Thursday, January 8, 2009

News That Matters - January 8, 2009

News That Matters
Brought to you by PlanPutnam.Org

"People here in the US don't understand these things about constitutional rights."
- TSA Inspector Harris

Good Thursday Morning,

The amazing thing is that we didn't loose power up here on Miller Hill Road yesterday. Sometimes, on a nice, warm sunny day the power will go out and stay out for no known reason around here. In storms, however, we're usually out and also the very last in the county to have our power restored. 4000 homes were without power as of last evening and some are still out this morning. Here's hoping NYSEG gets you back on line soon.

I'm thinking about getting my taxes together for 2008 and I was wondering if the new Circuit Breaker bill, based on Sandy Galef's original proposal would affect me at all. It turns out that as a renter, it does not. In fact, there has been a property tax CB out for a while (IT-214) that only kicks in if I earn less than $18,000.

Most rents around here are pegged almost dollar-to-dollar to the cost of property taxes so when the CB kicks in for our landlords they realize a reduction in their ultimate property tax bill while our rents do not go down. What this amounts to is a tax free bonus for landlords and a de facto rent increase for renters. Gee. Thanks Sandy!
While we're talking about Ms. Galef, I received, like many of you did, a report from her in the mail the other day outlining the results of a poll she took in... what seems like years ago already. Anyway, if you remember this space back in those days, I complained bitterly about the method used and the wording of questions in that poll which was intended to prove support for her Circuit Breaker bill (which has effectively raised my rent ~30%) and a guaranteed property tax increase in the form of a tax 'cap'. Well Surprise! The results show widespread support for both!
I wish those of us fighting for sanity had the same resources as those that are fighting to screw you over as taxpayers. They have the power of the state, we have News That Matters. They have franking privileges, we have bubkis.

The Highlands Coalition has produced a sweet 4-color brochure about the wildlife that shares our space here in the Hudson Highlands. You can download a PDF copy here or visit the NtM blog site and see it there.

From the brochure:

Biological diversity is critical for a balanced ecosystem. More than ever before, we are witnessing the interconnectedness between natural and built environments and between human and animal populations. With over 250 species of “special concern” in the four-state Highlands region, achieving compatibility within these environments and populations is a complex but essential task.

From large mammals to birds, from amphibians to insects, all are crucially important to a well functioning ecosystem. Some of the most notable species in the Highlands include the bog turtle, bald eagle, Indiana bat, and Eastern-timber rattlesnake. Many species in the NY-NJ-PA-CT area, such as black bears, bobcats and neo-tropical birds, depend on large unbroken forests for their survival (500 acres or more). In 2004, Congress passed the Highlands Conservation Act (HCA) to protect land in this region with high conservation value for wildlife, water and forests. Today, the Highlands Coalition is diligently working with agencies, non-profit partners, and private foundations in order to secure funds from the HCA to protect these lands.

And now, the News:

  1. Aid schools with fair taxes
  2. Extend people's right to know
  3. Cortlandt considers composting operation
  4. Home sales in freefall
  5. Mount Vernon building inspector fired days after citing DPW chief
  6. Hundreds of Coal Ash Dumps Lack Regulation
  7. Curbs May Be Eased on Paving in Forests
  8. JetBlue Passenger Forced To Cover Arabic Shirt Gets $240k

Aid schools with fair taxes

By Robert McKeon

While analysis and reactions from Gov. David Paterson's proposals continue to come in, it is clear the biggest losers may in fact be New York homeowners and working families.

Many of the governor's budget adjustments will result in increased shifting to property taxpayers and moderate income residents, rather than actual reductions in expenditures. His "nickel and dime" revenue strategy won't garner broad public support and demonstrates a lack of understanding with respect to stimulating an economy.

School aid cuts of $700 million below last years' levels would be significant. In doing so, Paterson has undermined any argument that may have existed for implementing a 4 percent school cap by demonstrating just how unreliable an educational partner the state can be. With contractual agreements and declining support, school districts will resort to lay-offs and may still be faced with budgets that approach double-digit increases. The governor couples this with the removal of STAR middle class rebates ($1.4 billion) without any alternative relief mechanisms. Soon the other shoe will drop when Wall Street's poor performance will translate into untold increases in pension obligations. Likely outcome: Local property taxpayers will be faced with rising school budgets for some time to come.

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Extend people's right to know

A Poughkeepsie Journal Editorial

When it comes to improving vitally important open-government laws, the state must keep up the momentum.

Last year, New York passed legislation that gives the courts the authority to award legal fees to a person who successfully brings a lawsuit against a government body for violating the Open Meetings Law. Those violations could include having private discussions - or even taking votes - behind closed doors when the law says these matters should be handled publicly.

The change is significant because it can be costly to bring such a lawsuit, and average citizens must have the legal tools to hold their government accountable when necessary. Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, co-sponsored that legislation.

Still, the state's open government laws could be vastly improved in other ways. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in the fact many government records are not automatically posted online, nor are they always made available before or during meetings even when they are up for discussion.

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Cortlandt considers composting operation

Robert Marchant
The Journal News

The town of Cortlandt is reviewing plans to build a facility off Route 9A to take in leaves and wood, then compost them for re-sale as fertilizer.

Cortlandt Organics, a venture being proposed by John Nolan of Croton and his partner and cousin, Joseph Nolan of Ossining, would set up a composting yard on Albany Post Road in Montrose, south of Victoria Avenue, a light industrial area.

Nolan is set to make his case to the public and the Cortlandt Town Planning Board at a hearing Feb. 3. He said his business would let local municipalities avoid steep trucking fees to remove their yard waste to distant points upstate, and it would provide a resource for local landscapers and gardeners.

"There are very few places to bring leaves and tree waste, and there's a market for it," said Nolan, a trucker and businessman. "My goal is to take waste from our county and recycle it."

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Home sales in freefall

By Craig Wolf
Poughkeepsie Journal

A long slide in home sales and their prices continued in December in Dutchess County as the average price dropped to a level not seen since March 2003.

The Mid-Hudson Multiple Listing Service report Wednesday said the average price of $294,005 was more than $100,000 below that of December 2007, down 26.9 percent. The median price fell less, to $280,000 for the month, down 9.7 percent in a year.

The sales volume of single-family, free-standing homes was off by more than 40 percent compared with year-ago numbers, as only 89 sales closed.

The average for all the year's 1,371 sales of those homes was $351,780, a drop of 12.7 percent from 2007's average of $402,844.

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Mount Vernon building inspector fired days after citing DPW chief

Hannan Adely and Jonathan Bandler
The Journal News

MOUNT VERNON - A city buildings inspector was fired last week, two days after he issued a violation to Department of Public Works Commissioner Terrence Horton for lacking a proper permit on a private construction project Horton has under way.

City officials said the Jan. 2 firing of inspector Dennis James was unrelated to his role in issuing the violation.

Buildings Department Commissioner Ralph Tedesco said the violation "had no bearing whatsoever" on James' dismissal. He said James was let go because he had not passed the Civil Service test for his job.

Yolanda Robinson, Mount Vernon chief of staff, also said there was no link.

"We are not at liberty to comment on personnel matters," she said. "However, the violation in question has nothing to do with the inspector's departure."

Horton, president of the development company QFI Inc., received the violation on Dec. 31 for performing excavation work at 434 Franklin Ave. without a permit from the Mount Vernon Department of Buildings.

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Hundreds of Coal Ash Dumps Lack Regulation


The coal ash pond that ruptured and sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge across 300 acres of East Tennessee last month was only one of more than 1,300 similar dumps across the United States — most of them unregulated and unmonitored — that contain billions more gallons of fly ash and other byproducts of burning coal.

Like the one in Tennessee, most of these dumps, which reach up to 1,500 acres, contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a threat to water supplies and human health. Yet they are not subject to any federal regulation, which experts say could have prevented the spill, and there is little monitoring of their effects on the surrounding environment.

In fact, coal ash is used throughout the country for construction fill, mine reclamation and other “beneficial uses.” In 2007, according to a coal industry estimate, 50 tons of fly ash even went to agricultural uses, like improving soil’s ability to hold water, despite a 1999 E.P.A. warning about high levels of arsenic. The industry has promoted the reuse of coal combustion products because of the growing amount of them being produced each year — 131 million tons in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990.

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Curbs May Be Eased on Paving in Forests

Sunday 04 January 2009
by: Karl Vick, The Washington Post

    Los Angeles - The Bush administration appears poised to push through a change in U.S. Forest Service agreements that would make it far easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions.

    Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who heads the Forest Service, last week signaled his intent to formalize the controversial change before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. As a candidate, Obama campaigned against the measure in Montana, where local governments complained of being blindsided by Rey's negotiating the policy shift behind closed doors with the nation's largest private landowner.

    The shift is technical but with large implications. It would allow Plum Creek Timber to pave roads passing through Forest Service land. For decades, such roads were little more than trails used by logging trucks to reach timber stands.

    But as Plum Creek has moved into the real estate business, paving those roads became a necessary prelude to opening vast tracts of the company's 8 million acres to the vacation homes that are transforming landscapes across the West.

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JetBlue Passenger Forced To Cover Arabic Shirt Gets $240k

By Chris Walters, 8:36 PM on Tue Jan 6 2009,

In 2006, Raed Jaer, an Iraqi-born U.S. resident, was forced by TSA officials and JetBlue to cover his t-shirt—it read, "We Will Not Be Silent" in both Arabic and English—before he could board a flight. The airline and the two TSA officials (TSA was not named in the suit) settled out of court last week for $240,000, although JetBlue still denies they did anything wrong, and the TSA says they don't "condone profiling in any way shape or form."

Here's what happened back in August 2006:

After passing through security... [TSA and JetBlue officials] came up to him and asked him to change his shirt as, "people are feeling offended."

Jaer replied, "Why do you want me to take off my t-shirt? Isn't it my constitutional right to express myself in this way?" Inspector Harris said, "people here in the US don't understand these things about constitutional rights."

He added, "You can't wear a t-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a t-shirt that reads "I am a robber" and going to a bank."

When the settlement was announced, JetBlue took pains to make it clear that they're only settling to avoid a protracted legal battle, and that they don't think they did anything wrong, according to this email to the Washington Post:

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