Friday, June 30, 2006
From The Public Policy Institute of NYS, Inc.:
THE COST OF CREATING JOBS
State Business Tax Climate Index
Business Taxes as Percentage of Gross State Product
Cost of Doing Business Index
Average Cost of a Workers' Compensation Case
Average Premium for Health Insurance
Average Effective Unemployment Insurance Tax Rate
Proportion of Workers Represented by Unions
Average Retail Price of Electricity
Average Price of Natural Gas
Average Cost for Auto Insurance
Best to Worst Legal Systems in America
State Competitiveness Index, 2005
U.S. Economic Freedom Index
Medicaid spending, total and per-capita
Medicaid spending on hospitals and prescription drugs
Medicaid spending on nursing facilities
Medicaid spending on home health care and personal care
TAXES AND SPENDING
State and Local Tax Burdens
Property Taxes Per Capita and Sales Tax Per Capita
Individual Income Tax Burdens
Corporate Taxes Per Capita and Utility Taxes Per Capita
Total State Taxes Per Capita and Local Taxes Per Capita
State and Local Government Spending Per Capita
State/Local Government Employees, payroll and number
State and Local Government Debt Per Capita
State Gasoline Taxes, and Average Price Per Gallon of Gasoline
State and Local Pensions Per Recipient
Per Pupil spending and revenue, 2003-04
JOB GROWTH AND JOB LOSS
Total Private-Sector Employment
Adjusted (Tax-Paying) Private Employment
Trade, Transportation and Utilities Employment
Financial Activities Employment
Professional and Business Services Employment
Healthcare and Social Assistance Employment
A safe and celebratory 4th to all!
Thursday, June 29, 2006
"...And here’s a really interesting result from the poll. We asked people whether they were more concerned about how much they pay in taxes, or how government spends their money. Sixty-eight percent said it’s the how, not the how much, that really irks them. Just 31 percent said it’s how much they pay. ..."
Not that we put much trust in public opinion polls -- or that the public's opinion (does the public have an opinion?) matters much to those elected to serve, but some interesting facts and figures have emerged from a recent poll conducted by the Center for Governmental Research.
The poll asked 2492 New Yorkers "What do you think is the greatest issue facing New York that a governor could do something about?"
Of course, that's a rather loaded question. Is there ANYTHING that a governor of the Empire State could -- or would -- do something about?
But we digress.
As reported in Tension in New York over Taxes, while 20% of those polled were most concerned about taxes [followed by Education (19%), and Jobs (10%)], a resounding 68% of those responding to the poll said how their tax dollars were being spent was more of an issue than how much they were paying in taxes. [When the poll results were tabulated by region, 33% of Long Islanders answered Taxes.]
Hey, what do they know?
The obvious conclusion, though never addressed directly in the poll [that's fodder for another poll, and another million dollars in grant money to the pollster], is to eliminate (or at least consolidate) the "how," which will, in turn, make the "how much" that much less of a burden.
Consolidate school districts, sanitary districts, fire districts. Eliminate patronage, unfunded mandates, and services that are duplicated on multiple levels. Cut waste, find and prosecute fraud, and stop the flow of tax dollars to special interests and private institutions.
Wow! We think we already save a few billion right there!
When some 83% of New Yorkers say that our State government is doing a poor job in keeping taxes low, you've got a real problem on your hands. With few real solutions in the hopper, and the delusional vortex in Albany sucking the wind out of sound ideas worthy of discussion and debate (as in, "Why solve pressing issues when you can simply throw money at them?"), the problems are bound to only get worse.
So what's the answer to our tax woes? Easy. Conduct a couple of polls, put a rebate check in the mail, and call your State legislators in November!
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
As a follow-up to the June 13th blog, The Empire Zone Strikes Out, consider once again the appointment of Kuldeap Krish Prasad to the Empire Zone's governing board.
Just last week, we were informed by sources close to the Nassau County Legislature that while Mr. Prasad "may not have had the time" to become active in the West Hempstead community where he now resides (we didn't know there was a 2 year "waiting period" to become active in local civics), he was a "community activist" in his former hometown of Elmont.
In fact, The Community Alliance has learned -- from that same legislative source -- that, notwithstanding Mr. Prasad's absence from the community scene (and that not a single known community activist in Elmont has been able to so much as acknowledge that Mr. Prasad ever lived in Elmont, let alone that he could be labeled as an "activist"), it was Prasad who was, almost single-handedly, responsible for what will surely be long-remembered as the feather in the the cap of his previous domicile: bringing cricket to Elmont!
Yes, we said cricket.
Never mind all of the sundry problems Elmont faces. At least we have cricket!
We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing that, if nothing else, Nassau County’s first Empire Zone will finally give Roosevelt, New Cassel, Freeport and West Hempstead cricket. We've been without the sport for far too long (more than 100 years, or at least as long as the GOP has held the reigns at Hempstead Town Hall).
We, too, as residents within Nassau County's first Empire Zone, will no doubt benefit from Mr. Prasad’s community activism, as Elmont surely has, with a wicket in every backyard and a batsman on every street corner. Cricket for Elmont. Cricket for all!
Spot of tea, anyone? We can sense that rebirth of the local economy about to emerge from the cricket field. Build it, and they will come. . .
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Postscript: From Hempstead Town Hall (via another dependable source). On the agenda, on a long list of local expenditures for the unincorporated areas of the township -- a cricket pitch for Elmont!
Ah, Mr. Prasad's influence (peddled, if not otherwise) is paying dividends already. Watch for Cricket Shops to pop up all along Hempstead Turnpike. The economic boon is upon us at last!
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Postmortem: Word has it that the Nassau County Legislature has given the nod of approval to the appointment of Kuldeap Krish Prasad to the Empire Zone's governing body.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Residents of West Hempstead, Franklin Square, and Garden City South served by the West Hempstead-Hempstead Gardens Water District were admonished this morning to stay away from the tap after the District discovered MTBE (a gasoline additive) in the water supply. [Click HERE to read the Water District's advisory.]
While MTBE, a fuel additive/oxygenate which was once used in gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels, poses known health risks, the Water District reports that "the level of exposure here is relatively low." [Readers are reminded that, for the weeks and months following 911, the public was advised that the air quality in lower Manhattan was safe. For those of you residing within the West Hempstead Water District's service area, we would suggest that you hold your water!]
The source of the MTBE in the water supply (generally from a gasoline spill) is not known, said the District's Supernintendent, however, the MTBE was traced to the District's Birch Street plant, which has been closed pending investigation and clean-up. The entire system is being flushed, with the District hopeful that residents can once again "enjoy" MTBE-free (or at least at "acceptable" levels) water by tonight.
Of concern to residents -- aside from the obvious potential risks to their health -- is the apparent laxity on the part of the Water District in informing the public of the problem in a more timely manner.
While the District's "Release" was dated "June 26, 2006 10:00 P.M.," it was not furnished to media outlets until the morning of June 27th. [Many residents first reported hearing about the MTBE find through a News12 Long Island report aired on the morning of June 27th.]
The Community Alliance learned about the water emergency through a source at Newsday, which first reported the story online at 10:39 AM on the 27th. Local radio stations began to air the advisory shortly thereafter.
The Water District's advisory did not appear on its own website until just before 11 AM on the 27th. [The sample from which the MTBE-tainted water came, it should be noted, was taken on June 23rd.]
"In this age of the Internet, and with the urgency to get information, be it about terror threats or MTBE-laden drinking water, out to the public quickly, I am amazed that the Water District didn't get word out to residents as soon as the report came in," said an astonished West Hempstead resident, who asked not to be identified.
To those who showered, bathed, brushed their teeth, or drank the tap water before the advisory, the District points out that "the presence of this chemical at these levels does not constitute an immediate health threat."
"Immediate," no. But don't blame the Water District in 20 years, when your intestines start to glow.
While most residents found the news of contaminated tap water disturbing, and the lag-time in notification reprehensible, others were taking it all in stride.
One industrious resident, Kuldeap Krish Prasad of West Hempstead, determined not to let adversity get the best of him, began pumping tap water into 10-gallon drums early this morning, even before news of MTBE in the water was released to the public (it really does pay to have friends at Town Hall).
By 11 AM, Mr. Prasad, in a demonstration of good old Indian-American ingenuity, was pumping that tap water into cars and trucks along Hempstead Turnpike, selling the MTBE "oxygenated" water as gasoline for $2.50 a gallon.
"I have taken something very, very bad," said Prasad, "and turned it into something very, very good. Well, for me, at least." Prasad has pledged to donate 10-cents per gallon to the Nassau County GOP.
"Thank goodness for 'local control' over the Water District," said a member of the West Hempstead Civic Association's Executive Board, speaking on condition of anonymity. Yes sir, if it wasn't for "local control" of this Special District, residents might not have found out about impurities in their drinking water until sometime after the next election for Hempstead Town Supervisor!
Tell us, if residents of Franklin Square, Garden City South, and West Hempstead pay TEN TIMES THE GOING RATE for water service, do you think they could get potable water, or at least timely notice as to potentially hazardous toxins in their water supply?
Just another indication – and a most dangerous one at that – as to the woeful way in which the Special Districts operate. Up to now, it has mainly been about garbage collection. Today, its about that very sustenance of life, the water we drink!
For the latest on the water emergency in the West Hempstead-Hempstead Gardens Water District, contact District Superintendent, Robert York, at (516) 483-1180 or Peter Yatsyla, Office of Water Supply Operations of the Nassau County Health Department, at (516) 571-3323.
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For update and insight, read Emi Endo's follow-up piece in Newsday, Stirring up the waters, as republished by Water World.
"Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism."
From the folks who brought you the War In Iraq On False Pretenses, the Unlawful Detention of American Citizens Without Due Process, and the Policy Of "It's Okay To Torture. No, Really!," comes the latest foray into stomping on the freedoms and liberties 2500+ Americans are said to have died for in search of those elusive WMDs.
An Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (remember the Constitution of the United States? Members of Congress ought to sit down and read it some day), is just a single vote shy of going out to the states for ratification. [38 states would need to ratify the Amendment before it would become the highest law in the land.]
Obviously, the time has come to put an end to the rash of flag burnings in this country (there have been maybe 50 or so reported flag burnings in America over the past 3 years) -- and let's not discount the fact that the neocons need desperately to rally their base in time for the mid-term elections.
And so, the great debate begins -- divisively, as always -- between the First Amendment's freedom of speech and the proposed Amendment's attempt to quash expression of opinion -- including long-protected "symbolic speech" -- other than that held by the conservative right.
The Los Angeles Times hit the nail on the head in making the case for flag burning -- or at least the case against a Constitutional amendment banning such symbolic speech:
• It's a "solution" to a problem that doesn't exist. There has been no epidemic of flag-burning since the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that destruction of Old Glory as a protest was symbolic speech protected by the 1st Amendment.
• The reintroduction of this amendment is part of the Republican Party's election-year attempt to rile up its social-conservative base, a "panderama" that already has produced a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which failed earlier this month.
• As Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed out, "The 1st Amendment has served us well for over 200 years. I don't think it needs to be altered." Placing a no-flag-burning asterisk next to the amendment's sweeping guarantee of free speech is a mischievous idea, and it could invite amendments to ban other sorts of speech Americans find offensive.
But the best argument against the flag amendment is the one some opponents are reluctant to make for fear of political fallout: It would make America less free.
Rare as flag-burning may be, a nation that allows citizens to denounce even its most sacred symbols is being true to what the Supreme Court in 1964 called the "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."
As we approach the 230th celebration of our nation's independence, perhaps it is well worth considering whether it is more important to protect a banner symbolic of a people's staunch support of freedom, or to defend the very freedoms that those who, over the generations, carrying our flag into battle, have fought and died for. It was not for the flag, per se, that they gave that last full measure of devotion, but rather, for what they believed that flag stood for.
A Constitutional amendment to ban what the Supreme Court has already deemed to be symbolic speech? We wonder what Thomas Jefferson would think. Then again, why wonder?
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
-- Thomas Jefferson
The following is republished from pbs.org:
The United States holds itself up to be the nation where human freedom finds its purest expression. Thomas Jefferson expressed this ideal in the Declaration of Independence when he penned the words:
"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The Declaration of Independence led to more specific language in the Constitution that gave Americans the freedom of speech. Many citizens claim this freedom means they can express themselves in any manner they wish as long as their right of expression does not infringe on the rights of others to be left alone. Others believe that there are exceptions to this right of free speech. Such issues are worked out by Supreme Court, which uses its powers of constitutional interpretation and judicial review to outline the underpinnings of the Constitution and explain the law.
The guiding principles for the Supreme Court are found in the Bill of Rights, which comprise the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The First Amendment outlines personal liberties in the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and the right to petition the government or the redress of grievances. Since the Bill of Rights was adopted, conflicts over what types of speech or expression are protected by the Constitution have led the Supreme Court to provide some additional clarification. The definition of speech has come to include not only spoken words, but also symbolic speech as well as the two forms of speech together (known by the court as "speech plus"). This definition sometimes requires citizens to tolerate unpopular speech for the sake of preserving the spirit of the freedom itself.
In recent times, protesters have burned the American flag to express outrage at a political idea such as war, or even to challenge any objections to the burning of flags. Such behavior has outraged many Americans who feel that the flag is a symbol of the United States that should be protected from harm, and that burning flags should not be protected under the First Amendment.
The Flag Protection Act of 1989 made a criminal of any citizen who "knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon" a United States flag, except in relation to the disposal of a "worn or soiled" flag. In a number of cases that came to the Federal district court, the courts dismissed the charges under the belief that the Act violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The government appealed the United States v. Eichman case to the Supreme Court in 1990.
The Issue Before the Court:
Is the action of burning an American flag within the context of a public protest constitute "expressive conduct," an idea that falls under the freedom of speech protection of the First Amendment?
Supreme Court Ruling: The burning of the American flag is considered "symbolic speech" and is protected under the First Amendment.
Majority Opinion Summary and Excerpt
The Supreme Court had ruled in 1989 in the case of Texas v. Johnson that the First Amendment rights of citizens to engage in free speech, even if that speech is "offensive," outweighs the government's interest in protecting the American flag as a symbol of American unity and prevents the breach of the peace which was argued to be the result of such an action. The action of flag burning, as repugnant as it may be to many citizens, was determined by the Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was defined as an example of "symbolic speech."
In the Texas case, the court voted in a 6-2 decision to affirm the Criminal Appeal's court decision to bring flag burning under the protection of the First Amendment. In the Eichman case, the Court's 5-4 ruling reiterated its belief that flag burning falls within the same class of actions as "virulent ethnic and religious epithets, vulgar repudiations of the draft, and scurrilous caricatures," which are "deeply offensive" to the average American, but that the Government may not infringe the right to express an idea just because society has concluded that said idea is offensive.
The convictions leading to the Eichman case were overturned not only because of the expressive nature of the action on which the convictions were based, but also due to the inherent unconstitutionality of the federal Flag Protection Act of 1989.
For the majority opinion, Justice Brennan wrote the following excerpts:
"Although the Flag Protection Act contains no explicit content-based limitation on the scope of prohibited conduct, it is nevertheless clear that the Government's asserted interest is "related `to the suppression of free expression...
Moreover, the precise language of the Act's prohibitions confirms Congress' interest in the communicative impact of flag destruction.
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering. The judgments are Affirmed.
The idea that there is no right in American society that is pure and unlimited is an established concept in American jurisprudence. The rights of the individual are always being weighed against the interests of the society as a whole as represented by the Government. The limits of free speech was the focus of the dissenting opinion of the court in this case."
Dissenting Opinion Excerpt
Justice Stevens, along with the Chief Justice, Justice White and O'Connor wrote:
"...It is equally well settled that certain methods of expression may be prohibited if (a) the prohibition is supported by a legitimate societal interest that is unrelated to suppression of the ideas the speaker desires to express; (b) the prohibition does not entail any interference with the speaker's freedom to express those ideas by other means; and (c) the interest in allowing the speaker complete freedom of choice among alternative methods of expression is less important than the societal interest supporting the prohibition."
Justice Stevens concluded in his opinion that by destroying the symbol of freedom, the individual communicates a willingness to destroy those freedoms themselves:
"By burning the embodiment of America's collective commitment to freedom and equality, the flag burner charges that the majority has forsaken that commitment -- that continued respect for the flag is nothing more than hypocrisy. Such a charge may be made even if the flag burner loves the country and zealously pursues the ideals that the country claims to honor."
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For more information on flag burning and the First Amendment, visit the First Amendment Center.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Bigger, but Not Better
By Richard Amper and Richard Johannesen
LONG ISLAND is the national model of poor land use. All of America has learned from our mistakes — except, apparently, us.
Today, Long Island developers continue to pursue their usual agenda of sprawl, as evidenced by the monstrosities they are building on former farms in Brookhaven and Riverhead — bigger and bigger houses in more and more remote areas. It's an agenda that serves developers' interests while threatening Long Island's future.
Sprawl is hurting the region's agriculture, endangering animal habitats and gobbling up wetlands and woodlands. For example, part of the proposed Heritage Square project, which calls for the construction of 408 units on about 52 acres in East Moriches, is on land in the Pine Barrens, a state nature preserve. Sewage discharges resulting from all this development will contaminate drinking water. And with residents living further and further from workplaces and shopping, the island's already intolerable traffic will only increase, polluting the air.
Long Island's No. 1 industry is tourism, and visitors aren't coming to the island to visit and take photographs of new houses and subdivisions. They're interested in sunning themselves on our beaches, tasting our local wines and hiking along the trails at our federal and state wildlife preserves. But if sprawl continues, there will be none of this to enjoy.
Moreover, sprawl makes housing unaffordable to seniors and younger workers. With the average house selling for $350,000 to $400,000, 18- to 34-year-olds are leaving the region at a rate five times the national average. The resulting brain drain is casting a giant shadow over the regional economy. Businesses can't fill the jobs we desperately need.
Development also increases the cost of government services like schools, roads and police protection. The result: taxes two-and-a-half times the national average.
Developers are about to put Long Island out of business. What's more, our politicians are helping them do it.
Long Island's future hinges on two needs: open space and affordable housing. These are entirely compatible. Smart growth means building houses and apartments in our downtowns and villages in mixed-use communities near public transportation. Planners agree on this, and polls show the public supports it.
Developers profess to support affordable housing, but seldom do they build any. They make too much money building unaffordable housing. According to Lee Koppelman, director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, only 3,000 to 5,000 of Long Island's million or so houses would be considered affordable by standard measures.
Developers on Long Island have fought zoning requirements that require new subdivisions to include some affordable housing. In Brookhaven, they blocked a ballot proposal for a community preservation fund, in which a 2 percent real estate transfer tax on expensive houses is used to buy open land; such taxes have saved more than 5,000 acres on the East End.
And they lobbied the Suffolk County Legislature for a referendum that allows construction elsewhere every time a parcel of land is preserved, saying that this would promote affordable housing. Two years later, not one affordable house has resulted from the passage of the referendum, even as many of the politicians who supported it received big campaign contributions from developers.
This situation, in which politicians are more responsive to developers than to the public, needs to end. Starting this summer, our group will begin issuing report cards on politicians' records on preservation, sprawl and affordable housing. These report cards will identify the elected officials who most consistently place the developers' agenda ahead of public needs.
But more can be done. Long Islanders should demand that their local officials require new subdivisions to include 20 percent affordable housing for families making 80 percent or less of the average income in their town. They should oppose high-density development unless it's downtown, near existing roads and sewers. And they should oppose new development projects on open space and farmland.
After 50 years of poor land use, time is running out for our region. There are only 70,000 acres left today that are not already committed to development or preservation; by 2015, there will be none. If we don't change now, one of the nation's first mature suburbs will become the nation's first dead suburb.
Richard Amper is the treasurer and Richard Johannesen is the chairman of the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, a nonprofit environmental group.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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Time may have already run out for Nassau County, where images of the land mass taken from space show various shades of gray, and little if any green. Open space is virtually non-existent, and, after decades of zoning and land use mis-steps and giveaways to developers and politically connected special interests, sprawl is almost the least of the county's worries.
The Heritage Square development, referenced in the Times' Op Ed piece, pales by comparison to the ongoing redevelopment at and about the old Roosevelt Raceway site, which boasts both unaffordable rental units and mid to upper six figure housing for the 55 and over set.
If the folks in Suffolk want to see what rampant overdevelopment looks like -- and what that county faces over the next decade if the developers are left unchecked -- they need venture no further than that confluence of the Town of Hempstead's "resource recovery" plant, the Meadowbrook Parkway, and a host of big box stores, from Target to The Source Mall. All of this -- and more to come -- without even crossing the Turnpike to view plans for the redevelopment of the Coliseum and environs.
The New Suburbia, as the plan for Nassau County has been dubbed by its chief executive, Tom Suozzi, needs much more than platitudes and the construction of massive building projects that devour dwindling resources and land, and continue to erode what little quality of life remains in America's oldest suburb.
We need to be smarter than those who, for years, have uttered the words "smart growth," but, when push came to shove, gave us the same old "dumbed down" haphazard development that has turned Nassau from a once greenfield into a now virtual brownfield.
There may still be pine barrens to save in Suffolk. For Nassau, however, unless we act swiftly and prudently to reclaim both vision and landscape, the county will simply be barren -- and not only of greenery!
Friday, June 23, 2006
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has struck a blow to every woman who manages to juggle raising a family with building a career.
Newsday reports that Rice, elected last year to succeed long-time District Attorney Denis Dillon, has asked that all Assistant District Attorneys work full-time, leaving a dozen part-timers in a quandary -- choose between your children and your careers. [SEE, DA Rice: Full-Time Or No Time.]
Women returning to the workforce -- many to professional careers -- while raising families is no longer either an anomaly or a luxury. Indeed, women who work part-time while continuing to be full-time mothers, have become an integral part not only of the workforce, but moreover, of holding the fabric of family life together.
Surely there’s a place in the District Attorney’s office for dedicated part-time prosecutors such as Kathleen Whelan. And if not, it is a loss not only to the Prosecutor’s office, but to the good people of Nassau County, and to working mothers everywhere!
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Bruce Piel, Chairman of Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau), sounds off from the 19th hole at Eisenhower Park.
Once again the Eisenhower Red Course is closed to the resident golfers whose taxes support that facility. From June 9th through the 26th, the best county course is reserved for the PGA Tour's Commerce Bank Championship.
This tournament formerly known as the Senior Tour is the least attended tour of the PGA season. While it does raise some monies for the Schneider's Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park it also costs Nassau County and by extension its taxpayers for course preparation and repair. This is addition to the loss of revenue when the course is closed.
Nassau County has never made any money off this tournament since it agreed to host it in 2001. The only true beneficiary is the PGA which sells a lot of corporate tickets, tents and other "tax write-off" amenities. Nassau allegedly does it for the "prestige" though most resident golfers would argue there is none.
If the county polls its resident golfers, we believe they would overwhelmingly vote to discontinue this "privatization" of a county golf course, especially since the county loses money and the golfers lose most of June play time. It might also be time for Nassau's resident golfers to organize and act as spokesmen for the tax-paying and fee-paying players and promote their interests.
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh, NY 11793-1963
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Have an opinion about something that impacts upon the quality of life in your community or on our Long Island? Sure you do! And The Community Alliance, as well as your neighbors and elected officials, would like to hear what you have to say!
Put it right here at The Community Alliance blog. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be a part of your community's tomorrows!
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Reprinted from Smart Growth Online
Its annual Smart Growth Awards dubbed the ''Oscars of land use,'' the Northport-based Vision Long Island nonprofit group presented them to 11 winners for the area's best 2005 projects and actions, but it also gave a Dumb Growth Award to the town of Smithtown, for approving a string of big-boxes, including a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot in an area already hard to get to, with Vision Executive Director Eric Alexander additionally blaming its officials for tardiness in affordable housing and open space programs, observing, ''They seem joyfully hostile to some of these concepts because they keep creating sprawl development.''
Smithtown planning director Frank DuRubeis, report Long Island Business News writers Jeremy Harrell and Dawn Wotapka Hardesty, called the Dumb Growth Award ''mean-spirited,'' saying the town led efforts to coordinate new projects in the Sagtikos Parkway corridor, but was rebuffed by towns that are now some of its loudest critics.
The Smart Growth Award list, the writers note, includes
- the town of Brookhaven, for a long-term land-use plan to create downtown centers and curb sprawl along Route 25;
-Landing Avenue LLC, for Country View Estates, a senior residence complex in Smithtown, with the town's first affordable housing component;
- Pulte Homes, for Copper Beech Villages, a downtown housing project with 50 percent of units deemed affordable;
- the town of Oyster Bay and the Oyster Bay Main Street Association, for joint efforts to protect the historic downtown area and ensure its economic viability;
- Coalition for a Safe Manhasset, for work to improve the safety of Plandome Road and adjacent streets;
- the village of Port Washington North, the town of North Hempstead and Residents for a More Beautiful Port of Washington, for a waterfront park, a rare public space within a developed area; - the village of Mineola, for its transit-oriented, mixed-use comprehensive plan;
- the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, for seeking transportation alternatives;
- the town of Southampton, for the Riverside Hamlet Center;
- the Albanese Organization, for Long Island's first environmentally engineered office building, in Garden City; and
- Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce official Richard Bivone, for efforts to make the county's business community cooperate with governmental, environmental and community groups.
Click HERE to view the source article at Long Island Business News
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A Dumb Growth Award, eh? Hmm. We hope that the Town of Hempstead was at least a contender for dishonorable mention! :-)
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Just so you know, every once in a while our State Legislature does something that is both vital and significant.
Stiifer penalties have been enacted by the Legislature, and signed into law by the Governor, concerning so-called Hate Crimes. That legal measures are necessary in this day and age to address bias, bigotry, and the darker side of humanity is sad and unfortunate. And while morality defies legislation, we are glad to see Albany take an important step in trying to address the problem here at home.
Now, if we could only get the Legislature to recognize the atrocities in Darfur, and to take up legislation to prohibit the State from doing business or entering into contracts with any private company that does business with Darfur. That, we believe, would go a long way in telling the world, "there's no place for hate in our State!"
Albany, NY ~ Assemblyman Tom Alfano announced yesterday that legislation he sponsored with Assemblyman William Colton, that increases the penalty to a Class E felony for making a swastika or burning a cross on public property or a private building without the owner’s permission in public view, was signed into law by the Governor.
Alfano fought for the legislation after an incident in North Valley Stream where hate messages were spray-painted on the garage door of a family. “It was a sickening act, and I’m proud that this bipartisan effort made this bill law. Hate crime has no place in our communities.” In the incident cited by Alfano, a family moving into the North Valley Stream community was met by spray painted hate messages and symbols on their garage door.
The swastika was the adopted symbol of the barbarous Nazi regime, which murdered millions of innocent civilians, and sought to exterminate the Jewish people. Under its banner, six million Jews were slaughtered, including millions at such infamous and inhumane concentration camps as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Treblinka. Hate groups seeking to inflict fear in Jewish communities have been known to desecrate synagogues and cemeteries with swastikas.
The Cross has been the symbol of salvation to hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide for more than 2000 years. Hate groups have used cross-burning and other forms of desecrating the Cross to terrorize African-Americans, and instill fear in communities of diversity.
“Hate crimes have to be stamped out in every corner. By taking a strong stand and putting muscle behind these laws, we’re sending a message to hate groups that we will not allow their twisted views to harass, threaten or intimidate our communities,” stated Assemblyman Alfano.
Alfano also noted that increased penalties were not the only answer to hate crime. “We need to, as communities, look out for our fellow neighbor. Neighborhood watch, civic associations and volunteer groups all have a part to play. It’s my hope that we start to practice the catch-phrase of ‘if you see something-say something’ so that we can fight hate crimes in every form,” Alfano concluded.
Monday, June 19, 2006
As part of a strategic plan to provide major relief to property taxpayers, Republican and Conservative candidate for governor John Faso today outlined measures to give local governments the ability to reduce costs and cut local property taxes. Faso’s municipal relief strategy follows other proposals that would cap school property taxes, increase STAR benefits, and reform Medicaid.
“The verdict is in: state mandates from Albany increase property taxes and are driving business and jobs from our state,” said Mr. Faso. “Localities need to make choices, but they also need to be allowed to manage their own destinies. As governor, I will not only cut taxes, but I will give local governments the ability to cut taxes, too.”
At the New York Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting, Faso outlined a number of reforms that would reform mandates on local governments, allowing them to reduce costs and lower taxes.
Among the state laws Faso recommended changing are:
-Amending the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law to ensure that taxpayers’ ability-to-pay is a factor in arbitration decisions;
-Allowing any community under the jurisdiction of a state control board to revise contracts and benefits similar to a bankruptcy in the private sector;
-Reforming the Wicks Law which adds 10-20% to public construction costs;
-Exempting projects under $1 million from prevailing wage requirements;
-Establishing an option for municipalities to use 401(k) defined contribution systems instead of defined benefit systems for new employees, and,
-Reforming the Insurance Law to allow municipal and private employers to offer Health Savings Accounts.
Faso, who was a member of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority from 2003 until just last week, said, “If my experience in Buffalo taught me anything, it is that simply increasing aid to cities does not address the underlying economic problems. For Buffalo, and nearly every other city in this state to achieve fiscal stability, we must reform laws which drive up property taxes.”
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Read, Suozzi, Faso said Spitzer tax cut plan flawed, phony
Read, Tax Cut Promises Reveal Little
Friday, June 16, 2006
Here's one to top them all --
Town asked by residents (on numerous occasions) to post speed limit signs on local waterway;
Town does nothing;
County, at residents' request, posts signs limiting speed on local waterway;
Town employees rip down County speed limit signs.
[Click HERE to view News12 clip.]
What gives? Its not even close to Election Day!
Still, here are your erstwhile Town of Hempstead employees -- Bay Constables, no less -- hard at work removing signs designed and posted to protect the public.
“Town of Hempstead spokesman Mike Deery says the town cannot allow people to put up signs where it wants,” reports News12.
"Willy-Nilly," the Town spokesman in the nice bow-tie calls it. Are you sure that tie isn't tied just a tad too tight, Mike? Nah. Its a clip-on!]
Hey Mikie, have you ever looked at the signage along Hempstead Turnpike, and other thoroughfares in the Town of Hempstead? "Got a sign? Go ahead, put it up! We guarantee that no Town employee will ever touch it!"
"Willy-Nilly" my . . .
This would all be very comical if the consequences weren't so serious.
Forget about the safety of boaters upon the waters that surround Long Island. Who cares that private property is imperiled in the wake of speeding watercraft. And never mind that the taxpayers of Nassau County -- some 700,000 of whom reside in Hempstead Town -- paid for those signs.
We expect -- and usually get -- more mature behavior from 2-year olds. [And sometimes, even from the Nassau County Legislature.]
But that's the Town of Hempstead for you. SEE A SIGN (usually your political opponent's), TEAR IT DOWN! [Unless, of course, the sign is posted illegally, whether upon a utility pole or a storefront. Then, it will stay up forever...]
Way to go, Town of Hempstead. And you tell it the way it is, Mike Deery, like a good Director of the Town's Office of Misinformation. Get the Town Board to approve a sign to protect the lives of boaters and the property of dock owners. And while you're at it, don’t forget the photo of Kate Murray, Town Supervisor…
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Until the Town and County learn to play together nicely ("She started..."), click HERE to enjoy the online interactive game, You Sunk My Battleship!
The burden of high property taxes is one of the most serious problems facing New Yorkers. Property taxes are too high, and they are placing undue strain on middle class families. Local taxes in our state have risen 60 percent in the last decade, and today they are the highest in the nation — 28 percent above the national average. And the seven U.S. cities with the highest property taxes are all in Upstate New York. We must provide property tax relief.
High property taxes damage our state in countless ways. They make it hard for young people to afford homes. They prevent seniors from staying in the homes where they raised their families. And they place a severe burden on people with fixed incomes and working families whose paychecks are not growing as fast as their tax bills.
Property taxes also harm our state’s competitiveness. They are a big reason why jobs are leaving and why we are having so much trouble attracting new jobs. Many areas of our state are stuck in a vicious cycle: high taxes are causing people and businesses to leave, but as the tax base declines, property taxes are being raised to cover expenses, causing more people and businesses to leave. We need to provide property tax relief to end this vicious cycle — and generate a cycle that fuels economic activity and lower taxes.
Direct relief will ease the tax burden in the short term, but unless we address the factors that are driving up property taxes, it won’t be long before we find ourselves in another property tax crisis. We must reduce the burden of unfunded state mandates and encourage localities to reduce the cost of government by working together to provide services more effectively.
Finally, we must make property taxes fairer by reforming the way assessments are done. Some municipalities have not done assessments for several decades. All around the state, the system lacks transparency and consistency. We must enact real reform to make the assessment process fair for all taxpayers. We must also devote significant state resources to augment and improve relief that the state is currently providing.
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Click HERE for details of the Spitzer plan
Read, Spitzer's New-Yet-Strangely-Familiar Tax Plan
Read, Spitzer outlines property tax relief plan
Read, Spitzer On STAR
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Next, a look at John Faso's position on property taxes
Thursday, June 15, 2006
New York's property taxes are 49% higher than the national average. Excluding New York City, property taxes in the rest of the state are 73% above the national average. From 1995 to 2005, property taxes in New York grew by 60%_-more than twice the rate of inflation (28%). Things are even worse downstate-taxpayers in Hamilton, Nassau, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties have tax burdens that are more than twice the statewide average, and suburban downstate property values grew by 7 percent annually from 1995 to 2005, almost five times as fast as the average annual upstate growth of 1.5 percent.
According to the Comptroller's new report, property taxes "are a major contributor to higher housing costs" in downstate suburbs. Despite STAR and state aid increases, the per-pupil property tax burden in districts outside New York City has risen by twice the rate of inflation over the past four years, shooting up 28% from 2001 to 2005. The Medicaid cap has slowed the rate of county growth; what remains uncontrolled is school board spending.
At the same time that high property taxes are hurting our downstate suburbs, failing schools are hurting NYC and other failing school districts around the state.
$2,163,554,991 of my Taxpayers Savings Plan goes to property tax relief to districts with the highest overall tax rates in counties with the highest overall taxes in the form of a new taxpayers savings program that offers a reduction in tax payments paid directly to property tax payers in these high tax rate districts in highly taxed counties.
Money in this plan goes largely to the downstate counties Comptroller Hevesi identifies as having the highest property taxes, which are the same counties that receive the lowest shares of state education aid. Nassau, for instance, gets only 17% of its school funding from the state, while the state average for local aid is 37%. On a per student basis, Nassau has 7.5% of the state's students, yet receives less than 4% of total state aid.
Counties that average less than $5,500 in per student state aid are given property tax relief equal to the difference between $5,500 and what they presently receive in per student state aid in direct property tax relief. Within each county that money is distributed in inverse proportion to the property tax rate.
In plain English, state property tax money is sent to school districts with less commercial property or lower property values—which as such need higher tax rates to fund their local share of education spending. By determining what each district has to assess per hundred thousand dollars of property value to raise the same amount of money per student up to a reasonable limit, this formula ensures that aid is targeted at higher need areas, not merely areas that choose not to control spending.
Even after this plan, these wealthier counties will still be receiving significantly less than an even share of state aid per student, but the gap will be lessened, even as the tax rate gap between districts in these counties is reduced.
For property tax payers to receive these (recurring) monies, their school districts must agree to implement a five year spending plan with no more than a 5% average annual spending increase over the five years, and no more than 8% in any given year (to allow for short term shortfalls). For those districts that do not agree, the money is instead distributed countywide to provide county property tax relief.
Click Here for full text of Tom Suozzi's remarks.
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Read, Capitol Confidential, Suozzi Goes To Town
Click HERE for High Taxes New York, interesting and informative reading from The Public Policy Institute
Read, Governor rivals tell tax plans
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Next up, Eliot Spitzer On Property Taxes
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Homeowners in New York will, indeed, be getting a check in the mail sometime before Election Day, both the Assembly and the Senate passing a measure that "rebates" an average of $250 to property taxpayers.
Those in areas where the property taxes are highest -- i.e., Westchester and Nassau counties -- will see slightly higher amounts in their rebate checks, as will seniors.
Whatever the amount of the check, forget about either spending it all in one place, or, for that matter, spending it all. As a property tax refund, you will owe State income taxes on any money you receive. The Legislature giveth, and the Legislature taketh away!
The property tax rebate is the second coming for the New York State Legislature, whose initial foray into buying votes -- an intended rebate program as part and parcel of this year's budget -- was scuttled by the Governor as "unconstitutional."
"Property taxes were the first and only issue we talked about when the Senate Republicans sat down at the beginning of the year," Senator Michael A. L. Balboni, a Republican from Nassau County, told The New York Times.
"When we went down the list, saying what's the priority, it was property taxes, property taxes, property taxes," Mr. Balboni said. "God put Republicans on this earth to cut taxes." [God, it should be known, also told George Bush that he should run for president, and later, that he should invade Iraq (as in, Who Would Jesus Bomb?). And, lest we forget, He also warned Pat Robertson about the tsunami. If these are the people God is talking to nowadays, it kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?]
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (to whom God speaks only through an aide), in highlighting the legislation, pointed to "other tax relief for working families achieved in this year, including the child tax credit, capping the gasoline tax and the elimination of both the sales tax on clothing and the marriage penalty tax."
Yup, these measures have really saved New Yorkers a bundle, haven't they? We venture an educated guess that the property tax rebate will afford homeowners about as much relief from the onerous tax as the cap on the gasoline tax has saved them at the pump!
So, what has the State Legislature really done this session in terms of reform vis-a-vis the arcane and regressive property tax, other than to offer an olive branch to voters in the form of a rebate check, while sheathing the property tax machete behind legislators' backs, ready to strike with the next property tax bill? Uhhh, absolutely nothing.
And what are voters going to do in November, when every seat in the New York State Legislature will be up for grabs? Wait for God to speak to them in the voting booth, we suppose.
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God does not speak through or to The Community Alliance. He does, however, approve this message.
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Click HERE to read Harvey Levinson's Letter Published In Newsday On 6-4-06 Regarding “STAR” Program Rebate Checks (PDF)
Click HERE to read Lawrence Levy's, Fear Could Press Pols To Do More Than A Rebate
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In 1999, the NEW JERSEY State Legislature devised a similar property tax rebate, signed into law by then NJ Governor Christine Whitman. Opponents criticized the plan as falling short of true property tax reform.
Today, New Jersey's property taxes continue to rise, annual rebates notwithstanding, leaving New Jersey homeowners with a property tax levy that is among the highest in the nation [Not to worry, New York. You're still #1!], and the Garden State deeply in debt.
Apparently, the lessons of history do not cross the Hudson River, or waft their way from the State House in Trenton to the Legislative Chambers in Albany.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Cronyism and patronage know no boundaries – not even those of Nassau’s first Empire Zone.
With the nominations now in for the Board of the local Empire Zone – which includes areas within Bethpage (at the former Grumman site), Elmont, Inwood, New Cassel, Roosevelt, Uniondale, Glen Cove, West Hempstead, Freeport and the Village of Hempstead – it becomes apparent that favor and politics – and not the “community activists,” as advertised – rule the roost over who will decide the economic future of these communities.
Nominated to the Board by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi are:
Suozzi, as chairman.
Pascual Blanco, president of Intra-World Development Associates, Inc., which specializes in community economic development and strategic planning, in Glen Cove.
Daniel Cooper, employee relations specialist at Northrop Grumman Corp.
Chris Fusco, service representative for the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters.
Suzy Sonenberg, executive director of the Long Island Community Foundation, a philanthropic trust.
Roy Smitheimer, executive director of the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District.
Nominated to the Board by Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray are:
Angelo Corva, owner of Angelo Francis Corva & Associates, Architects, based in Manhasset.
Albert D'Agostino, partner at the Valley Stream law firm of Minerva & D'Agostino P.C., specializing planning, land use and zoning.
Kenneth Mott, owner and manager of Harry's Auto Body in Lynbrook.
Cheryl Petri, deputy town attorney for the Town of Hempstead.
Kuldeap Krish Prasad, training supervisor for American Airlines, is a resident who lives within the Empire Zone, in West Hempstead.
We all know, and have come to understand, that patronage and party loyalty play a part in the selection process of appointees to agency boards and administrative bodies. This comes with the territory, and dates back, no doubt, to Biblical times, when God appointed Seth to step in to fill his brother’s shoes after Cain killed Abel.
Still, shouldn’t there be some semblance of merit – or at the very least, a demonstration of commitment to community?
According to the press release sent to the media by Souzzi’s office, the appointees “include business and labor leaders, community activists and government officials.”
Okay, we see the labor leaders, business owners, and government officials, but for goodness sake, where are the “community activists?”
The closest anyone comes here, arguably (though hardly with a straight face), is the nod given by the Town of Hempstead to one Kuldeap Krish Prased, “training supervisor for American Airlines, (and) a resident who lives within the Empire Zone, in West Hempstead.”
He’s not a business or a labor leader – his training duties at American Airlines aside – and while he may have connections to government (as in contributor to the party – in this instance, the GOP), he is not a government official. We must make the assumption, then, that Kuldeap Krish Prased earned his appointment to the Empire Zone Board by virtue of his many years as a “community activist.”
We’ll acknowledge that Mr. Prased resides in a community that comes under the influence of the newly created Empire Zone. But a “community activist?”
Is Mr. Prased a member of the local civic association? Is he active in the affairs of his community? Rotary? Kiwanis? Lions? Chamber of Commerce? [They have something to do with business, don’t they?]
The Community Alliance took an informal (and most unscientific) survey of leaders of the community from which Mr. Prased hails. Surprise. No one has ever heard of him.
So maybe he works behind the scenes – other than on the political campaigns of those to whom he owes thanks for this appointment. The so-called “stealth” community activist. Then again, maybe not. Surely, someone in the forefront of community would have at least heard of Mr. Prased (or found his name on the membership roster of a local community organization, or two). Nothing! This resident of West Hempstead is not even on the radar screen.
And where are the "Community Activist" nominees from Elmont, the Village of Hempstead, Inwood, Freeport, New Cassel, Roosevelt, and Uniondale?
Not a one to be found on the “list” submitted for the County Legislature’s approval. In fact, almost to a person, the nominees do not come from the communities of which the Empire Zone is comprised.
"The leaders whom we have nominated bring varied talents and impressive private sector experience to this very important project," Suozzi said.
You have a nice Board of Directors, Tom, with apparently impressive credentials, but no one (or should we say, no one who is a local "community activist") representing the rank-and-file residents who, ultimately, will bear the full impact -- and the property tax consequences -- of decisions made by this Board.
To say that this list of "nominees" is a disappointment from the community perspective would be an understatement -- surely not unanticipated, but certainly an understatement.
Where among the nominees to the Empire Zone Board are the names of those who toil tirelessly to build better communities, to improve both aesthetics and economics, and who, over these many years, fought the good fight that led to the creation of Nassau County’s Empire Zone? Nowhere to be found, we’re afraid.
The true “friends of community” have been passed over, discarded like yesterday’s trash (you knew we’d get the Sanitary Districts in here somehow); their gallant, and sometimes Herculean efforts dismissed; their commitment to tomorrow overlooked.
We don’t hold it against either Tom or Kate for appointing friends, presuming these friends are qualified. Who else are you going to appoint, your enemies? [Of course, there is something to be said for the old maxim, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”]
As critical to the economic rebirth of Nassau County as the Empire Zone is, however, we would have thought that at least passing consideration for appointment would have been given to the “community activists” who put it all on the line for their hometowns, day in and day out.
Instead, in the politically induced world of patronage appointments, it is apparent that those -- and those alone -- who curry favor, get the call. The only homage paid to the community activists was, sadly, the lip-service of honorable mention by reference in a press release. And that’s too bad, not only for the “activists,” who work so hard for their communities, but for all of us.
Hopefully, going forward, there will be more – or at least some -- tangible input from the real "activists" of the communities within the Empire Zone, and not merely marginal participation through those who may well bring "varied talents and impressive private sector experience" to the Board, but little or no working day-to-day relationship with either the residents or business owners whose lives and livelihoods are central to these communities.
For now, the fate of the respective nominees is in the hands of the Nassau County Legislators, who must give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” to their appointment.
Perhaps the best we could hope for is that our County Legislators (recently labeled by The New York Times as “a den of goofballs” – they were being kind) continue to follow what has become their modus operandi – not showing up for committee meetings or floor votes. Without a quorum for a vote in the Legislature, our County may yet be safe for democracy!
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So, who can we blame for yet another fine mess we find ourselves in? Our elected officials, who spend more time, energy, and taxpayer dollars on self-preservation and self-promotion than on the will and work of the people they are lawfully bound to serve? Do we fault the electorate – voter and non-voter alike – for abrogating duty and giving us government by mediocrity?
No sir. We say, point that finger in the direction of the guy who forever more will be the root of all evil. [No, not Bin Laden.] Blame Tax Assessor, Harvey Levinson. Its all his fault!
Monday, June 12, 2006
“Too often, I hear cries of why we cannot do something or why we should not do something for fear of change. To the advocates of the status quo, I say that your time has passed. If we are going to help ease the property tax burden imposed on homeowners and business owners, we need visionaries – not obstructionists with selfserving agendas trying to protect their own fiefdoms.”
HARVEY B. LEVINSON
Chairman, Nassau County Board of Assessors
OUTLINE OF ASSESSOR LEVINSON’S SPECIAL TAXING DISTRICT PROPOSALS AND SPECIAL DISTRICT TAX SUMMARY TABLES
· Recommend the dissolution of commissioner operated and town operated special districts.
· All services previously provided by commissioner operated special districts, such as sanitary districts, should be provided by each town directly.
· Once under town control, all properties in the unincorporated areas would pay a single property tax rate for all town services, as residents in villages and cities do.
· Personnel currently employed by a special taxing district would remain in place as town employees.
· The tax rate for services would appear on the tax bill as: “Unincorporated Services Fund.”
· Numerous special taxing district lines would no longer be necessary. The new tax bill would have two line entries: “Town General Fund” and “Unincorporated Services Fund.”
· The tax rate for unincorporated services would be based on the total assessed value of all properties throughout the unincorporated areas of the town.
· Comprehensive legislative reform to be sought in Albany to implement proposal.
· Fire Districts, while retaining their local identity, would no longer operate or be treated as separate taxing jurisdictions. Budgets would be submitted to the town for review and approval.
· Establish a Nassau County Water Authority similar to Suffolk County. Widely varying water tax rates would be replaced with a tariff charge based on water usage and a uniform property tax rate based on a total countywide assessed value.
ADVANTAGES OF THE PROPOSALS
1. Low income senior citizens and veterans would see substantial reductions in their property tax bills because exemptions would be applied to the “Unincorporated Services Fund.” Presently, the exemptions do not apply to special districts.
2. Eliminates assessment disparities and widely different tax rates imposed on homeowners throughout the unincorporated areas of the towns.
3. Allows the commercial tax base to be shared within each town.
4. Reduces the confusing multitude of special district taxing jurisdictions.
5. Increases oversight over the delivery of municipal services.
6. Utilities would not be able to avoid paying their fair share of the cost of services. (The Court of Appeals has ruled that utilities do not have to pay special district payments [ad valorem levies] unless they are directly benefited by the districts.)
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Friday, June 09, 2006
The first-ever County-wide conference on the status and fate of the so-called Special Districts -- semi-autonomous governmental agencies that provide services from Fire to Water (and levy taxes to pay for same), often with little or no independent oversight -- was held on June 8th at Hofstra University.
Over the next several weeks, The Community Alliance will analyze, reflect upon, and pass along information, concerns and ideas gathered from those who attended and participated in this important forum.
Today, we are pleased to publish the prepared text of the speech presented by Laura Mallay, resident of South Hempstead (within Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 2), who, in recent months, has spearheaded the organization of a grassroots taxpayer group, Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD).
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On the 31st of March, of last year, the Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson, held a town hall meeting to discuss Special District Taxes. As residents of South Hempstead, Baldwin Oaks, and North Rockville Centre packed themselves into the Covert School auditorium, Levinson informed us all that we have the highest Fire Tax rate in Nassau County, adding a definitive insult to our injury of being the 2nd highest taxed community in regard to Sanitation. As the gasps of shock made their way through the room, our Fire District acknowledged that even they were unaware of their status as the highest tax rate in the county.
This meeting was meant to be informative but was unfortunately derailed from its cause when it escalated into a protest by the South Hempstead Fire District. Firefighters from many surrounding Communities attended in their full dress uniforms. With their trucks outside, their uniforms on, and their fellow firefighters by their side, the South Hempstead Fire District arrived to change the night from "informative" to "anti-consolidation." With the intention of the meeting lost in the may-lay. Many residents left the now adversarial meeting with a bad taste in their mouth.
Thus my journey began. While others looked at the Fire District as the source of, and thereby solution to, the problem, I focused my attention on Sanitation District # 2. It did not take me long to realize, that were my sanitation district an actual commercial business, it would most definitely be bankrupt.
My initial course of action was to contact my elected officials, so I attended meetings. At one of these meetings a Town of Hempstead official told me as well as a room full of other people that the residents of Sanitation District # 2 "don't mind paying twice as much to have [their] garbage picked up." Town officials also told us that they had no power over these Special Districts and that "if [we] want[ed] change, we should run for commissioner." So that is exactly what I decided to do.
Early on in my campaign for Sanitation Commissioner it became clear that the very same Town of Hempstead officials who advised me to run were in fact working against me. They held a number of meetings in support of my opponent, advising him on how best to beat me, one of which was held just 3 days prior to the election.
The Board of Commissioners of Sanitation District # 2 as well as the entire workforce ardently campaigned against me. On the day before the election, Sanitation District # 2 used tax dollars to print a flyer denouncing me and my tax cutting ideas and workers, while being paid by the taxpayers, were told to distribute these leaflets to the electorate.
On the day of the election, because Sanitation District #2 gets to make their own election rules, they positioned District Supervisors outside the polling places, electioneering and intimidating voters. The police were called to polling places multiple times.
Unfortunately, it did not stop there. This is as local as politics gets; it's neighbor vs. neighbor. Workers were being told by their supervisors that if I won, they would all lose their jobs. As a result, I was stopped on the street by angry workers and became the recipient of many threatening phone calls.
To this day I am still the target of retribution all because I spoke up for the over taxed residents of my community. I am not here for sympathy, but to demonstrate firsthand what the average tax-payer is up against when it comes to Special Districts. These districts are tax Payer financed clubs for a select few.
Please remember, that the majority of volunteer firefighters and sanitation workers are the same overtaxed residents. There are long standing political forces in Nassau County that perpetuate fear in these workers. They have been lead to believe that consolidation will result in the loss of their jobs and fire houses, leaving neighborhoods unprotected. While in reality, it is the upper management positions in these districts that have the most to loose by consolidating.
A number of citizens have banded together to form a new group called the Residents for Efficient Special Districts. Our group has developed some short term solutions we believe will improve the level of accountability and transparency of the special districts.
1. We want to see councilmatic districts within these Special Districts. Presently we have a "Taxation without representation" situation going on here. In Sanitation District #2, four of the five commissioners live within a 5 block radius of one another, which leaves far too many taxpayers unrepresented.
2. We also want to see the county Board of Elections take over the administration of these special district votes and have all the voting take place on Election Day in November.
We believe that the only long term solution is to consolidate these special districts in order to lower our tax burden.
The tax problem in Nassau County is harming the community that we all cherish. New and old residents are being driven away and we are only suffering more.
The future has two options: we must either reform the current dysfunctional system or continue to suffer "Death by Government."
I hope that we can walk away from this forum knowing that reducing the tax burden on our residents is the number one priority of our elected officials.
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Thank YOU, Laura, for taking up the cause of community in such a vocal, visible and productive way. Those wishing to learn more about, and perhaps get involved in the activities of Residents For Efficient Special Districts (RESD) should send an e-mail to RESD@aol.com.
If there is to be true reform of the Special Districts, that change has to start with basic, grassroots community involvement. That means YOU!
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As a relevant aside, it should be noted that Kate Murray, Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, was in attendance at the Special District conference. The Town of Hempstead holds a special place near and dear to the Special District dilemma, as readers of this blog well know. [The Town's fallback position has always been that residents "enjoy" the services they receive via the Special Districts (and are, therefore, willing to pay whatever price, be it excessive, exorbitant, or bordering on legalized extortion), and that the Town has "no control" over the Special Districts (a fallacy belied by the fact that the patronage staffing/blessing of the Special Districts -- from Supervisors to Commissioners to General Counsel -- all flows from Town Hall and/or County GOP headquarters in Westbury).
Several sources informed The Community Alliance that while Ms. Murray welcomed the opportunity to join the discussion about the Special Districts, she would need to hear "the will of the people" before the Town moves to take over the Special Districts.
Kate, hold off on the glossy mailings and the formal polling. We can already tell you what the good people who live in the Sanitary Districts want. They want to pay twice as much -- or even four times the going rate -- for service equal in quality (by your own admission) to that currently offered directly by Town of Hempstead Sanitation. Don't you know, Kate, we "enjoy" paying more!
Well, at least she didn't blame it all on Nassau County Assessor, Harvey Levinson. [Harvey's got enough to carry on his shoulders, given that he's personally responsible for, among other evils, the war in Iraq, the Bird Flu epidemic, and the successful return of the Dixie Chicks!]
Thursday, June 08, 2006
The idea behind the New York Lottery was that revenues would be used to fund educational initiatives. The belief held by most New Yorkers is that money raised by the Lottery goes to education, exclusively.
In fact, The New York Lottery folks themselves tell us, via the official website, that, for fiscal year 2004-05, some $2.063 billion was earmarked as "aid to education."
Why, Lottery officials will even show you how much money has gone to schools county-by-county, school district-by-school district.
Sure, $2.063 billion sounds like alot of money, but it pales when compared to the $18.42 billion that had to be raised (in 2003-04) through local tax levies (read as, PROPERTY TAXES).
The New York Constitution, as amended in 1966, mandates that revenues raised through the lottery be used in support of education. The official website of New York State government confirms this, and tells us as well that the Lottery's contribution "represents 59% of the total Aid to Education budget." [An odd statement passed off as fact, given the Lottery officials' claim that, for 2003-04, State sources of Aid to Education, "other than the Lottery," amounted to $15.46 billion. Somehow, the Lottery's contribution of $2.063 billion to the State Aid pie doesn't seem to jive with the percentage proffered by the State. Must be the magic of creative accounting!]
There is, you should know, a special fund, maintained by the New York State Comptroller, into which Lottery revenues flow. So what the fellas in Albany are telling us about Lottery revenues funding education must be true, right? Lottery revenues are earmarked for education, and those monies boost State Aid to local school districts.
Well, not exactly.
In 1998, then NYS Comptroller H. Carl McCall issued a report entitled, The New York Lottery Role in Financing Education.
In this report, Mr. McCall said:
By dedicating it to education, there is an implied promise that the lottery will increase school aid. This has never happened in New York. The legislative debates on the lottery in the early 1960s consistently described the lottery as being dedicated to education, but promises that it would actually increase the aid that schools would have received anyway were not generally made.
Efforts to ensure that the lottery would serve as a supplement were not visible until after the voters had approved the lottery. Over the years, governors have consistently contributed to the popular perception that the lottery provided additional funding. The lottery was approved during a period when state government spending and public school enrollment were both increasing rapidly. Short-sighted budget actions resulted in the need to raise revenues substantially; the lottery was approved by the Legislature after it acted to increase taxes -- including imposition of a 2 percent sales tax -- by nineteen percent.
State budgets and Lottery Division marketing materials have consistently referred to the lottery as being used "in support of education." However, there has never been a real effort in the state's school aid formula to provide that lottery funds would be a supplement, although such "maintenance of effort" provisions have been employed for other dedicated revenue sources. In fact, an examination of the aid formula demonstrates that the lottery does not affect total aid received by schools.
The evidence that the lottery is no different from other revenue sources is bolstered by examining past instances when the lottery was used to close budget gaps. These actions have been taken by at least three governors, starting in the year that the lottery was implemented.
Mr. McCall went on to tell us -- as if anyone was listening, then or now -- what many of us already know, and have been clamoring about for years -- "it's not the revenues, it's those complex and inequitable State Aid formulae."
In New York, state aid is apportioned to school districts through a complex web of formulas. In all, there are more than 40 formula and grant programs, many of which are altered annually in the budget enacted by the Legislature. Each year the aid allocation is driven by negotiations about the size of the increase overall and regional shares of aid. The legislators themselves and the Executive typically only focus on the broad figures, and the annual alterations to the formulas are carried out by a small group of technicians who are conversant with the mechanics of the aid distribution. Although the lottery revenues partially support each year's aid, there is no direct relationship between these revenues and either the overall amount of aid allocated, or its distribution among individual school districts. . .
The preponderance of the lottery funds are funneled through an obscure "lottery formula" which theoretically calculates the aid amounts going to school districts based on an aid ratio, the number of pupils in each district and the lottery funds appropriated overall. In actuality, however, this formula has no impact on aid received because the amounts calculated through it are literally deducted from the amounts calculated under other aid formulas. In every case, this aid calculation equals an amount less than the sum of the other aid formulas, and the lottery aid calculation thus has absolutely no impact on the annual aid allocation each district receives. . .
[Are you still with us, folks?]
Truth is, while technically "dedicated" to education, Lottery revenues are as much a part of the General Fund (under the Lottery Aid to Education account) as are your State income tax dollars, subject to the will -- and, apparently, the whim -- of the Governor and the Legislature, and at the mercy -- as the often lopsided distribution among the various school districts throughout New York demonstrates -- of the State Aid formulae.
Paul Feiner, then a Westchester County Legislator, and now the Supervisor for the Town of Greenburgh, opined in 1991:
New Yorkers are misled into thinking that an increase in lottery purchases translates into more funds for school districts, as this year's state budget process makes clear. For years we have been told by our state legislators that revenue from the lottery goes directly to our schools. We have been advised that if we purchase more lottery tickets, our schools will receive more state aid. This promise has not been kept.
A call to the New York State Division of the Lottery showed that the lottery raised over $4 million more in ticket purchases than last year. Yet, school districts in Westchester County and elsewhere in New York State are receiving substantially less from the state than they received last year. The Central 7 School District in Greenburgh, for example, will have a 31.4 percent decrease from 1990-91. School districts in Putnam and Westchester counties alone will lose $52 million in state aid.
The reduction in state aid for education has nothing to do with lottery revenues. It is obvious that lottery purchases do not have an impact on the amount the state gives our school districts. State legislators should not continue to mislead lottery purchasers into thinking that every ticket purchased is helping local schools.
One solution to this consumer misrepresentation would be for state lawmakers to give local school districts a certain percentage from lottery tickets purchased at stores in their districts. This suggestion would help school districts from all over the state, and encourage people to purchase lottery tickets in their hometowns.
A more useful, if not practical suggestion might be to identify net lottery revenues honestly as going to the State's general fund. Despite the hype that they support education, lottery revenues are really included with the stream of income that the State gathers to finance everything from State Troopers to member items slated for the refurbishing of a local Son's of Italy hall.
How to finance education equitably is still, all these years since the Lottery was established in New York back in the 60s, an open question -- directives of the courts and opinions of experts in the field notwithstanding. It requires comprehensive solutions the foundation of which mandates the State to recognize that there are rich and poor school districts, and that revenue sources -- such as personal income, property and sales taxes, fees, and, yes, Lottery revenues -- have to be allocated for education purposes with justification and evenhandedness. Moreover it is encumbent upon our State Legislature, at long last, to scrap the existing State Aid formulae, with the method and means of revenue raising for our schools left neither to caprice nor to arcane formulations that would spin the head of Pythagoras.
Meanwhile, the New York Lotto Jackpot is now 35 million dollars. That's 35 million dollars. . .
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Click HERE to read, Money, Money, Who Has The Money?, a report on how New York State gets its money, as prepared by the League of Women Voters of New York State.
Click HERE to read, The Lottery Racket.
Click HERE to read, Funding A Sound Basic Education For All New York's Children, as prepared by the Fiscal Policy Institute.