The quixotic idea of Long Island as the nation's 51st state, sparked by frustration over high taxes and lack of attention from Albany, has taken a step forward with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's decision to support a new commission to study its feasibility.
But whether Long Island statehood can ever become reality is far from certain.
In an April 20 letter, Mangano joined several other Long Island officials who support measures in both the state Senate and Assembly to launch a study looking into the question of merging Nassau and Suffolk counties together and breaking away from the rest of New York State.
"A commission to study the feasibility of creating a State of Long Island will help Nassau County and its citizens determine whether such a proposal is in Nassau County's interest," Mangano wrote to legislative presiding officer Peter J. Schmitt (R-Massapequa), who had requested his position. Nassau faces a projected $286 million deficit next year, Mangano said Thursday.
Schmitt responded: "We await the requisite home rule legislation [from Mangano]." Both county legislatures must pass home rule messages asking the State Legislature to create the commission. The Suffolk Legislature passed one last year. The notion of a Long Island state has kicked around for more than a century and been revived from time to time. State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who is sponsoring the commission legislation in the Senate, last month asked Schmitt and Mangano for their support.
Supporters cite reasons
Supporters say Long Island pays a disproportionate share of state taxes, far too much to the MTA for its transportation needs and doesn't receive a fair share of school aid from Albany.
But critics say the statehood for Nassau and Suffolk is practically unattainable: It would require the approval of the New York State Legislature and the governor - and lead to a massive decline in tax revenues to the state. Ultimately, the U.S. Congress and the president would have to approve.
Levy: Idea is 'unrealistic'
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy believes the statehood idea has no future, according to spokesman Dan Aug. Levy "has always felt that the idea is unrealistic because it requires approval from the New York State Legislature - and that is not going to happen," Aug said.
Nassau Legis. Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), the minority leader, said: "I am unconvinced that this suggestion will help us financially or in any other way."
But Assemb. Fred Thiele, Jr. (R-Bridgehampton), sponsor of the commission bill in the Assembly, said he and other supporters were galvanized by the enactment last year of the MTA payroll tax, which Thiele termed " . . . a case of New York City interests overwhelming the rest of the region."
"Right now, I don't think there's support for it [the commission] in the [State] Legislature, but it's a good focal point in trying to highlight issues," Thiele said.
Getting Nassau on board helps," Thiele said. "It clearly helps advance the regional interest. With the shift of power in the Senate [to the Democrats], it's important for Long Island."
Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki Jr., an early proponent of Long Island statehood, agreed.
"It's a breakthrough, because up until this point Nassau had been silent on the issue," he said. "Without Nassau, we can't move on."
"Long Island is getting shafted," Cantor argued. "Now, with the city-centric state leadership, it feels that every time I put my hand in my pocket I find a New York City politician is already there."
Mangano said Friday night that Nassau's home rule message had been drafted, and he hoped to have it "before the legislature [sometime] in May."
The pros and cons of making Long Island the 51st state.
There are three essential reasons to support succession from New York State, according to supporters of the idea like Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College.
- Long Island pays as much as $3 billion annually in taxes than it gets back from the state.
- The county pays far too much to the MTA for its transportations needs.
- It gets comparably little in state aid from Albany, which determines school budgets affecting local property taxes.
Critics of the idea, like Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, oppose the idea for three other reasons:
- The needed approval of the state Legislature and Governor would be denied because the rest of the state would oppose it,
- Taxpayer money for a study would be better used elsewhere in tough economic times.
- It's extremely unlikely that the Congress and President would approve creation of another state in the union.