In what may be the most watched state senate race in New York, incumbent Brian Foley, D-Blue Point, is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Lee Zeldin of Shirley, and the outcome could determine the balance of power in Albany.
Foley's defeat of long-time Republican State Senator Caesar Trunzo two years ago gave Democrats control of the state senate and put the party in control of both houses of the legislature as well as the governor's mansion. But today, Foley continues to fend off voter anger over his decision to support the MTA Tax on small businesses—which also impacted school districts and local libraries—and some political experts feel this one issue could ultimately cost him his seat next Tuesday.
At a recent meeting of the Bayport-Blue Point Chamber of Commerce, Foley was again on the defensive about his vote supporting the MTA Tax. While noting it was a "very difficult vote," the state senator said the tax summarizes 30 years of a problem. "It seeks to solve a problem not of our creation," he added.
A business owner also asked Foley to explain why the issues with the MTA were not remedied before it came to this, citing the numerous local businesses along Montauk Highway that have closed over the past two years as a possible negative side effect of the MTA Tax.
Foley emphasized the legislation regarding the MTA Tax was "an emergency infusion of funds" and said the closing of businesses may be more a function of the economy. "I'm trying to give you the scenario at the time the decision was made," Foley said, stating that while the senate wanted to wait for the forensic audit results, it didn't have the time.
Regarding the issue of accountability as it pertains to the MTA, Foley replied, "The senate, unlike the assembly, has the power of appointment. We appoint the members of the MTA board, who oversee the everyday operations" of what he referred to as "the largest authority, probably, in the world."
Despite the senator's statements that he basically had no choice in the MTA vote, his opponent said there were alternate solutions that could have been used to generate revenue. "I would have voted no," Zeldin said, "but I would also be offering up solutions as to how to make the MTA solve the issue." However, he did not offer specifics on some possible solutions.
While the MTA Tax remains a hot topic of discussion heading to Election Day, both candidates are also talking a great deal about the much-discussed topic of property taxes.
In September, Foley asked residents to sign a petition asking the assembly to vote for his Property Tax Cap. "Keeping property taxes down has always been a primary focus of mine," he said in a press release. "This legislation will help reign in spending and force accountability."
Foley maintains that the cap would reign in out-of-control school property taxes by implementing a mandatory tax cap with no increases over two percent this year; give residents the power to keep taxes low by allowing local voters to impose a tougher limit or override cap if necessary; cap out-of control municipal property taxes by limiting local government tax increases to the inflation rate, and provide real relief for all property owners, giving tax relief for all families regardless of income or property value.
Zeldin said Albany has an important role in providing property tax relief and educational aid, but he would like to take it further by reviewing the actions Albany has taken throughout the past year-and-a-half.
"The way state government is structured everyone controls Albany from New York City. It's a one party rule in a city-central agenda, which has resulted in political and geographical imbalance," Zeldin said, "The budget is balanced on the backs of Long Islanders, and is disproportionate to what would be our fair share."
The challenger said he is also focused on finding ways to create jobs, saying he supported reforming New York State's Empire Zone program rather than eliminating it, as the state did when they replaced it with another program that Zeldin said is not as helpful.
The Empire Zone program was initially created to stimulate economic growth through tax incentives designed to attract new businesses to the state as well as enable existing business to create more jobs. Zeldin emphasized that while reforms were important to the program, eliminating it wasn't the answer.