Monday, January 28, 2008

Long Island First!

From Affordable Housing To Property Taxes, Fix Long Island And You'll Fix New York

Martin Cantor, Director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College, tells us why it is imperative, on both the economic and social fronts, to start at home.

Upstate is hurting. So is Long Island.

Upstate needs an infusion not only of money, but of new ideas, bold vision, and innovative leadership. So does Long Island.

A lack of workforce housing, the departure of young and old alike, the ever-escalating property tax, all having a devastating impact upon the landscape of upstate New York. Welcome to what Long Island has endured and continues to face as we drift into the seventh year of our new century.

If we are to truly rebuild New York, we must be true to the Governor's call of Day One that we be One New York.

As upstate goes, so goes the rest of New York. Indeed.

Still, until we are able to shore up our own house here in the backyard of America's oldest suburb, we will be in no position to bolster the economy of the suburbs of Buffalo, or build affordable houses and improve the quality of life of those who call upstate home.

Upstate needs the attention of our Governor and our State Legislature, without doubt. Long Island must not be either ignored or shortchanged in the process, however, for our State, as our nation, divided, shall not long stand, and a revitalized upstate without a fluorishing Long Island, works to the long-term benefit of neither.
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From Newsday:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, develop Long Island first

The state budget proposed last week by Gov. Eliot Spitzer in broad strokes has to leave Long Islanders asking lots of questions about what the details will hold. Because without certain structural changes in how localities do their business, throwing millions of state dollars at some of our biggest problems will not solve them.

And we have to question as well Spitzer's plan to devote $1 billion to jump-starting the long-stagnant upstate economy. Is this going to give the entire state as much of a boost as investing more toward growing the economy of Long Island?

The issue is not so much the amount of money in the budget, but where and how it would be spent - and how much the state is willing to muscle in on local government authority. Take the governor's $400-million affordable housing initiative, $100 million of which is reserved for upstate. Will the $300 million for the downstate region be effective in stemming the outflow of young people from Long Island?

One way to tell is to see if the plan just subsidizes first-time homeowner costs, which is likely to leave the overall supply of affordable housing relatively unchanged, as many young people move into existing homes. Or does it contain incentives for communities to create special areas where developers could erect more units than current zoning allows (thus increasing the builder's potential for profits) - provided that a certain percentage of the units are affordable? This idea, which some Long Island state legislators have been promoting unsuccessfully for years, is a sure way to add a substantial amount of affordable units.

And will the $300 million pay for the sewers and other infrastructure necessary for Long Island to support the projected 120,000 units of affordable housing that the region needs? The big issue the state must face is that many Long Islanders talk the talk of affordable housing but resist walking the walk. Town supervisors speak passionately of the need for affordable housing, but don't really want to live with the taller and denser building it requires.

Before taxpayer dollars are invested in housing, shouldn't we see if towns will be required to demand that builders include affordable housing as part of any new development? State legislation to make this law wouldn't cost taxpayers a cent. Will Spitzer propose this?

Another question: Does the governor's spending plan enhance the transfer of development rights? In this transfer, a town allows a landholder of property it wants to protect from development (such as farmland) to sell his development rights to a developer, who agrees to build in an area where the town wants to put housing, such as a downtown, where the zoning will allow greater density and thus greater profits.While many local officials have lauded this no-cost-to-taxpayer program, few want their towns to be what are called "receiving areas" for high-density housing. To support workforce housing, perhaps the state should provide aid only to towns that are willing to engage in the transfer of development rights. Without the state's financial support, it strains credibility that local officials would support any such program, or the governor's housing initiative. Throwing housing money at towns that won't transfer rights merely rewards them for not doing what they already have the power, but not the will, to do.

As for spending $1 billion upstate on strategic investments likely to produce jobs and stimulate the economy, it makes more sense to invest in Long Island.

Jobs have been disappearing from upstate for decades, and along with them young people. Providing $100 million for housing for a younger workforce when there are no jobs makes little sense. If the thought is to attract Canadian businesses to relocate across the border, recall that previous such efforts through free-trade agreements have failed. Since enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the upstate economy has continued to erode, illustrating the difficulty in attracting Canadian businesses. Canada fought tenaciously to keep its businesses then and will do the same today. It costs less for Canada to keep its businesses than for New York State to attract them.

With the state economy heading close to recession, it is not a good time to be heavily investing in a region that has been failing for decades. When the downstate economy starts picking up, the state should use the resulting growth in sales and income tax revenues to invest upstate.

On another major problem facing the Island - the school property tax crisis - the governor's plan would exacerbate the problem by reducing aid to Long Island education. Then it delays confronting the issue by establishing yet another commission to study the problem. There is only one way to bring meaningful relief to property-tax payers, while also injecting significant economic activity. That is the proposal by State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) that will permanently reduce regional property taxes by nearly 50 percent just by making teachers state employees and capping spending on the balance of school budgets. The additional funding proposed by the governor this year could be the first installment toward that effort. Another benefit is that reducing property taxes decreases the cost of living on Long Island and upstate, which engages the housing market pressures of supply and demand, resulting in existing housing becoming more affordable and more plentiful than any workforce housing plan can create. The governor has some important choices to make.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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