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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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NY’s House Clout

New York State’s population grew to 19.37 million in 2010 from 18.97 million in 2000, an increase of 2.1 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week. That number might make you wonder why the state’s Congressional delegation will then shrink to 27 from 29 U.S. House of Representatives’ Members in 2012.

The reason: New York is losing two U.S. House seats in the next federal election cycle because the Empire State’s population growth was anemic compared to western and southern U.S. states. The nation’s cumulative head count (308.7 million) grew by nearly 10 percent between 2000 and 2010. There are 435 U.S. House Members, and representation is allocated based on where people live. With more Americans moving to places like Texas (+4 seats) and Florida (+2 seats) over the past 10 years, while Ohio (-2 seats) and Michigan (-1 seat) saw their populations stagnate, the Congressional landscape must change, too.

New York’s state Assembly and state Senate are tasked with drawing in 2011 the 27 U.S. House district boundaries which will go into effect in 2012. Those lines stay in place until the 2020 U.S. Census is taken. Had the Democrats retained control of both chambers of the state Legislature in November’s statewide election, there’s little doubt the Albany-based Democrats, many of whom represent New York City districts, would have targeted two Republican U.S. House Members for extinction. Given that the Republicans will hold a 32-30 majority in the state Senate for the next two years, a more likely scenario is that one Democratic House Member and one Republican House Member will either retire effective year-end 2012 or confront a difficult re-election race in 2012, perhaps even running against an incumbent U.S. House colleague.  

In the grand scheme of things, a state would rather have more U.S. House of Representatives’ Members, as opposed to fewer Members, but New York’s influence nationally will remain about the same after this once-a-decade process concludes. For instance, New York’s Congressional delegation today accounts for 6.6 percent of all the U.S. House seats, and that number will drop to 6.2 percent when a new Congress convenes in January 2013.

On a somewhat related subject: Congress voted recently to extend for one year the $230 maximum pre-tax deduction the federal government has allowed each month since March 2009 for workers who use those monies to pay for their mass transit expenses. The issue was discussed in my Dec. 9 column. The previous pre-tax limit was $120, and the $230 maximum monthly pre-tax deduction would have reverted back to $120 on Friday, Dec. 31, in the absence of Congressional action.

“As an effective means of rewarding commuters who make the environmentally sound choice of taking public transportation to work, the goal now is to look beyond 2011 and make the new transit cap and parity with parking benefits a permanent fixture of Internal Revenue Code Section 132(f) which governs commuter tax benefits,” said Daniel M. Neuburger, president and CEO of TransitCenter, Inc., the nonprofit organization which administers TransitChek, a program used by thousands of daily LIRR commuters.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: