Now that a very difficult year has ended, it's time to turn our thoughts to what can make this new year a better one for our region, nation and world.
Polls show an overwhelming number of Americans are very glad 2011 is over and, in a reflection of the optimism that is one of our core strengths, just as many think the new year holds more promise for them and their families.
No one can predict the future, and surprising events will happen in 2012 that reshape expectations and agendas. The death of a Tunisian fruit vendor just a few days into 2011 is a prime example, starting an uprising by dissatisfied youth in that nation that quickly spread to the rest of the Arab world. This movement will have great consequences for the United States, but this time last year we couldn't even imagine entrenched dictators toppling like dominoes.
Still, there are concrete actions that governments, around the world and here at home, can take to improve our situation. Here's our list for 2012, and we want your lists, as well. Please send them along, to be shared with our readers.
LONG ISLAND MATTERS
The seeds of long-term economic growth on Long Island were sown in 2011 through private and state grants. Stony Brook University received a huge boost from local mogul James Simons, money that, properly used, could spur a new economy based on scientific and medical research.
Just as important was money garnered for projects in Wyandanch, Hempstead and Ronkonkoma by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's economic development initiatives. Now, Nassau and Suffolk must keep the momentum. Stalled projects -- including the Nassau Coliseum and development of the Hub -- need to get moving.
As both county executives look into empty coffers, layoffs and service cuts are inevitable. To emerge from these fiscal calamities, both counties and their public employee unions must work together to fashion long-term structural changes in contracts. This will allow services to continue and the retention of a talented workforce, while keeping the tax burden in check.
OUR SMALL WORLD
The U.S. economy should slowly improve, but there are global menaces that could sink our rebound. The most immediate concern is Iran, whose nuclear program must be derailed very carefully.
Teheran's Terse Words: Iran's threat to block shipments in the Strait of Hormuz if the West enforces an embargo on oil purchases could mean higher oil prices, damaging our economic recovery. It could also provoke a military confrontation if the United States moves to reopen the narrow shipping lane. Right now, more negotiations, still backed by the hammer of sanctions, are what's called for to try to stop the nation's enrichment of plutonium.
The Euro Crisis: Europeans must return to economic growth. After dithering about how to deal with Greece's debt, the eurozone's central bank bought time by showering banks with near-free money. Now the politicians must tread carefully, imposing long-term fiscal conservatism on Europe's most spendthrift nations without causing a recession by doing so. Harsh austerity will drag everyone down; they must pull back on spending slowly, while encouraging more growth.
Let's retire the buzzword "occupy," and harness the energy protests created to foster real involvement in the political systems and institutions that can expand opportunities. Anger has its place, but it will take a lot more to address social inequality, halt the decline of the middle class and make better lives possible for the poor.
Good jobs and economic growth will give most Americans the tools they need to establish secure futures for themselves and their families.
Congress: A functional federal legislature featuring less partisanship and brinkmanship will inspire more confidence from Wall Street to Main Street. It's an election year, so there will be debate about the best route for the nation, but we can't tolerate another year of nonsense.
We're not asking Washington to become a chorus of agreement, but members need to come together in a harmony that makes governance possible. November is still 10 months away.
Federal Spending: There are many roads that must be taken to fiscal responsibility, including tax reform and less spending on health care. The fastest route to cutting billions from the budget, however, is likely to be defense spending, especially as our military challenges change. Political and military leaders must work together to carve out the fiscal peace dividend our nation should reap from the ending of the war in Iraq and the winding down of our involvement in Afghanistan.
STATE OF CHANGE
Change should continue to dominate New York State's education landscape, so taxpayers get better value in return for their high property levies while our public schools remain stellar. The best way to accomplish that is via standards that measure the performance of administrators and teachers. Last year, the notion that teachers can never be evaluated based, even partially, on student performance, was eliminated. In 2012, the state, along with school districts, must develop honest, credible criteria, yardsticks that measure how well administrators manage the dollars given to them.
One of the successes of 2011 was the imposition of a property tax cap. This year, counties, municipalities and school districts must be freed to operate efficiently under it. Albany can set broad goals, but it must lift some requirements to provide services and allow more home rule so that local jurisdictions have more flexibility to allocate their shrinking resources.
Redistricting: Once every decade, the New York State Legislature redraws our political boundaries. This time, the legislature must design non-gerrymandered districts. If it refuses, the governor must veto bad lines and hold out for ones that can lead to competitive elections.
Infrastructure: The state's economy won't thrive without the infrastructure needed to support it, but these massive projects can take decades to go from conception to completion. Just look at the Second Avenue subway project and East Side Access for the Long Island Rail Road. Now's the time to start finding ways to fund them, along with a new Tappan Zee Bridge.
Not every wish comes true, but an involved public and enlightened leaders can move us forward.
Happy New Year.