November 29, 2006
Majority Targets GOP Rebels
Finger pointing and fulmination marked the final stanza in the annual county budget battle last week. When the dust settled and the diatribes quieted, a handful of local civic organizations were among the casualties of a partisan dispute. Legislator Ed Romaine of the North Fork accused Democrats of reneging on a deal, and they said the equivalent to "back atcha."
During discussion of the legislature's amendments to County Executive Steve Levy's proposed budget, a bipartisan committee crafted what's called an omnibus — a series of revisions to Levy's spending plan. The bipartisan committee sought support for adopting the omnibus without adding extra stand-alone amendments. Many members of the Republican minority, Legislator Jay Schneiderman included, complied with the request. Romaine, along with Legislators Cameron Alden (Islip) and John Kennedy (Nesconset) didn't toe the line, infuriating members of the Democratic caucus by forcing votes on items that most agreed earlier could be stricken from the budget.
Last week's legislative session provided a venue for what some lawmakers called their "punishment." The body went through dozens of items vetoed by Levy, for the most part voting in unison to override them. Nearing the end of hours in session, members addressed a document designed, GOP lawmakers said, to target the three rebel legislators, and civic groups in their districts.
Acting on his opposition to spending taxpayer money to benefit small private groups, like Little League teams or PTAs, Levy vetoed proposed legislative grants in separate actions. The legislature overrode his vetoes targeting one group of allocations. A second cluster, relating to organizations in the three legislators' districts, was the topic of heated debate.
Speaking to The Independent last week, Levy reported that he'd met with members of the majority to discuss his planned vetoes. Apprised that lawmakers wouldn't support a full-scale veto of all grants, he asked majority members to come up with allocations they would support removing from the budget. The majority chose those in the deal breakers' districts.
Comments from GOP legislators were impassioned as a last ditch effort was made to persuade the majority to override the vetoes. Legislator Joe Caracappa (Selden), the body's former Presiding Officer, chastised the lawmakers for separating out "innocent contract agencies in districts where they do a hell of a lot of good for a lot of people." Calling the move partisanship at its lowest, he said, "It's despicable and the worst type of politics."
"You may think you're punishing an individual," Republican caucus leader Dan Losquadro (Shoreham) rebuked, "but you're not. You're punishing innocent contract agencies who provide constituents with services at a much lower cost." Alden, who was among the lawmakers targeted, excoriated colleagues for taking grants away from an after school and senior nutrition program in his district. He called the move "morally bankrupt."
On the North Fork, about $48,000 in grants were stricken. Groups that will not receive the stipends include the North Fork Environmental Council, a variety of Chambers of Commerce, Community Action of Southold Town, which runs a food pantry, plus the Shelter Island Senior Nutrition Program "It will be a shame for my organizations, should you cast this vote," Romaine warned, "I will notify them . . . and everyone will know you have lost the moral ability to lead."
A motion to override Levy's veto failed along party lines.