October 25, 2006
The First Senate District Race
Kenneth LaValle vs. Michael Comando
An experienced, responsive legislator or an entrenched member of the Senate who's grown too comfortable in his position? That's the dichotomy set up by incumbent Senator Kenneth LaValle (R, Port Jefferson) and his challenger Michael Comando (D, Southold) in interviews in advance of the upcoming election.
"I have demonstrated, just in this term, a record of great accomplishment, great energy," said LaValle, who has represented the First State Senate District since 1976.
Not so, countered Comando, who called LaValle part of the "dysfunctional, anti-democratic majority in Albany," adding a fresh perspective is needed in Albany. "Thirty years is a long time, and it is far too long, in my opinion and in a lot of people's opinions, for one person to hold public office," he said.
The two candidates for N.Y. State Senate — Comando, an investment advisor who first ran for office against Ed Romaine for a seat on the county legislature in 2004, and LaValle, a practicing attorney and chair of the senate committee on higher education — both listed property tax reform, affordable housing and improving public transportation as among the central issues in the race.
"We need to move away from the real property tax and we need to approach it using more broad-based tax revenues," Comando said. Fiscal restraint and spending caps, particularly with regard to school spending, are an integral part of controlling taxes, he noted, and suggested a system of cooperative spending between school districts to help lower costs.
LaValle referred to Senate bill 6303, a bill he co-sponsored that passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly, as indicative of his plans to cut property taxes while also reigning in school spending. "The state would use its broad-based taxes — the income tax, sales tax, the corporation tax — to provide a sound basic education in the state," he explained. At the local level, towns and villages would be given the authority to use property taxes to fund additional school programs, capping the spending at whatever level each district deemed fit.
In what he said was an effort to make school spending more transparent and publicly accountable, LaValle introduced legislation to create an Office of the Inspector General to "investigate school district spending, how school district budgets are assembled, what assumptions they make in the budget and whether they are adhering to laws and regulations," he said. Under the bill, schools would have to demonstrate that the stated purposes of school spending are the actual uses.
Comando linked the issue of public transportation and affordable housing, which, he said, "in Suffolk County is an oxymoron. It's not affordable and in most cases it's not attainable. And we need to change that," he said.
Affordable housing should make use of existing structures near town centers, where residents would be close to their places of employment and have access to public transport, Comando said. "I believe a regularly scheduled, reliable rail shuttle would be something that alleviates part of the problem but would also benefit the towns as well," Comando explained.
LaValle said he was against Assemblyman Fred Thiele's bill that would create an affordable housing fund through a so-called "McMansion tax," levied on large dwellings, something Comando supports. Instead, he joined with the other senators from Long Island to secure $25 million to create a program in conjunction with the Long Island Housing Partnership to fund down payments and low-interest loans to workers in need of affordable housing. "We hope to leverage with local employers' dollars who need to provide for their employees affordable housing," he said. A formula for distributing the fund across the island has not been determined.
On the transportation front, the existing LIRR rail lines on the East End were established at the turn of the 20th-century, LaValle said, and he advocates a monorail running along the L.I.E. to alleviate traffic congestion. A monorail "is the future and that's what I'm trying to push people to deal with now rather than later," he said.
Comando also listed reform at LIPA and open space preservation as integral to his campaign, while LaValle pointed to the acquisition of the Southampton campus of LIU by the state and his record on preserving farmland and open space as among his chief accomplishments.
The election will be held November 7.