Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Voice Of The People: Tony Brita

Its All About Taxes

Tony Brita of West Hempstead speaks before the NYS Commission on Local Government Competitiveness and Efficiency:

Good afternoon, my name is Tony Brita and I am a member of the West Hempstead school board. Before I begin, I would like to state for the record that my opinions expressed here today do not represent the views of either the West Hempstead School Board or the West Hempstead Union Free School District. I commend Governor Spitzer and the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness for sponsoring today’s forum and I am encouraged to see that the Governor has brought the issue of school taxes to the forefront. I hope that some of the ideas discussed here today will lead to potential solutions in the near future and that someday soon these types of forums become a relic of the past.

As you can probably tell from the lack of a browbeaten and stressed expression on my face, I am a brand new school board member. I was elected in West Hempstead this past May. On Election Day, I went to the polls at 6:00 a.m. and made a sincere effort to shake everyone’s hand I could before they went into vote. Of course, this being Long Island, the handshake was often quickly followed by a litany of opinions regarding pretty much everything under the sun pertaining to public education. Unsurprisingly, the most common concern was school taxes. And this was not confined to any particular demographic. Senior citizens, single men and women, married couples with families and so on all voiced their grave dismay at the seemingly inexorable annual increases in school taxes. I can not think of any other single issue on Long Island that generates such a consensus of opinion.

Our politicians in Albany arguably face no greater challenge than finding a fair and equitable solution to school funding. The progress made to date has left many questioning whether the current membership in the State Assembly and Senate is up for this difficult and complex task. There will be much talk today of consolidating school districts and centralizing “back office” functions. While I believe, on the surface at least, that some level of consolidation appears appropriate and reasonable, it is an option that needs to be carefully analyzed and assessed before being implemented. In this case, the devil is truly in the details. Yet consolidation alone will not remedy all of the problems regarding high school taxes. Of equal if not more importance, our elected officials must identify a solution that shares the burden of school funding more equitably between local taxpayers, who bear the brunt through their property taxes, and the State which bears a much lower burden in comparison with other states.

A company I used to work for had a marketing slogan that said “It’s not how many ideas you have, it’s how many you make happen.” Now, the only reason I remember this slogan is because it’s on the back of a t-shirt I wear all the time and my wife keeps henpecking me to throw it out. The point is, many good ideas already exist today, some of which we will hear shortly. It is incumbent upon our politicians to begin making these good ideas happen. If they fail to rise to this challenge, we as citizens living in a democracy have a right, and, for the sake of our children, a moral imperative to elect public officials who will.

I thank Governor Spitzer and the Commission for allowing me this opportunity to speak and I look forward to the panel discussion to follow. Thank you.
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Mr. Brita is a founding member of Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), and was recently elected to the Board of Education in West Hempstead.

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