"I'm seeking re-election in the Seventh Senatorial District because I want to keep the "good times rolling," says Republican incumbent Michael Balboni in his characteristic upbeat way. "We have a better economy, a cleaner environment and safer streets," he says proudly. Elected in a special election held last November to replace the seat left vacant by State Senator Michael Tully who died suddenly in August of 1997, Balboni had spent the previous eight years as a member of the Assembly. His state senatorial district consists of Great Neck, Manhasset, Port Washington, Roslyn, the Willistons, Mineola, New Hyde Park and parts of Westbury. He mentioned that this particular district is noted for its "bright, smart, involved constituents who are on top of issues." qualities which he says make his job more interesting. "I get a lot of good ideas from them," he says in his affable way.
But underneath Balboni's easy manner and "movie star" good looks is a serious legislator who wants to make a difference. Following in State Senator Tully's footsteps, a man he greatly admires, Balboni is committed to the fight against breast cancer. He considered it an honor to host the recent "Annual Women's Cancer Education Day" held on Sept. 12, which was sponsored by the New York State Senate in partnership for the SASS Foundation for Medical Research. The symposium was attended by over 400 cancer survivors, their families and healthcare professionals. "I was overwhelmed by the fear and hope expressed that day. Many of the attendees told me that they were glad they didn't have to travel to Stony Brook or New York City," reported Balboni. However, he would have liked to have seen more pharmaceutical companies participating, he commented.
He's also high on the $1 million cancer mapping project, which the senate directed the State Health Department to undertake, that will track cancer cases and learn more about risk factors associated with the disease.
Balboni's Democratic challenger, John Brooks, who considers his strong point the environment, has criticized the State Senate for failing to pass the Oil Spill Bill, which would reform the state's existing laws in order to better protect New York's waterways from oil spills, and also for not passing the Pesticide Notification Bill. Both of these bills passed in the Assembly.
Senator Balboni, however, favors the Oil Spill Bill. In fact, he co-sponsored it. He is also the chairman of the Water Resources Committee and a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee.
As far as the Pesticide Notification Bill goes, he was one of the senators who voted for it. He noted that one of the problems with the bill is determining who you tell and who you don't tell because it's not based on medical evidence. Another problem he foresees is with enforcement of the law.
Concerning pesticides in general, he believes that the cancer map is a slightly higher priority and will lead to a greater understanding of the disease, because once it's completed, it will provide an epidemiological approach to the problem rather than just looking at one of the causes of the disease.
Cleaning the waterways is another concern for Balboni. He brought $2.2 million back to the district to help out with efforts to improve our local waters. "We have to decrease nitrogen in the sound," he states. As chairman of the Water Resource Committee, he has a meeting planned with the Port of New York to discuss "dredging and the environmental aspects of that."
A "big fan" of Governor Pataki, Balboni applauds the governor's actions on welfare reform. "At first people complained that it was not the "humane thing" to do. "There was a "hue and cry" from the public who feared that people would be "lining up around the block for food." However, he believes what people imagined might happen, "didn't." "The welfare rolls were reduced by 300,000 people, reports Balboni. "Instead of a safety net," the senator says, the former welfare system was "a trap...a web of dependency."
For the middle class, Balboni supports tax-free weeks, which he states benefits both consumers and shop owners. (In the tax-free week last January, consumers saved $32 million and retailers saw a $175 million increase in sales.) He also hopes to continue his efforts to begin the process of dismantling New York State's burdensome toll system, which he believes just slows the motoring public down and outlives its purpose once the bond indebtedness is retired.
Speaking about his efforts to provide broad-based tax relief, he points to his legislative initiative to exempt sales tax on textbooks, which was incorporated into the final version of the state budget.
The biggest tax relief initiative, however, is the STAR program (School Property Tax Relief Program). This program provides exemptions from school property taxes to homeowners for their primary residences. Under the program, school districts are reimbursed by the state for real property taxes foregone due to the STAR exemptions. STAR contains two types of exemptions, one for seniors and one for all other eligible property owners which will be phased in over the next four years. Seniors owning medium-priced homes will see their school property taxes cut by 45 percent. All other homeowners of medium-priced homes will have their school taxes reduced by at least 27 percent, once the plan is fully implemented.
On crime, the senator is proud of the fact that crime is down across New York State for the seventh consecutive year. And also reports that violent crime has dropped by an astonishing 25 percent across the state. He attributes this to the real criminals being locked up.
He points to "Jenna's Law," which ended parole for first time violent offenders. Another feature of this law is that crime victims will be notified when their attacker is scheduled to be released from prison.
For the elderly, Balboni sponsored and worked hard to enact "Kathy's Law" which is aimed at curbing nursing home abuse and punishing criminals who prey on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The law requires that nurse's aides and home health care aides be subject to a criminal background check. The law also creates the crime of endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person in the first and second degree. A person will be guilty of this crime if he or she physically or mentally injures a person unable to care for themselves due to physical disability, mental disease or mental defect.
On gun legislation, the senator feels that owning a gun is a privilege, like driving a car, and not a right. Gun owners must be licensed and measures taken to protect the public, especially children. He has co-sponsored the CAPS bill which makes gun owners responsible for making their guns unusable by a child. "It has to be locked. The trigger locks are very accessible now," Balboni points out.
"The problem with the bill becomes how do you put teeth in it? You make it a felony and what often happens is the gun owners own child is killed or injured. So what do you do? They lost a child, the greatest penalty ever, and then you throw them in jail. We have to figure out what type of penalties make sense," he said.
When asked during the interview what his opinions were on other specific issues, he replied as follows:
* partial birth abortion - he's opposed to.
* allowing Medicaid funding for abortions - he's against because he believes that government should keep out of a woman's decision on this matter.
* noise pollution - must be addressed in a comprehensive way. Looking at leaf blowers. When asked about air traffic congestion and pollution, he replied that this is not within his jurisdiction, but said that he's willing to write letters to the Federal agencies responsible for this area.
* equal pay for women bill - while passed in the Assembly, it's stuck in the Senate). Balboni introduced the bill, but also feels, "We haven't a chance to develop all of the priorities on that."
* merging the major trial courts from nine into two - he believes that it would be better to direct efforts and funds into improving the existing courts, (i.e. more judges, clerks, computers, etc.) "I think that court merger is window dressing and I think it's very costly and doesn't do what it should do," he said.
Senator Balboni is a practicing attorney in Mineola, and a member in good standing of the Nassau County, NY State and American Bar Associations, as well as leader of the Mineola Republican Club. He sits on the Board of Directors of the St. John's University School of Law Alumni Association, and is a member of County Seat Kiwanis.
Born in Garden City on May 12, 1959, Senator Balboni resides in Mineola with his wife, the former Stephanie Mele, and their three young children, Olivia, Nicholas and Julia.