Incumbent 20th District Assemblywoman Melissa “Missy” Miller, a Republican and an Atlantic Beach resident, is running for her third two-year term. Challenger Gregory Marks, a Public Health Lecturer, is a Democrat from Hewlett.
The Herald asked Miller and Marks questions focusing on issues vital to the residents of the 20th A.D., which encompasses Atlantic Beach, Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Inwood, Lawrence, Woodmere, Long Beach, Lido Beach, East Rockaway, Island Park, Oceanside and parts of Valley Stream.
Herald: Businesses, small and large, have been hurt by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. What are your ideas to help find them relief so they can survive?
Melissa “Missy” Miller: The coronavirus pandemic has slammed our society with devastating health consequences and severe economic/business impacts. It is important that throughout this pandemic that there be careful and measured gradual opening of businesses if they are going to survive. We must provide an environment so that businesses may grow instead of being stifled. The state for years has been burdening businesses with regulations, which do nothing to support growth or protect the public. This must come to an end. If the infection rate remains at very low levels, then businesses should be able to expand their capacities and their operations so they can attempt to survive.
More consistency in policies must be forthcoming to provide for business recovery and survival. For example, restaurants must limit the number of patrons allowed to dine in individual establishments to a percentage of their ordinary capacity while catering facilities have been capped at 50 patrons, regardless of the capacity of their facilities. At the same time, enhanced Covid recovery assistance is needed for restaurants in New York State. In fact, 66 percent of restaurants do not expect to survive through the end of the year without a comprehensive relief package. What’s more, 90 percent of businesses will not be profitable over the next six months without assistance. Accordingly, state officials have to make their voices heard in Albany and Washington to secure more comprehensive assistance for businesses, especially the hardest hit sectors, including restaurants and catering facilities.
While New York is confronting a $30 billion budget deficit, the survival of our economy requires collaboration of state, federal and local governments in assisting business survival. Innovations, such as the accommodation of outdoor dining have offered real relief for many restaurants. Allowing the use of sidewalk areas and parking spaces for dining has been part of the plan. The Town of Hempstead has used some of its federal CARES Act funding to provide PPE kits to local businesses. While these initiatives are positive gestures, a substantial and comprehensive federal relief package needs to be secured quickly.
Gregory Marks: The success of local businesses, both large and small, is critical to our economy and our livelihoods. As the son of an accountant and small business owner, I hear daily about the struggles of doing business in the pandemic. We must do whatever we can to keep businesses open, safe, and financially healthy.
I have a degree focused on health policy from Oxford and another in economics from McGill. Moving forward we must increase demand for local goods and services while keeping people safe. We absolutely can be both pro economic growth and pro public health and safety.
First, we must educate business owners so they know of all available stimulus options. I have spoken with plenty of constituents and neighbors who have heard of relief programs but are unaware of how to access them. As the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program is no longer accepting applications, I encourage folks to look into our own Empire State Development New York Forward Loan Fund (NYFLF). Small businesses and nonprofits that did not receive an Economic Injury Disaster Loan over $10,000 or a Paycheck Protection Program loan of more than $50,000 are eligible. Critically, this loan is also available for small residential landlords who have seen a loss in rental income. Previous relief plans have not done an adequate job of protecting those for whom small rental income is a major source of their earnings.
I am a firm believer that necessity breeds innovation. We must think outside the box and use this unprecedented period to explore pro growth, stimulatory economic measures. I would like for us to look into a sales tax holiday to stimulate spending on local businesses. I also believe we should plan a special restaurant week, takeout style, to highlight our fantastic local food establishments that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Finally, I would like to set up a series of business seminars for the district, where leaders of Long Island’s most successful and resilient businesses can share how they have been able to navigate through the pandemic.
Herald: How can you help the state be fiscally responsible when many people are in need of financial assistance due to the pandemic?
Miller: New York State’s Administration and majority members in both houses of the State Legislature have not been fiscally responsible in managing New York State’s Budget. While is popular for some politicians to blame the pandemic for the Empire State’s projected $30 billion deficit, experts acknowledge that New York confronted a $10 billion budget hole before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down our state and our nation. Assisting those who are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic while being fiscally responsible is a daunting challenge; however, the smart use of federal relief funds that the state has received is critical to helping the people and groups that have been adversely impacted by the deadly disease. In addition, an effective communications plan is required to make sure that the public is aware of available Covid-19 relief.
During this time of the pandemic, it is vital that the state give as much financial assistance to citizens, whether through unemployment insurance benefits, or providing enough PPE and sanitizer to ensure public health for all. New York State has not done the job it needs to be fiscally responsible. Over the last several years, the state administration has wasted taxpayer dollars on failed economic development projects. The most infamous was the “Buffalo Billion” where was money was funneled to promote solar panel manufacturing, but only resulted in several people going to jail, and no jobs being created. The State must also be prevented from playing accounting games. The Governor last year took significant Medicaid liability and instead of addressing it, merely pushed it off to the following year creating a larger problem for the future. The State must adhere to accounting principles that the rest of us must adhere to.
New York State has received over $112 billion in federal CARES relief funding. However, I think that there has been a failure on the part of the State’s Administration in communicating with the public on available Covid relief resources. Large swaths of the business community, as well as members of the general public, are not aware of all of the resources available to them. From FEMA disaster relief and hospital assistance to elementary and secondary school emergency relief, the general public and many eligible institutions are unaware of Coronavirus relief resources. What’s more, I think that we need better coordination of benefits to present a comprehensive relief plan to individuals and small businesses, among other people and groups that are struggling. The piecemeal presentation of relief resources does not maximize the effectiveness of efforts to help people.
Finally, I think that innovative coordination of efforts with localities is important to the recovery of our region. For example, the Town of Hempstead was the first local government on Long Island to put forth a plan for the use of public sidewalks and parking areas for outdoor dining. Additionally, the Town partnered with Nassau County’s Industrial Development Agency to distribute PPE kits to area businesses. Finally, the Town has promoted available Covid-19 relief in local newspapers and on social media to maximize effectiveness. I think that the State’s Administration should partner with the township and Nassau County, as well as other municipalities, to make sure that communications are coordinated and resources (county, state and town) are pooled. In that way, we can optimize our relief efforts while being fiscally responsible.
Marks: Fiscal responsibility is and must always be a priority when managing the state budget.
We are in unprecedented times, approaching a fiscal cliff while managing a population that is still struggling markedly from the pandemic. We have long lines at food banks, reduced unemployment benefits, and a heightened need to fight crises in mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse. We have an incredibly high cost of living and simply cannot afford to pay more. The answer is also not shorting our already hard hit schools and hospitals. Simply put, the federal government must step up.
New Yorkers are tough and strong. We are also one of ten net donor states. Meaning we give more to the federal government than we receive back. We have the largest net negative balance of payments of any state in the nation, some $35.6 billion or $1,792 per person. Think about that for a second, our tax dollars, in one of the most heavily taxed places in the country, are fattening up the federal coffers, but the federal government cannot afford to provide pandemic relief?
This is not a red or blue issue, it is a matter of New Yorkers banding together, fighting for the repeal of the horrible SALT Tax deduction cap, putting more spendable money into the hands of the people, and ensuring the federal government provides real and meaningful pandemic relief to our state.
Herald: How can the state assembly help residents get their electrical services restored more quickly after a disaster such as a hurricane or the recent Tropical Storm Isaias?
Miller: The key problem with LIPA and PSEG is that there is no accountability or effective oversight. The Public Service Commission does not only regulate other utilities in the State of New York, but the PSC can also impose severe penalties and sanctions for poor performance. I have co-sponsored a bill that would allow the PSC to be able to regulate LIPA/PSEG just like every other utility. Only by having real oversight, can we assure that they can be responsive to the public and provide the service that we all need and deserve.
PSEGLI was put in place to manage Long Island’s energy grid in the wake of its predecessor’s post-Superstorm Sandy performance. The total breakdown of PSEG’s $1 billion communications system during Tropical Storm Isaias made it impossible for customers to receive power restoration updates from the utility via telephone, text, web portal or email. Even the company’s smart meter system failed to provide outage data to PSEGLI. What’s more, PSEGLI’s lethargic power restoration efforts were outrageous and unacceptable.
One of the ways to get the utility to perform better is to hold PSEGLI and its shareholders financial liable for the cost of covering customers’ losses and claims that result from power outages during tropical storms and hurricanes. The utility reluctantly agreed to this in the wake of Isaias after I and other officials demanded that ratepayers and taxpayers not be put on the hook to cover these costs. That has not been the policy in the past. Further, LIPA Board Members must do an exhaustive audit of what went wrong and make detailed recommendations on how to fix the problems in the future. PSEG’s own reports have been totally unsatisfying with regard to future storm response. Among the utility’s proposals to deal with communications failures was to not provide restoration estimates in the early stages of dealing with major storms.
Another way that the State Assembly and other officials can elicit better power restoration in the future is to demand action from LIPA, which directly oversees PSEGLI’s operations. The State Assembly, the State Senate and the Governor must hold LIPA Board Members accountable. The nine-member Board includes 5 members appointed by the Governor and 2 appointed by the Assembly and 2 appointed by the Senate.
Marks: Let me begin by saying that we were not and still are not prepared for future storms. We need strong climate leadership and hardened infrastructure. As Superstorm Sandy showed us, the risk from hurricanes and tropical storms is very real. Our district sits entirely within a category 3 hurricane evacuation zone and we are long overdue a direct strike from a major hurricane.
Restoring services faster after a disaster or hurricane is critical. PSEG simply dropped the ball after Tropical Storm Isaias. I commend the work of County Executive Laura Curran and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky in ensuring residents were able to receive reimbursements for lost food and medicine, but power outages that last many days are unacceptable.
The first solution here lies in technological investment. With expansion of renewable energy sources and advances in battery technology, we should be able to achieve greater localized energy independence, keeping power on even in the height of a storm or disaster.
The next solution lies in the regulatory environment. A The Public Service Commission has an ongoing investigation into the utility, which could result in further disciplinary action as well. We have a responsibility to ensure companies like PSEG are investing heavily in cutting edge, resilient infrastructure because the next big storm could be just around the corner.
Herald: Why would you be a better representative for your communities in Assembly District 20 than your opponent?
Miller: I am the person who is better equipped to continue representing the community in the State Assembly for a host of reasons. My community involvement and public advocacy started long before I ran for public office. I have also been a fighter for fiscal responsibility in Albany, as well as a supporter of safe communities and law enforcement. In short, I have opposed tax increases, proposed tax cuts, fought against extreme bail reform and battled as a voice for the most vulnerable members of our society.
I am the mother of two children with profound health issues. My daughter died at the age of six and my son continues to cope with serious health challenges and developmental delays. I was one of the pioneers who fought in Albany for the legal use of medical marijuana for chronically and terminally ill people. My success in that battle was only the most public example of my efforts to provide a “voice for the voiceless.” Access to educational resources, enhancement of health resources and inclusion for people with challenges have all been priorities for me as a mother, a member of my community and as a State Assemblywoman.
I have advocated for more transparent and open budgeting in Albany, fighting an insider process that excludes public input on decision making. Indeed, I have proposed over $663 million in tax cuts and voted “NO” on $33 billion in new taxes during my tenure in the Assembly. An opponent of regressive tax policies, I voted “NO” on the new $1 billion commuter tax that was approved by majority legislators and the Governor. It will slam every driver who enters Manhattan, regardless of ability to pay. have worked tirelessly to help constituents with specific issues, such as trying to obtain unemployment benefits which they are rightfully entitled to this past year. I have also been vocal in speaking out and demanding investigations on the gross mismanagement of the finances of the city of Long Beach.
During these turbulent times, I stand with police to keep our neighborhoods safe. Extreme bail reform has left judges powerless to detain dangerous drug dealers, gang members and other criminals who are awaiting trial. What’s more, calls to defund the police would place our communities in danger. In particular, the increase of anti-Semitic vandalism and terrorism has placed of our local communities in harm’s way. I will not allow any of our neighbors be victimized by violence, crime and terrorism by caving in to wrong-headed police defunding advocates.
These are among the reasons that I am the best person to continue representing the people who call the 20th Assembly District home.
Marks: I am here to be your champion, fighting for gun violence prevention, public health, choice, environmental protection, and so many more critical issues.
I am the Moms Demand Action endorsed candidate in this race. As we saw just a few weeks ago in the scary incident outside Yeshiva Ketana, dangerous assault-style weapons have no place in our community, particularly in such close proximity to schools and religious institutions. From Pittsburgh to Poway and Newtown to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, we have seen time and again that sick and anti-Semitic individuals armed with high-powered weapons can cause unthinkable harm to our suburban communities. We must fight to protect our schools and houses of worship and for that fight we need more champions.
I am an Oxford educated public health expert who taught about pandemics at the St Andrews School of Medicine. As many have seen over these last few weeks, we are not out of the woods yet. We are very likely to face a second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic and how we act in response will mean everything. I cannot bear hearing about more deaths in this community. I also know that we cannot afford to lose more businesses. We must be more aggressive with our test, treat, trace, isolate program, we must use technology to identify potential hotspots, and we must ensure that we do all of this without disruption to our critical local businesses. With the right leadership we can tackle this next wave head on.
I am the pro-choice candidate in this race. Planned Parenthood has endorsed me because I believe we need to invest more in maternal health, ensuring we have healthy mothers who have healthy babies when they are ready to begin families.
Be it preparation for future storms, protecting our beaches, or improving our water quality, we have much work to do. We need someone who will go up to Albany and fight for money for our environmental challenges. We need someone who will work alongside State Senator Todd Kaminsky to protect our homes and bring environmentally sustainable jobs back to our communities.
We live in unprecedented times with an uncertain future. We need a champion with a broad purview and the authority to bring back much needed resources from Albany. I am a global public health expert with a degree in economics. I am a fourth generation member of this community, descending from a family that was involved in the fight to establish and strengthen the State of Israel. I am here to serve and protect and I am here to ask not what my country can do for me but rather what I can do for my country.