Effort Progressing to Extend Cheap Power to Yeshivos

ALBANY -
(L-R) Sen. Marty Golden, Jim Cultrara of the Catholic Conference, Assemblymen Phillip Goldfeder, Anthony Brindisi (speaking) and Sean Ryan, and Jeff Leb of the OU. (Orthodox Union)
(L-R) Sen. Marty Golden, Jim Cultrara of the Catholic Conference, Assemblymen Phillip Goldfeder, Anthony Brindisi (speaking) and Sean Ryan, and Jeff Leb of the OU. (Orthodox Union)

A bill that would allow nonpublic and religious schools to tap into substantially discounted electricity already providing big savings to public schools has majorities in both chambers of Albany, a group of private school lobbyists said at a press conference Wednesday.

However, Jeff Leb, director of political affairs in New York for the Orthodox Union, admitted that it was unlikely that the “Energy Parity Act” will pass in time for the current session, which ends next Thursday.

“It is unlikely to pass this session,” Mr. Leb told Hamodia following a press conference in Albany to push the issue, “but it has a large amount of support and sponsors and we are helpful it will pass next session.”

Advocates of the bill said they are in contact with Tom Congdon, the state’s assistant secretary for energy and environment, who oversees the New York Power Authority, and are confident that the law will be allowed to take effect — if not in this session, then in the next.

NYPA already provides energy at cost price, often as incentives to businesses and schools. The act would require them to extend the same savings to private schools.

“Should the bill become enacted as proposed,” an OU statement released with the bill says, “a school with a monthly electricity bill of $2,500 would save an estimated $15,000-$21,000 annually, while a school with a monthly bill of $40,000 would save an estimated $240,000 per year.”

An amendment expressly prohibits NYPA from passing on any costs to ratepayers.

“It’s really an issue of fairness,” Roslyn Singer, communications director for the OU, said. “Because the discounted rates can be hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.”

Mr. Leb said that both his organization and Agudath Israel are working on ways to ease the crushing burden most yeshivos have, with their parent body paying taxes to support the public school system while also paying large tuitions for their children.

“We try to find different inventive ways to even the playing field,” he said. “Our argument is parity.”

NYPA supplies all energy to retailers such as Consolidated Edison and the Long Island Power Authority at cost price. They also have a “preferred customer” list for cheaper electricity which includes businesses and most public school buildings.

What the OU, working together with the Catholic Conference’s Jim Cultrara, want is for NYPA to provide energy directly to yeshivos and all parochial schools for the same price, or through a middleman who will not charge for delivery, as parts of Westchester has.

While the most recognized yeshivah aids until now have been for security, busing, books and mandated services, activists started years ago looking at a range of other ways to institute some sort of fairness into school funding.

Efforts to get the power authority — which is an independent entity but is strictly regulated by the state — to expand the program they have that provides energy to schools at cost price to private schools grew interest early on, but it sputtered in 2004.

Then-Assemblyman Ryan Karben (D-Rockland) introduced a bill, only to have the language changed at the last minute. But they did get the state to offer the same cheaper boilers and windows to private schools as they were giving public schools.

At that time, both the Orthodox Union and the Agudah were involved in seeking passage; currently, the OU is pushing it while Agudah was in Albany Wednesday focused on passing a long-sought special ed bill.

Activists would rather come to an agreement with members of the power authority, but Mr. Leb said that until several days ago they refused to cooperate. So he assembled a solid majority in the Assembly and Senate, with lawmakers from across the state and all parties to table a bill.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) is the primary sponsor in his chamber where the Democrats hold the majority. He said Wednesday that the savings can be as much as 50 percent, freeing up money to allow schools to focus on education.

State Sen. Martin Golden, a Republican from Flatbush, is the primary sponsor in his chamber where the GOP holds the majority. Cosponsors include Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with the Republicans, and David Carlucci, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference which shares power with the GOP.

Power officials announced recently that they are now in the process of providing the legislature a cost analysis, but it will not be ready for a few months.