Monday, August 01, 2005

Where Have All The Voters Gone?

Gone To Greener Pastures, Every One . . .

Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.
- Thomas Jefferson

The Carolinas. Georgia. Virginia. Florida. Pennsylvania. NYC. Lifelong Long Islanders are picking up stakes, leaving our island in droves. Out of what many perceive as today's Dust Bowl, like so many Tom Joads taking to the open road, the home grown seek refuge from the ever-deepening storm, the ever-widening divide.

They're voting with their feet, folks. And the complaints expressed on issues, from housing woes to traffic jams, are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. From unconscionable taxes to an unresponsive Town Hall, residents are throwing up their hands, packing their bags, cashing out on the equity in their homes and moving on. [Except for the youngins', who, if they can't reclaim the old bedroom or pitch tent in the backyard, are placing roots elsewhere right out of college.]

The questions we're hearing most from the peanut gallery are (1) Does anybody out there really care about us? and (2) What are "they" doing about...?

We are convinced that people do care - and we gratuitously include our elected officials in this blend of community advocates. [They must care. If not, why would they take the abuse? (Unless, of course, they have family members who are earning big bucks as Sanitation Supervisors.) Never mind, then.]

There is, to say the least, plenty of talk about what "needs" to be done to fix the infrastructure, to make our island more hospitable, to provide a life-friendly environment for our parents, our offspring, ourselves. Strengthening and enforcement of the law; creation of a broad base of affordable housing stock; economic redevelopment; the re-establishment of our downtowns; a comprehensive transportation plan; an equitable alternative to the onerous property tax; a true and workable "Master Plan" for Long Island - among other initiatives. Just turn on your local programming on any given evening and you will no doubt find the planners, the economists, the NPO chiefs, the public officials and even the "God Squad" hashing out the issues, joining in the great public debate.

Now it is time for "them" - as the "they" in "What are 'they' doing about...?" - to channel the talk into spirited and decisive action. To execute upon the long-term vision with realistic, practical plans; to begin to implement far-sighted initiatives in short order.

Affordable Housing, Long Island Style
On the affordable housing front alone, we can, and we must, move with all deliberate speed to do more. [As a relevant aside, by "affordable housing," we're not talking about a 1960s, "throw money at it" housing project approach. The widely held, and perhaps inevitable misconception when "affordable" and "housing" are linked. We're talking about housing that's affordable to our children, our parents, and, yes, even to us.] We must look beyond the spot building of two houses here and three houses there - the stuff that photo ops are made of. We have to reinvent the mindset that suburbia cannot tolerate either high-density or the responsible mix of residential, retail and recreational use.

In reality, today's suburban landscape has already been compromised (what is the number of "open space" acres left in Nassau County, for instance? 42?). We are living in a "high-density" environment, surrounded by a hodge-podge of unrestrained and unrestricted land use. Do not tell us that we cannot do better. We certainly can, and we will.
And what, pray tell, are "they" doing about the upwardly spiraling property tax? Advocates of replacing the school property tax, as a starter, with a nominal income tax, call for a serious study. Seems we can't even muster the will to examine the issue, let alone to tackle it. Opponents berate an income tax as an unacceptable alternative, yet, other than belittling its proponents, offer no viable alternative of their own.

And so, we are staring straight in the face of a school property tax that will (not may or might, but WILL) double before the decade is out. [If you don't believe it, just do the math.] School Districts aren't going to do a darn thing about it, assuming they could hold that line on costs. [Mention the word "consolidation," and everyone shudders. After all, we need 126 separate School Districts on Long Island. And heaven forbid we should do without at least three or four Assistant Superintendents in each School District (every one a "Dr."), easily earning six figures a piece, and Superintendents who garner twice that.] Albany won't touch anything that smells of "tax" (they'll just keep showing you - on paper - how much the STAR Program has "saved" you). And Town government not only refuses to admit that we have a problem called the property tax, Town Hallers compound the problem through the proliferation and safeguarding of those semi-autonomous, answerable-to-no-one patronage feifdoms known as the Special Districts.

We overlook - or blatantly disregard - the fact that those who are hurt most by the property tax - seniors, the young workforce, and those who are on fixed incomes - are the very people who would benefit most by replacing a regressive tax with a progressive tax. Not to mention the so-called middle-class, being squeezed from both ends and played against the middle. You don't have to be Alan Greenspan to figure out that where income does not keep pace with the runaway increases in property taxes, at some point you simply can no longer afford to pay the taxes. [Many of us have reached that point already.]

Why pay $10,000 per year in property taxes for a 60' x 100' postage stamp upon which sits a 50 year old dilapidated cape - in an area where quality of life, by any measure, is abysmal - when you can relocate to, say, North Carolina, and pay $2800 in taxes for a 3 acre parcel improved with a magnificent 5 bedroom, 2 fireplace home, with wraparound porch? Its either that, or rent out the attic and the basement just to pay the tax man!

For many, the issue has been raised to the level of a rhetorical question. Why stay and pay when you can get away and play - and for a whole lot less in taxes and a heck of a lot more in the quality of life division? "As you always used to say, Grandpa, 'If you can find a better quality of life, buy it!'"

Those of us who are not quite as savvy - or are otherwise constrained (condemned?) to work this land - are split into two camps. The first, mad as hell and rearin' to take on Town Hall, the County Seat, and the powers-that-be in Albany. The other, contented as cows, willing to chew their cud, while the agribusinessmen (formerly known as "farmers," before they started getting subsidies not to farm) plot their slaughter.

Truth is, the "they" in the inquiry, "What are they doing?" is "us!" [Or is it are "us?" Sorry, nary an English major among us. :-)] We have to do our part - raising awareness; stirring the debate; precipitating beneficial change; encouraging our neighbors to vote with their heads and their hearts, and not with their feet.

Ours must truly be a door to door - or e-mailbox to e-mailbox - campaign, combating complacency, rooting out indifference, rousing the otherwise apathetic to their feet - not to move them to a new homestead, but rather, to get them to take a stand - and cast that ballot - for their old hometown.
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Click HERE to request a Voter Registration form by mail.

Click HERE to download a Voter Registration form for completion and mailing to the Board of Elections. [Adobe Acrobate required.]

Click HERE to complete form online for printout and mailing to the Board of Elections.

Contact the Nassau County Board of Elections:
400 County Seat Drive
Mineola, NY 11501

1 comment:

  1. independent voter in wantaghTuesday, August 02, 2005 4:56:00 PM

    If every civic association, Kiwanis club, Lions, Rotary, PTA group, etc. promoted the interests of community as this blog does, it would be a whole new world in Hempstead Town and the County of Nassau.

    The idea of a Voter Registration drive is fantastic. I hope that every community group with a website posts the links. Before good citizens can vote, they have to be registered - and informed!

    I believe it was Plato who said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."

    Even then, they knew!