On January 8, New York State Senator James Gaughran spoke for LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in his district and the financial struggles that the state is facing in the wake of the coronavirus.
Senator Gaughran is one of 43 Democrats elected to the state Senate. Although the Democrats have a 2-to-1 advantage over Republicans, he said he looks forward to working across the aisle with GOP state senators if it means resolving outstanding issues and bringing necessary funding back to his district.
This recent budget had a $15 billion shortfall. With the pandemic closing down businesses and putting people put of work, the budget contained no tax increases; however, there were no middle-class tax cuts, either. The senator said that this budget, more or less, mirrored the one from the previous fiscal year.
“We can’t tax our way out of this problem,” Senator Gaughran said. “If we do, we’ll make the economy even worse that it is right now.”
He discussed the possibility of the governor’s proposal to legalize online sports gambling, which is expected to bring in the state an estimates $300-$400 million a year. “It will keep the money out of New Jersey and the offshore companies,” he said. The state currently holds three casino licenses in downstate New York; Senator Gaughran said that, if the state decides to sell two of them, that would bring in $1 billion in revenue right away. His only concern is that there may be an increase in residents facing gambling problems.
Senator Gaughran also talked about the proposed expansion of Jake’s 58 to add more video lottery terminals. He has proposed legislation to allow for that, but he said he is waiting for what Suffolk OTB decides, whether to allow expansion of Jake’s 58 or build a new casino in Medford. He added that they are looking to form a Gambling Commission to decide what should happen.
Another one of the governor’s proposals is to legalize recreational marijuana. Senator Gaughran said the two problems with this are that the state won’t see positive cash flow for two years and there might be people who will drive under the influence.
When discussing the vaccine distribution, Senator Gaughran said he was “very frustrated with the rollout” because there was no guidance from the federal government on how the vaccines were to be distributed. There was also uncertainty at the state level as to when and how much of the vaccines will be distributed here on Long Island.
It wasn’t until soon thereafter that the guidelines for the rollout began in phases. Phase 1A included nursing home residents and patients in hospitals. For Phase 1B, the vaccine went to first responders, EMTs, public safety officers, public transit workers, teachers and people ages 75 and older. Phase 1C consisted of the rest of the essential workers who were not listed in the other phases, people ages 65 and older and people younger than 65 who have chronic illnesses.
Another topic was how the pandemic affected the commercial real estate market. He has seen the storefronts and office buildings empty and retail establishments and restaurants closing down. He said the state needs to look at mixed use for these empty buildings. “There’s been a slew of tax certiorari cases filed because these places are half-empty,” he said.
The topic then turned to the safety of Long Island’s drinking water. Some LIMBA members were concerned about levels of 1,4 dioxane in the water. “There’s no other place for our drinking water to come from, other than our aquifers,” Senator Gaughran said. As for the high water rates, the senator said there are too many governmental and private entities overseeing the Island’s water; he would rather see one single agency be in charge.
When the LIPA settlement was brought up, Senator Gaughran said one of the outcomes is determining how the Town of Huntington and the Northport School District — both of whom were litigants in the case — and its residents will be able to pay the amount. The senator said he will be working on obtaining resources for the school district, but that may be difficult because of the $15 billion shortfall in the state budget.
Senator Gaughran also spoke about proposed infrastructure projects, including the electrification of the Port Jefferson LIRR line and adding another station on the line. He said he will push the LIRR to expand the electrification of trains out to Port Jefferson line electrified, “even if it’s done in phases.” He also said there are talks to bring a train station into the Brookhaven National Lab.