This is the first winter in many years we haven’t had to shovel anything or snowblow anything or wonder when the plow guy will arrive. We live in an apartment now, instead of a house. While it has its limitations, it has benefits, too. For those of you contemplating trying this, it’s refreshing. I recommend it, especially at my age.
The roads I have been on Monday were, I can report, in pretty good condition. It is easy to carp about whether the snow plowing was up to snuff. We should be more grateful, I think, about those who work day and night to get this stuff done, to keep the roads clear, to provide aid when needed, to haul us out of a ditch if we ignored all good advice and ventured out anyway.
I met with Sen. Peter Harckham last month. We had breakfast at George’s Place, always a good place for breakfast downtown. He’s a Democrat, from West- chester County. It wasn’t clear, initially, Election Day last year, how much attention Putnam County would get. The county is Republican, after all, in most of its government, and he’s not.
A year later, it’s now evident that Harckham is more about getting things done than attaching a label to them. He has worked with other lawmakers of the opposing party to Putnam’s benefit, and he’s pushed plenty of Putnam causes. So after we ordered two eggs over easy for me and two eggs scrambled for him, we dived in:
First, what the hell is up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto of the bill to hold the Mahopac School District harmless over a clerical error in filing for state aid several years ago? The money is big: the Mahopac district could lose $393.775 in state aid each year for the next seven years. AND, it would be forced to pay back to the state $315,593 each year for the next 10 years. That’s a lot of money for an inadvertent mistake in paperwork.
So, what is up, I asked Harckham. “You’d have to ask the governor,” he told me. “To me, the whole process that he uses in examining these bills is very arbitrary. Either everybody is forgiven or everybody is not forgiven.” As it is, some school districts, with Cuomo’s blessing, get a pass. Mahopac, not so much.
“It’s as much a mystery to me as anybody else,” Harckham said. Partly to stop the arbitrary nature of these decisions, but also to take out the very decision point, he said that lawmakers will almost certainly, early in the session, bring up an amnesty bill. Harckham has discussed the issue with Shelley B. Mayer, the Senate’s Education Committee chair, who supports a change. “We shouldn’t be punishing children and schools for things that happened years ago and are largely clerical in nature,” he said.
Other topics: Harckham is chairman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. As he said, “The opioid issue, that’s a big one.” He and the co-chairmen of a joint Senate Task Force on Opioids, Addiction and Overdose Prevention have held hearings around the state, including one Oct. 3 in Carmel.
They are looking at gaps and weak points in the system, such as the point when people leave a correctional facility, or ending the need for prior authoritization when people come to a physician. Some first responders in the state, incredibly, don’t carry Naloxone, the overdose antidote, and he hopes to remedy that. Putnam, by the way, has been a leader on this front.
On pot legalization: “It’s evolved,” he told me. “Last year, my constituents had a lot to say on that.” Now, lawmakers are diving into the complexities. He’s been studying and traveling to other areas, including Massachusetts last month, to see how it’s handled. He now believes that if lawmakers do approve a bill, 20 percent of any tax revenue raised should be be dedicated to treatment. “I couldn’t think of supporting just sending the money to the general fund.”
But that’s not the only issue. What about driving while under the influence, for instance, and whether police have enough drug recognition experts?
And what discussion of top issues in Putnam County would be complete without at least touching on NYSEG and its miserable storm response?
“They haven’t improved in 10 years,” Harckham said flatly. Instead of repairing downed wires, or shutting off specific areas so roads can be cleared of downed trees, the utility mires itself in a “global assessment” that seems to go on forever.
He notes, strikingly, that stronger measures could be taken: Deny its rate hike, or even revoke its charter.
Interesting times indeed.
Until next week.
Above, Sen. Peter Harckham 10 days ago, after breakfast with the Courier’s editor.
Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the PCNR, in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845-265-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.