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The 7th state senatorial district of New York includes Mineola, Port Washington, Great Neck, Roslyn, Westbury and Hicksville. Incumbent Sen. Craig Johnson, D-Port Washington, and Mayor Jack Martins, R - Mineola are vying for the seat on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
- Johnson is the (incumbent) Democratic candidate. He supports a property tax cap, controlling spending and reducing unfunded mandates on local governments and schools. Johnson was first elected to the Senate in a special election in 2007 and is currently serving his second term. Johnson chairs the Senate Committee on Investigation and Government Operations, a committee charged with oversight of the workings of state government, and holds a seat on the MTA Capital Program Review Board. Prior to his election, Craig Johnson served for seven years as a member of the Nassau County Legislature and the youngest-ever chairman of the Finance Committee. Johnson is of Counsel with the law firm of Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman LLP in Garden City and a resident of Port Washington along with his wife and three children.
- Martins is the Republican candidate who is also running on the Conservative and Independence party lines. He is running on a platform of reducing taxes, cutting spending and enacting new ethics standards. He is the current mayor of Mineola. First elected as Mayor of the village in 2003, he has touted his fiscal plan to bring the village of Mineola out of a $33 million debt, reducing it to about $20 million. In 2008 Martins unsuccessfully ran against Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy for New York's 4th Congressional District. Martins is listed as a vice president of J & A Contracting, a family-owned business based in Bohemia. He lives in Mineola with his wife and four daughters.
What is your stand on property tax relief, and what steps would you take to help Long Islanders?
Johnson: I fully support a cap on state and local property taxes. Frankly it is an idea that is long overdue. A recent study from the Governor's Office found that the average Long Island tax bill would have been more than $2,000 lower last year had the tax cap been put into place at the beginning of this property tax crisis. I was proud to spearhead a successful tax cap vote in the State Senate and have been working to get the Assembly to take up this critically important bill. If you want to join this effort, go to my Web site, cjohnson.nysenate.gov and sign my petition.
Martins: High property taxes are not only placing an enormous financial burden on hardworking middle class families, they are also making our region a less competitive place for new job creation and economic growth. With this in mind, I would strongly support legislation to enact a property tax cap, coupled with a strict ban on unfunded mandates that currently impose huge, unnecessary costs on our local governments and school districts.
I would also protect local taxpayers by fighting to ensure that our local schools get their fair share of state education aid – something that clearly hasn't happened over the past two years. Unfortunately, our current leaders in Albany have consistently taken actions that have directly hurt Long Island homeowners. For example, in addition to cutting $10.2 million in state aid to our local schools, the current Senate leadership also voted to eliminate STAR rebate checks. In the 7th Senate District alone, this vote took STAR rebate checks away from nearly 70,000 families and senior citizens, costing them more than $78 million. In fact, the loss of these checks has cost the typical family in our community an average of $1,158 over the past two years. Especially during these challenging economic times, that's a truly significant amount of money for most seniors and local families.
The bottom line is that we need a stronger voice in Albany to fight for local homeowners, and if elected, I will be that voice.
How would you help school districts cope with increased costs and reduced budget increases?
Johnson: Albany has to take a long hard look at the unfunded mandates that are passed down to our schools. I currently sponsor legislation to empower individual school boards to set transportation policies and do away with the mandate of having a school bus seat for every student, regardless of whether or not they take the bus. The result of this change would be less half-empty buses, and smaller transportation budgets. One school superintendent told me that this simple change can lead to up to $1 million in savings this year. I also think we need to provide incentives to encourage neighboring school districts to streamline and consolidate administrative services.
Martins: I firmly believe that no bureaucrat will ever be able to make better decisions for our children than the people on the front lines, parents and educators right here in our communities. That means we must go after what I call the "silent killer" of school budgets – Albany's unfunded mandates that drain millions of dollars in precious resources from our schools. These are mandates that Albany forces on our schools but does not provide funding for. Albany mandates that there be a seat on a school bus every day for every child in a school, regardless of whether or not it's actually needed. That means our schools spend millions on nearly empty school buses. Giving our capable educators and their administrators the flexibility to make those decisions means they could actually save dollars and allocate those monies to where they're most needed – educating our children. That results in better education for our children and lower property taxes for homeowners.
What ideas do you have to make transportation easier for Long Island travelers?
Johnson: While the Long Island Rail Road facilitates east-west travel, there is currently no viable mass transit solution to handle North-South travel. I believe the future is a strong regional bus system that is focused on North- South travel and connects to LIRR stations, creating an integrated mass transit system that will get more people out of their cars. A study that would lay out a plan to create such a system was part of the 2010-2014 MTA Capital Plan that I approved.
Martins: It is one of the cornerstones of my campaign and one of my priorities: REFORM THE MTA. It is simply the most glaring example of a gargantuan, dysfunctional authority that answers to nobody and it illustrates why big government – including all encompassing agencies – are not the solution to our problems. They make them worse. As long as there is no oversight, as long as there is no transparency, the MTA will continue to serve as a perpetual patronage mill for Albany politicians. Best business practices must be employed – once oversight and transparency have been established we can look at ways to encourage innovation, competitive bidding, and shared resources. The result would mean not only better services but cheaper services. It can be done and taxpayers and riders should not accept the bemused resignation of politicians who say it can't.
How would you narrow the state deficit?
Johnson: We must rightsize state government. There is no reason why we have to have a Department of Transportation, as well as a separate State Thruway Authority and a Bridge Authority. We have already started down this road by approving the first round of agency consolidations this year.
Martins: It's never been clearer that Albany is broken, and we need comprehensive change and real reform from top to bottom. Here's what we need to do:
- Impose a Cap on State Spending: To ensure a more fiscally responsible budget that taxpayers can afford, I will fight to enact a constitutional cap on state spending growth. This will help to ensure that our state government begins to live within its means, and will help bring an end to the state's ongoing fiscal crisis.
- Reduce Spending: In addition to a cap on all future state spending, I will fight to reduce state spending by controlling New York's spiraling Medicaid costs, and fighting Medicaid fraud, waste and abuse.
- Provide Relief to Taxpayers: I will fight to repeal the MTA payroll tax, cap property taxes, and restore STAR rebate checks to provide relief to hardworking, middle class families.
- We Need to Create Jobs and Strengthen our Economy: New York's hostile business policies have had a devastating impact on Long Island's economy. I will work to reverse this trend in 3 ways: repealing the MTA payroll tax; providing a direct tax credit to small businesses that create new jobs; and imposing a moratorium on any new taxes, fees, and bureaucratic regulations that would hurt Long Island's business community.
- Prevent Future Tax Increases by Imposing a two-thirds "Supermajority Vote" Requirement: Over the past two years, Albany politicians have increased taxes and fees by $14 billion -- including the MTA payroll tax, which has had a disastrous impact on our community. To protect taxpayers, I will fight to enact legislation requiring a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to raise any tax or fee – making it far more difficult for legislators to continue hiking taxes.
- Ban Unfunded Mandates: State mandates are a hidden tax on school districts and local governments, forcing them to routinely and repeatedly raise property taxes to cover the additional costs imposed on them by Albany. I will fight to enact a constitutional amendment prohibiting New York State from imposing unfunded mandates on schools and local governments. The state must pay for any and all new mandates to ease the burden on local property taxpayers.
- Reform the Budget Process: In 2007, the Legislature passed a landmark budget reform law to require open, public conference committees, and to establish a detailed schedule with clear timelines to help ensure passage of an on-time budget. For the past two years this critically important law has been completely ignored by Senate Democrats. If elected I will fight to ensure that the Senate not only follows this law, but strengthens it.
The candidates' responses were edited to fit the allotted space.