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VOTE411 Voter Guide

District # 14

CHOOSE TWO CANDIDATES FROM BELOW TO COMPARE
  • Candidate picture

    Robert C. Pena (DEM, WFP, WEP) Medical Student

  • Candidate picture

    Laura M. Schaefer (REP, CON, IND, REF) Attorney

Change Candidates

Every candidate in every Nassau County election for decades says something like: “We must reform the unjust property tax system to provide businesses and homeowners with a transparent, fair and clear assessment program going forward.” And it never happens. Other than repeating the above, what is your specific plan for fixing this system that continues a debt burden for Nassau County.

Integrity, honesty, trustworthiness are all qualities we expect from our politicians, yet Nassau County has had several elected officials that have faced criminal charges. What specifically will you do to implement accountability, transparency, checks and balances, and proper oversight? What concrete steps will you take to re-build the public’s trust?

Having the financial resources to live in Nassau County is becoming increasingly difficult. What strategic plans do you have on the county level to support and partner with the various municipalities to create more affordable housing for young adults, working families and seniors?

Redistricting and gerrymandering affect the choice of candidates that voters elect to represent them. What are your views for setting up an independent redistricting commission for Nassau County for the drawing of lines after the 2020 census? If you agree with setting up an independent redistricting commission, how would you make it a reality in Nassau County? If you are not for an independent redistricting commission, why not?

As a medical student and biomedical engineer, I am always looking for ways to do things "smarter". As such, I intend to approach the issue of tax reform in Nassau County in a way that uses our hard-earned tax dollars more wisely. We need to focus on using the taxes we already have in a "smarter" way, not ask for more. Even more so, we need to work on cutting back on unnecessary tax policies that do not benefit the people, especially since the middle class residents of this county bear an unfair financial burden when compared to their neighbors throughout the rest of the state of New York, as well as throughout the country at large. I am currently working on several ideas to deal with this issue, including the support of the institution of an Anti-Corruption Officer to oversee the County Executive's office, to eradicate the "pay-to-play" methodology of awarding contracts that has financially damaged this county, and to create a fairer formula for determining property taxes, etc.
As I stated previously, as a medical student, I have chosen a career-path that is entirely focused on the provision of care and aid to the general public, while maintaining the highest ethical standards and placing others before myself in my work. I therefore take the issue of political integrity very seriously, and as such, propose the following: 1) Institution of term limits for several county positions, 2) Appointment of an Anti-Corruption Officer to oversee the County Executive's office as a bipartisan-appointed, independent third-party, 3) Public release of all county revenues and expenses every month in a transparent, easy-to-read manner, 4) Institution of a social media platform to send out referendums on major pieces of legislation prior to being voted upon, so the people may express their concerns, 5) Institution of more "town-hall" style meetings on a regular basis between county officials and their constituents, etc.
As a hard-working young man myself, I am personally affected by the increasingly difficult financial requirements that must be fulfilled in order to live on Long Island. I have elaborated upon several of my proposals with regard to this specific issue on my website (www.robertpena.org), but several of them revolve around the central theme of recruiting young students and young, hard-working families to Long Island by providing tax-incentives and/or more affordable housing, while also helping our seniors to stay on the island as well. This, in turn, will increase taxable revenue, bring better-paying, high-skilled jobs to our communities, rejuvenate the next generation of Long Islanders, and keep current residents in their hard-earned homes. This would involve the construction of more multi-family housing complexes, providing tax incentives to students and young families who will bring revenue to the county in other ways, etc.
Gerrymandering is an issue that is as old as American politics itself, but it is entirely unacceptable that politicians use this political tool as a means to choose their constituents, rather than allowing their constituents to accept or reject them through the democratic process. I plan on instituting a bipartisan, independent redistricting commission for Nassau County after the 2020 election, which will help eliminate this issue. I will also work closely with mathematicians and statisticians who have already proposed algorithms that help prove if a district is drawn in a biased manner, make sure that districts adhere to village and school district lines wherever possible, ensure that districts contain roughly the same number of residents so all legislators represent an equal proportion of our county, and restrict the number of villages contained within each district, so lines will be drawn around village lines and not arbitrarily.
In 2016, the legislature made some significant progress by passing a law to create the disputed assessment fund. This law enables the County to escrow disputed tax payments from a commercial property prior to their issuing a refund which then allows the County to dramatically reduce the annual financial liabilities created by commercial tax certiorari. The County's financial resources can then be used to pay down unpaid claims and tax cert debt, thereby helping to reduce the overall tax cert debt. To make commercial assessments more accurate and avoid errors in assessments, we have also passed legislation requiring commercial property owners to provide more information relative to the income and expenses of their property. For the future of property assessment, proposals that I am considering include returning to an elected assessor, having a three-year cyclical assessment, allowing for a “full value” assessment and exploring the concept of sending assessment back to the towns.
The past several years have seen multiple politicians from both sides of the aisle indicted or convicted for breaches of the public trust. In response the Legislature has passed numerous laws to enhance the oversight and transparency of County government including new disclosure requirements for lobbyists, vendors and consultants, detailed business histories for those who do business with the County, political campaign disclosures for vendors and the hiring of a procurement compliance director and commissioner of investigations to ensure all contract processes and procedures receive strict compliance. Recently the Legislature also banned felons from running for office and amended the County Code of Ethics to include, among other things, a politically diverse Board of Ethics, mandated ethics training for County officers and employees, enhanced contractual disclosure and penalties for anyone who attempts to induce any county officer or employee from violating their ethical obligations.
My colleagues and I in the majority have fought to hold the line on taxes and spending in order to make Nassau County affordable. As Legislator, I will continue to aggressively monitor our budget so that we never return to the runaway tax increases that can detrimentally affect the ability of our young people and seniors from maintaining a home here in Nassau County. Although it is very important to me that Nassau retain its suburban character, I do support combining resources of all levels of government to facilitate transit oriented and “downtown” development so as to provide workforce housing opportunities for young people and the creation of state of the art senior housing. I also think that leveraging of resources among municipalities is an important process that needs to be revisited on a yearly basis in order to effectively uncover any potential savings for our residents.
Currently, New York State Law places the responsibility for the adoption of legislative district lines for Nassau County with the Nassau County Legislature. The County Charter, New York State Law and legal guidance from both state and federal courts provide for standards that can objectively allow decision makers to adopt a plan which protects the constitutional goal of “one person, one vote.” I am always willing to discuss improvements to this process. However, the law and the democratic process place this responsibility on elected officials rather than unaccountable political appointees who may come to the table with varying agendas which are not in the best interest of the residents of this County.

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