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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Despite Great Recession, culture of entitlement persists

The Great Recession and a stubborn jobless rate are helping to create a great divide on Long Island.

There's one world, where Elise Negrin of Bethpage, 55 years old and jobless for almost two years, lives. And another where computer programmers, clerical workers and other employees for the Town of Islip are given cars to take home.

Negrin said Wednesday that she had an interview at Home Depot and is ecstatic about the prospect of getting back to work.

Negrin would have a chance to move up in a company she respects - maybe to a part-time, permanent job, where she'll get the prize she really craves: health insurance.

Negrin is six months behind in mortgage payments, has $22,000 in credit card debt, and is trying desperately to find some way to get out of her car lease.

Contrast that to a public employee union that fought one town's attempt to save taxpayer money by taking away "take home" cars from employees who don't need them.

Two years ago Supervisor Phil Nolan changed town policy and relieved 45 town employees of their 24/7 town-owned, fueled and maintained take home cars.

The union appealed to the Public Employees Relations Board and won.

The board noted that, during testimony, one employee said he had to buy a car to get to work.

The PERB board ordered Islip to restore the cars and reimburse employees. But it's not its job to to care that reinstituting the perk would cost the town about a $250,000 a year. Or that the "take home" amounted to $7,000 in extra compensation for each employee.

The fault here does not lie with the employees. It rests with the kind of ingrained, institutionalized sense of entitlement that pervades Long Island taxing entities.

The kind that, at one time, left Islip with one car for every 1.4 employees - all of them courtesy of taxpayers.

This is one reason why for weeks now, my e-mail has been filled with angry missives from Long Islanders shocked at the level of patronage and waste still permeating the region. This is yet another example of how this culture of entitlement continues to inoculate itself. In Islip, PERB noted, it wasn't the employees' fault. It was a town government that never enforced its own requirements that cars go only to on-call workers and employees who worked at multiple sites.

The waste of taxpayer money took on a life so strong that - according to the PERB decision - even Nolan's reforms could not kill it.

Nolan said Wednesday that he would negotiate with the union to do away with the practice. "I can't allow this to stand," he said.

Meanwhile Negrin is waiting to hear back from Home Depot.

"It's not fair and it's not just there, it's all over Long Island," she said, after reading about the cars in Islip. "It's like my whole world has changed, and theirs is standing still and that's just not right."

Negrin is optimistic by nature. But sometimes it's hard.

"I'm a good person and I've got family and friends and everybody tells me I am lucky," she said. "But at night sometimes I cry because I keep thinking about how I'm going to look up and be 62 years old and have nothing."

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