ALBANY, June 20,2018 — There are countless ways to kill a high-stakes bill in the New York State Legislature, and it’s not always possible to identify for sure who orders an execution.
But sometimes the evidence points to a suspect.
On this final day of the 2018 legislative session, a bill to derail a proposed garbage incinerator in Romulus is ready to be called up for a vote in the state Assembly after cruising unanimously through the state Senate. The bill would disqualify waste incinerators from the permitting process proponents are now pursuing.
Backers of the bill — wine and tourism businesses and 30 local governments from across the Finger Lakes — are confident Assembly members would support it overwhelmingly and send it on to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law.
But those same supporters began hearing hints in recent days that the bill would be passed over and allowed to die quietly.
That’s what will happen if Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie decides not to call it up for a vote — today.
Either Cuomo or Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester) are in a position to nudge Heastie toward calling a vote or burying the bill.
Cuomo has voiced opposition to the Romulus incinerator, saying it was wrong for the Finger Lakes. “Importing and burning municipal solid waste in one of the state’s most environmentally sensitive areas is simply not appropriate,” Cuomo said May 15.
Morelle, who is running for Congress and faces a Democratic runoff next week, has been non-committal.
“I will keep your strong support in mind should it come before the full Assembly for a vote,” Morelle wrote in an email to Atwater Vineyards owner Ted Marks Tuesday. “The wording of legislation is important, and it is possible to support an issue on principle but disagree with the way a particular bill is presented.”
Morelle has reason to be grateful to a key backer of the incinerator project, developer David Flaum, also from Rochester.
In January 2017, Circular enerG LLC was formed to develop the state’s largest municipal waste incinerator on property owned by Flaum’s Seneca Depot LLC at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus. The plant would burn up to 2,640 tons of garbage a day, most of it from New York City.
More than 200 trucks would be needed to carry the daily load. The 260-foot smokestack would be seen for miles throughout wine country, and it would emit dioxins, furans, mercury, lead and other particulates.
In March 2017, Circular enerG’s attorney drafted a letter, which he convinced a Romulus zoning officer to sign and present as his own, stating that the incinerator would be a renewal energy project. Romulus Town officials later rescinded that opinion and stated their opposition to the project.
That same month, Flaum and his wife, Ilene Flaum, each contributed $2,500 to Morelle’s re-election campaign for state Assembly.
They couldn’t have known at the time that there would be future state legislation that threatened the incinerator project, or that Morelle would soon be running for Congress.
But the $5,000 the Flaum’s contributed to Morelle on Mar. 17, 2017 placed them in the top tier of his campaign supporters.
Those Flaum checks stood out as unusual because Flaum’s $570,000 in campaign contributions since 2000 have gone almost exclusively to Republicans. Morelle is a Democrat.
Next Tuesday, Morelle faces a Democratic primary against three others. He has been raising funds aggressively. On Apr. 30, Ilene Flaum kicked in $2,700, the maximum allowed for the period by an individual, Federal Election Commission records show.
He has reported $630,000 in donations and has outspent his opponents by a 3-to-1 rate for advertising, polling and other items, according to a report in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Should he win the Democratic primary, he would face a deep-pocket Republican in the November general election. Neurosurgeon James Maxwell has already loaned his own campaign $470,000.
Which way will Flaum lean in the coming race to fill the Congressional seat of the late Louise Slaughter — to the Republican or to Morelle, the Democrat?
And what will Morelle do in the Assembly today when it comes time to decide whether to encourage Heastie to allow a vote on the incinerator bill that would harm Flaum’s interests?
Morelle did not respond to a call to his Albany office or to emailed questions concerning the incinerator bill vote and the Flaums’ timely contributions.