Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If It Is Broke. . .

Why Ain't We Fixin' It?

You know that old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Meaning: It's working. Leave well enough alone.

Well, here on Long Island, things have been "broke" -- physically and fiscally -- for quite some time, and grumble as we may, seems we've been content to leave it alone rather than to even attempt a fix.

Infrastructure crumbling. "Downtowns" in the doldrums. Housing, even in a down market, unaffordable. Transportation system outmoded. Employment opportunities evaporating. Generation Next fleeing. Commercial centers, such as Nassau's hub, slowly becoming the Chernobyls of our island.

And those property taxes. New meaning to the chant of, We're Number 1! 

Yes, for too long, Nassau County had to play second fiddle to places like Westchester or Jersey. But now, we are firmly holding our own ('cause nobody else will touch it) in the highest property taxes in the nation category. Hooray for us!

Our prospects for unloading the burden? Not too promising, we're afraid. School taxes, which account for upwards of 60% of our property tax bills, are projected to continue to climb, while State Aid, in real dollars for our school districts (all 56 of them in Nassau, 127 island-wide) will likely fall.

School District administrators continue to rake in the big bucks. Teachers' Unions continue to demand more. Costs, from transportation to insurance, pensions to utilities, continue to skyrocket.

And here we remain, frozen in place, caught between the proverbial rock of wanting the best possible educational opportunities for our children, and the hard place of emptying our wallets to pay for what has too often become mediocrity and excess.

FixAlbany is little more than a special interest spin cycle. FixNewYork hangs its hat on that precarious 2% school tax cap, as if that was a cure-all. [Which part of "TAX INCREASE" don't we understand? Let's see. 2% per year. Ten years. Okay, you do the math...]

Consolidate school districts? Sure, but not ours.

Cap Superintendent salaries? All right. You go first.

Insist that Albany deliver on the guarantee of our State Constitution to provide a system of free public schools? Right. Freedom, even in our schools, is never free.

Do something to eliminate the inequities of State Aid, which favors upstate districts and shortchanges Long Island? Well, maybe next year.

Replace the regressive school property tax with a progressive income tax (or simply adjust the existing State income tax to earmark the dollars for our public schools)? Did someone say tax???

Tie the property tax to real income, rather than the artificial value of one's home? I'm still hearing the word tax...

Keep things the way they are, doing absolutely nothing, save talk a good game? Sounds like a plan to us!

Whether we're pining over school taxes, kvetching about special taxing districts, cursing the potholes or bemoaning the empty, dilapidated storefronts along "Main Street," other than paying hollow tribute to a bygone era (and paying that over the top tax bill), what are we really doing to correct our course, invest in our future, and right the mighty ship that once was the promise of suburbia?

Sure, they'll give us a farmer's market, or twelve, but with business districts little more than open sewers, housing, even in today's economy, out of reach, jobs nonexistent - and did we mention those outrageous property taxes - who's going to be left on Long Island to eat those delicious, organic, home-grown fruits and veggies?

Where development -- beyond the facetious ode to facade improvement by virtue of a wrought iron bench here, a planter there, and Victorian-style street lamps seemingly everywhere -- is no better than a four-letter word (with planning cum zoning rounding out the Scrabble board, letters all hoarded into one corner), just what are the prospects for a re-energized, reimagined, re-emergent Long Island?

Coliseum? Casino? Lighthouse Lite? Let's put it to a referendum, and then do nothing for the next ten years.

When talk -- or, worse still, Tweet -- supplants the very notion of action, and polls, surveys, conferences and endless visioning sessions have upended shovel to dirt, what is the hope for Long Island's future?

Believe it or not, we're optimists here at The Community Alliance. We truly believe that Long Island's best days, after far too many sleepless nights, are yet to appear on the horizon. Of course, we are realists, as well. Rather than to stand in place, immobilzed by fear, by inertia, by entrenched indifference, we need to begin to move forward. We need to take a long hard look at the big picture -- while taking into account the details -- and do more than merely consider our options. We need to take sustainable development, Smart Growth, and civic engagement well beyond the drawing board. Less talk. Much less. More doing. Much more.

It's broke, folks. Let's fix it!

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