State and Local Watch
A Weekly Column by Steve Levy
Long Island transit funds
Much has been said of Nassau’s new bus system, NICE, and the occasional cuts implemented on its routes. Let’s not forget Nassau lost a $40 million subsidy from theMTA in 2011. Privatizing the route was a sensible move. It preserved all routes but a few, and saved a fortune. Suffolk never received that subsidy and gets less than one-half of other bus transit aid Nassau traditionally receives, and yet has three times the geography to cover. Instead of giving Suffolk more, the state decided to give Nassau less. That’s a lose-lose for Long Island.
Cuomo’s political skills
When is a tax increase not a tax increase? When it’s proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is cruising through an extra-long honeymoon with the press and legislature. By reinstating the tax increase on higher earners, Cuomo was able to raise $2 billion more in taxes than the state received in 2011. Yet by lowering the rate ever so slightly on the middle class, he was able to call it a tax cut – and it stuck with the media. By getting it out of the way late last year, it enabled him to keep the fact that this was an overall tax increase out of the commentary related to the budget process. The extra money in the pot helped Cuomo and the legislature give a modest increase to schools – mitigating theextensive cuts imposed last year. Whether the tax increase was good government, is yet to be seen, but the method by which it was done was certainly good politics.
Open the HOV
A recent visit to Florida reminded me how easy it would be to get in and out of the HOV lanes in New York if we simply mirrored Florida’s more sensible system of perforating the double-line divider. There, you can move your car in and out as you please (with no evidence of safety concerns). Here, you may have to crawl in bumper-to-bumper traffic for two exits, wasting 15 minutes, before you can get in. What a waste of time and gas. HeyNew York Transportation: Change this crazy rule!
$530 million short fall? $162 million plan?
The pronounced three-year $530 million Suffolk shortfall simply is not as big as advertised. It’s based on unsupportable estimates including a mere 1.5% growth rate and an unsubstantiated $86 million increase in welfare costs. Meanwhile, the plan to close it is overly optimistic. A traffic bureau needs state approval and would lose money for several years before breaking even. Then, there is talk of saving $25 million through “government efficiencies” without listing any details. Tough decisions require officials to list specific cuts; without them, it’s just a press release.
Now they want to consolidate rentals
The Suffolk Legislature says it’s ready to consolidate many rentals to save money. What a waste that two years ago, the legislature rejected a proposal to purchase the Holtsville IRS building for $23 million. It would have led to millions in rental payments saved. The legislature said the county would be over paying (not to mention that a handful of employees complained they did not want to move). Six months after the legislature rejected the offer, the feds sold the building to another buyer for $41 million. Now the legislature says it would like to consolidate rentals. You can’t make this stuff up.
Next time someone tells you consolidating school districts will diminish academic quality, refer them to Fairfax, Virginia. This suburb of D.C. is very similar demographically (economically and racially) to Long Island, yet has a single, unified school district and very high test scores.