also got an additional $1.3 million for municipalities throughout the district.
This year’s budget was much more difficult for obvious reasons. If we do not receive emergency assistance from the federal government, we have to look closely at options to fund schools. As a result of schools closing, we had to take legislative action to ensure payments of state aid when schools fell below the required 180-day threshold. This enabled schools to get the essential funding they needed and was signed into law in June. I am also co-sponsoring a bill to make sure that religious and private schools are also able to receive state funding despite not meeting the 180-day threshold.
Herald: Baldwin is undergoing the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, for which it received a $10 million state grant to revamp the long-struggling downtown area. How can you help bring about positive development, and encourage developers to build, in not just Baldwin, but other areas blighted with empty storefronts?
Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick: The manner in which we approach downtown revitalization and development must change if our region is going to move forward and realize the promise of economic prosperity. One of the biggest obstacles to downtown revitalization is the uncertainty that developers face with respect to zoning, as well as local and state assistance.
I am an advocate of creating Economic Development Zones, that would set zoning, as well as governmental assistance parameters for entire neighborhoods or blocks, as opposed to the outdated practice of piecemeal redevelopment of individual parcels. Under an Economic Development Zone program, developers and the community would be made aware of the full package of proposed development inducements, zoning parameters and other factors (i.e. Industrial Development Agency benefits, federal revitalization grants, local government investment such as the complementary use of adjacent underutilized municipal/state parcels). Piecemeal and traditional revitalization approaches have proven cost ineffective for developers and arduously slow for those who live in surrounding neighborhoods. Baldwin residents have endured several downtown revitalization efforts, including the current overlay district, but I believe the more comprehensive approach which is detailed in the aforementioned Economic Development Zone approach would elicit a more prosperous result.
Other areas that should be explored include securing federal funding for transportation funding related to the Baldwin downtown revitalization. What’s more, I will advocate for targeted state assistance for businesses in the Baldwin business corridor that have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, including community members in a genuine and well-ordered community visioning process, alongside developers, could result in a sustainable model for development that would improve the community and be financially viable for developers.
Griffin: I was so proud to have a role in securing the $10 million DRI project for Baldwin. This wonderful community has been advocating for this for years. I am pleased to see all levels of government collaborating with the Local Planning Committee. NYS, Nassau County, and the Town of Hempstead have all played an active role. My staff and I will remain in close contact to see this project through.
The pandemic has not slowed development activity. Development in multi-family housing, shared office space, and health care facilities has been constant. There is a growing demand, especially from our younger residents, for affordable, walkable communities with a mix of retail, business and access to mass transit. I am pleased to see the progress Bartone Development is making at the former Capri Motel. I will continue to find ways to encourage community and local government supported projects in our downtowns.
Herald: Seniors are a large demographic on Long Island that need help to simply afford the homes they’ve lived in for years. What can you do to help bring economic relief to those living on fixed incomes?
Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick: Long Island is one of the most expensive places in which to live. Seniors and others who live on a fixed income are particularly vulnerable. One of the priorities that I will immediately pursue in Albany is legislation that would provide Long Island senior citizens with the same income eligibility levels to qualify for senior citizen property tax exemptions as New York City seniors receive. In the 2017-2018 session, the state approved increasing the income eligibility levels for New York City’s senior citizen property tax exemptions all the way up to $58,000. Meanwhile, state legislators left the maximum senior property tax exemption income eligibility level for Long Islanders at less than $37,000 annually. That is ridiculous. Senior homeowners cannot afford to live on Long Island at that income level without major assistance. I don’t know why legislators have failed to act on this inequity for Long Island’s senior citizens. Rest assured, I will fight for property tax parity for our mature residents.
Griffin: There is no question senior citizens on Long Island have been disproportionately burdened by property taxes. That is why in my first term I voted to make NY's tax cap permanent. Prior to the tax cap, our taxes had become too costly for seniors and many others on Long Island. While the statistical outcomes of the tax cap show progress, that progress only impacts future increases. We need to alleviate the burden that already existed before the cap. I am sponsoring and supporting several bills that increase STAR exemptions, expand income eligibility and establish an age where property taxes would freeze. The state's income eligibility is set too low for Long Islanders who have a decent income when compared to other areas of NY. However, we all know L.I. isn't the same as other areas of the state.
Second, Industrial Development Agency reform is a key component in efforts to control property taxes for everyone. These agencies are appointed boards that make decisions to grant tax exemptions for a specified length of time for large projects. There is some merit in assisting large business start-ups and providing tax exemption incentives for projects that help our economic development growth. But, wherever exemptions are granted, those unpaid taxes are passed along to all other taxpayers in order to keep municipal budgets balanced. Cutting spending on community services is one way. Ensuring that everyone pays their fair share is another.
Third, school districts should be able to take an active role in large reassessments. Presently, when property is reassessed, raised and successfully challenged, the payments made during the dispute period must be returned to successful challengers. Successful challenges often take years and are undertaken by some of the most valuable property tax payers. School districts have no say in the assessment process, are prohibited from saving large amounts in reserve accounts to plan for overreaching tax increases that will be reversed, and are then responsible for returning the overage amount. This process creates an erratic budgeting condition for school districts that directly impacts other taxpayers who are often left to fill in unplanned budget gaps. We can avoid this by allowing school districts an opportunity to plan or assist in the assessment process.
In the 2019-2020 enacted state budget, I supported the funding of some outstanding programs to protect the health, safety, independence, and quality life for our seniors as well as their caregivers, families, friends, and communities. These programs include Expanded In-home Services for the Elderly Program, Community Services for the Elderly, Wellness in Nutrition, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities and Neighborhood, and a Private Pay Protocol, Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program, Local Grants for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Grants for Transportation Operating Expenses for the Elderly and Grants for Providers of Social Model Adult Day Services.