By Danny Schrafel
The new State Senate’s Republican majority leader calls East Northport home – and that could have major implications when it comes to infrastructure and education funding here, and on the outlook toward a taxation time-bomb hanging over the Town of Huntington.
Republican State Senator John Flanagan, chair of the State Senate’s Education Committee, replaced former majority leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who resigned the post Monday amidst a federal corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Flanagan will serve as majority leader and temporary president of the New York Senate.
Skelos is expected to remain in the State Senate, allowing the Republicans to hold a slim 33-vote majority in the 63-member body and outright control of the legislative body without sharing power.
While an Albany insider expected Flanagan largely to maintain the status quo that Skelos established when it comes to policy – the downstate Republican caucus has been in “lockstep with the Governor on practically everything” under Skelos’ leadership, the source said – having a Long Islander at the wheel of the State Senate means state education and infrastructure dollars will remain a priority.
“I am confident he will unite our conference and continue our tradition of protecting taxpayers, supporting our schools and creating jobs,” Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) said after Flanagan was sworn in. “I believe Senator Skelos did the right thing by voluntarily stepping back as leader to focus on his defense. This will remove any, real or perceived distraction to the important work we must accomplish before session concludes.”
It also means a Huntington taxpayer will be at the helm as the town, LIPA and PSEG grapple with perhaps the largest taxation nightmare facing Huntington – a tax certiorari lawsuit which could result in the drastic re-assessment of the Northport power plant.
It’s an issue on which Flanagan and Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone disagree, and one where Flanagan in his new role may be able to wield some degree of influence in negotiations.
Flanagan in 2013 urged Petrone and the town to accept a settlement which would have forgiven money the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) contends is owed to them by the town for over-assessing the power plant; asked for a 50 to 60 percent reduction in assessed value as opposed to a 90 percent reduction; and allowed the step-down to the assessed value sought by LIPA to be spread out over 10 years, starting in 2015.
Petrone declined and vowed to fight for a better deal. LIPA later in 2013 turned down a town request to extend a deadline to accept the settlement, and the offer was killed.
The matter became a campaign issue in 2013. Town Democrats ran on a “Stop LIPA Tax Hike” line, and the entire policy-making ticket was victorious. According to the town, if LIPA is successful in court, town property taxes would increase by 15 percent and Northport-East Northport School District taxes would rise by 60 percent.
Petrone declined to comment on Flanagan’s ascent, town spokesman A.J. Carter said Monday.
Others, like Dix Hills’ Stanley Klein, an LIU Post political science professor, political analyst and Huntington GOP committeeman, said Flanagan’s ascent to power is “good – very good” for Long Island.
Suffolk County Republican Committee Chair John LaValle said Flanagan understands the needs of suburban New Yorkers and is the first from Suffolk County to lead the body.
“Above all else, he’s a very good person. People who know him and know him well know that to be the case,” he said.
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-E. Northport), who succeeded Flanagan in the Assembly when Flanagan was elected to the State Senate in 2002, said putting Flanagan in charge means Long Island will maintain “its strong voice in Albany.”
“Having worked side by side with John Flanagan most of my adult life, I’m confident he will fight to ensure Long Island gets its fair share from Albany,” Raia said.
Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) said Flanagan’s selection was a win for Long Island.
“He knows all the major issues the state has to tackle. He was the perfect choice,” Lupinacci said, citing Flanagan’s quarter-century of experience in Albany.
Flanagan, who lives in the Town of Huntington and represents a district largely comprised of Smithtown Township, served in the Assembly for 16 years before rising to the Senate in 2002. In the Assembly, he succeeded his father, John Flanagan Sr., who served from 1973 until his death in 1986.
At home, the father of three is married to Lisa Perez Flanagan, who is active with Northport High School’s Students for 60,000 philanthropic organization, which focuses a great deal of its charitable efforts in Nicaragua.
An attorney, Flanagan said Monday he has left his of-counsel position at the law firm of Forchelli, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo and Terrana, where he focused on real estate and municipal law, according to published reports. Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both of whom have been indicted on corruption charges, are accused of using their of-counsel position at influential firms to leverage respective graft schemes.