Saturday, February 28, 2009

Let's See. NYS Deficit: $13 Billion

Federal Stimulus $$$ To New York: $25 Billion. Problem Solved?

In theory, the deficit in Albany -- and any foreseen shortfall for next year -- should be erased. Health cuts restored. Scholl funding secured. Tax hikes shelved. Everybody goes home happy. Right?

Well, not exactly.

Like almost all federal spending, the approximately $25 billion that should come New York's way is, for the most part, specifically earmarked.

Yes. Education. Yes. Health care. Yes. Infrastructure.

Upstate New York will get a fair share (some say more than fair). Exactly what stimulus money will flow to Long Island remains to be seen.

Then there are those special projects. You know, the pork.

There are approximately $7.7 billion in disclosed earmarks for various politicians' pet projects; 230 of those earmarks have New York pols' names attached. Locally, these include $381,000 for music education programs at Jazz at Lincoln Center, $277 million for the Second Avenue subway, and $210 million to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central. Watchdog groups argue that many of these special projects—such as $950,000 for a pedestrian bridge in Poughkeepsie (a bridge in nowhere?)—win funding based on each politicians' power, not because of the projects' merits.

The feds promise transparency and accountability. Indeed, they've set up a recovery website so we, the people, can see exactly where every stimulus dollar goes and is being spent. New York has put out an online guide, offers updates by e-mail or snail mail, and even welcomes your ideas for how the stimulus money should be spent.

Click HERE for a preliminary breakdown of where the stimulus dollars will be directed in New York. Then, watch the pot on a regular basis.

It is, after all, your money!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is Long Island Sustainable?

Smart Growth Versus The Environment: At What Cost Suburbia?

Here at The Community Alliance, "Smart Growth" has become a mantra of sorts -- the homage to walkable downtowns that defy the strip malling of suburban communities.

Yet, is Long Island really making any progess toward the eradication of the blighting of suburbia or in the reversal of ever-encroaching suburban sprawl?

Clearly, "Smart Growth" entails so much more than the planting of a row of Victorian-style street lamps on a block or two along the turnpike, just as "sustainability" must take into account the nature of the suburban lifestyle as well as the nature of what the suburbs have evolved into over the last sixty mostly odd years.

Just what are we sustaining on Long Island, anyway? Egregious property taxes? Crumbling infrastructure? Unaffordable housing? Fiefdoms of yesteryear that masquerade as local government?

And what of our open spaces, few though they may be? Is there anything left to preserve that is green? Are our parks, already strained by years of neglect and now threatened, by dint of fiscal constraints, with complete abandonment, destined to go the way of the drive-in movie?

Our friends, Neal Lewis of the Long Island Neighborhood Network and Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, battle daily on the front lines, agonizing over efforts to "grow" Long Island into a 21st century suburban showplace, while, at the same time, preserving that which brought folks to the island in the first place -- fresh air, clean water, pristine beaches, and the vision of a truly utopian suburbia.

Can we sustain and preserve that which is good about our island while, at the same time, engaging the principles -- as well as economic realities and physical practicalities -- of "Smart Growth"?

Of course we can. All it takes to accomplish the seemingly impossible, without attempting to turn back the clock to the 1950s, is vision, leadership, and a sharp and undeterred focus on the future.

We can not only see the trees for the forest. We can save those trees, while still creating a Long Island that, in more than mere rhetoric, is sustainable, walkable, and livable.
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From Long Island Business News:

Controversy Growing Over Long Island Land Preservation

At war over what's best for Long Island -- 1,401 square miles, population of some 7.6 million -- environmentalists envision the island ''without McMansions,'' want to rein in developers before there is ''a Best Buy or Stop & Shop on every street corner,'' and seek protection for 35,000 acres, to save its quality of life, its environment, and its vital farming, fishing and tourism industries, while market advocates argue against hurting the economy and taxpayers, reports Long Island Business News writer Michael H. Samuels, with a peacemaker, Neighborhood Network Executive Director Neal Lewis, hoping both sides will eventually see common interests in smart growth and more housing options.

So far, ''(a)ll it takes is one trip down nearly any major road on Long Island, where strip malls and big-box stores clutter the landscape, to note that environmentalists have every right to distrust developers,'' the writer observes, quoting Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Dick Amper. ''They seem perfectly willing to destroy all that is great about Long Island regardless of the consequences for Long Island's future,'' he said, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito adding that another 35,000 acres for preservation ''may sound like a lot, but it really isn't,'' because if viewed ''in the context of how much has already been developed on Long Island, we're already talking about what's left, not about what was lost.''

On the other side, Association for a Better Long Island (ABLI) Executive Director Desmond Ryan calls the proposal ''grandiose,'' asking himself ''who is paying'' for land conservation. ''The reality is that the taxpayers are hemorrhaging big time,'' he replies, describing their payments as fourfold -- to buy land, finance debt services, forego taxes and eliminate any potential new revenue, all of which doesn't include open space maintenance costs. He also considers Director Amper an extremist. ''Long Island is about 2 percent of the national economy,'' he argues. ''Of that a third is tied to real estate. That's people who buy a house, buy carpets, put on a new roof and buy appliances. There is a spin-off effect that plays a vital role from an economic aspect.''

And ABLI President Mitchell Rechler, co-managing partner of Rechler Equity Partners, notes that with little open space left, much preservation focuses on previously used and now vacant sites, better suited for redevelopment. In addition, Long Island Builders Institute Executive Vice President Michael Watt and some developers, including RXE principal Scott Rechler, say they are already moving in a new direction. The former is working with Nassau and Suffolk counties on smart growth, and he assures the writer that developers are ready to respond to any public outcry for multi-family housing, including apartments. The latter points out that his Glen Isle project, on a former blighted Superfund site in Glen Cove, features open space along the North Shore waterfront. ''You want to try to marry the right amount of open space in the community with the right amount of development,'' he says. ''When you sprawl them out, that's not good for the community.''

To help developers and environmentalists reach a compromise, the writer suggests a trade. ''Developers can't touch parcels of 50 to 100 acres or more if environmentalists agree to allow increases in density to make it easier to build on smaller lots, with any land not planned for development going to open space preservation,'' he writes, asking top antagonists, directors Amper and Ryan if they think ''that's good enough.'' -- Long Island Business News 2/13/2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If They Can Do It In Batavia. . .

. . .Why Not On Long Island?

Plan To Unify Local Government, Consolidating Special Districts, Takes Shape In Upstate NY

Okay. We've been squaking about the waste and greed of those bastions of feudal life, the wasteful and inefficient special taxing districts, long before there was a NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness -- which studied, and concluded, that consolidation (and, where possible, elimination) of special districts (i.e. water, fire, sanitation) would improve not only the delivery of services, but, equally as important (perhaps more so in these tough economic times), the bottom line of municipalities and property owners.

Little, if anything, has transpired in Albany by way of mandating change to the archane manner in which New York's local governments operate, though there's been plenty of rhetoric (thankfully, talk is still cheap. Shhh. They'll find a way to tax it!), and proposals -- from the Governor's budget to the Attorney General's intended devices -- abound.

Now, the City and Town of Batavia, NY, armed with a grant from NYS to "study" consolitation of local government, has joined forces with the Center for Government Research, and together, the intent is to move forward from "study" to "plan."

Yes, everybody needs a plan. Moving plans into action, well, that's another blogpost, entirely.

Anyway, as the Batavia Consolidation Plan gears up (a website has already been created, so at least the aura of progress exists), a working plan and timetable has been established. [The target for implementation is January, 2011.]

To be considered, and ultimately put before the voters (perhaps as soon as November, 2009) is the streamling of Town and City government by way of consolidation and sharing of services.

Assuming that the Batavia project takes hold, and there actually is a consolidation of town and city government, what exactly does that portend for us here on Long Island? After all, Batavia is not Baldwin, and there is little in the way of either congruity or cooperation between the two outmoded government models -- county and town -- that would lead us (or any reasonably sane person) to believe that consoliation of any government function on Long Island is possible, let alone likely.

And even assuming a mandate from Albany, a willingness on the part of local government to yield to efficienciency and relinguish control, and a referendum before the voters, will we, the people -- who, for so long, have wholeheartedly endorsed the devil we know -- opt for change that would truly bring local government into the 21st Century?

Well, we can only hope!
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From the pages of Newsday:

Districts: Less is more
Cuomo's consolidation bill would help

In a recession, companies and households cut back. Why not government? That is the idea behind Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's plan to help consolidate New York's thousands of small taxing districts. They have outlived their usefulness, and they add to taxpayers' expenses.

Cuomo has been traveling the state, seeking allies for legislation to combine districts for fire protection, water service, garbage pickup and more. In all, they amount to more than 10,500 units statewide, many offering salaries and benefits to part-time commissioners. Most are bastions for political favors, especially in Nassau County, which has over 900 - too many obscure little units for an accurate count.

Consolidating special districts is so complex that even state lawyers are baffled. Cuomo's proposal would make it easier for governments to initiate consolidations or dissolutions. And he would add an even bolder provision, to empower citizens: A vote could be called if 10 percent of affected voters, or 5,000 people, whichever is less, sign a petition. So, if citizens wanted change, their will could prevail. Gov. David A. Paterson's budget includes proposals to expedite the consolidation process. They're not as ambitious as Cuomo's. Even so, Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) wrote an op-ed for Newsday questioning how much money consolidation could really save.

Cuomo's bill may have a better shot, because it gives power to citizens, and opposing the will of the people is an embarrassing stance for any elected official. That includes Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who let a consolidation bill die last year. It's time ordinary New Yorkers took more control of the public purse.