“You have to determine your own future,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said recently. “You are going to go up or down . . . What are you going to do to make your economy work?”
While the words were directed to a sold-out crowd at a Long Island Association breakfast at the Crest Hollow Country Club a couple of weeks ago, Cuomo tossed the challenge out to a wider audience: Us.
Well, to the governor’s point, what are we going to do to make the economy work in a region that once, proudly, was the model of post-World War II suburban living? As of now, millennials are leaving, for good times and good-paying jobs, in New York City and elsewhere.
And as for Long Island’s middle class? It’s shrinking under the load of taxes and high utility costs — leaving a widening gap between the rich and poor who remain.
Cuomo’s plan for a third track on the Long Island Rail Road between Hicksville and Floral Park alone won’t fix the region’s economy. But it would help by pulling to Long Island needed workers who live in New York City, and by making the trip to and from city jobs easier by expanding the LIRR’s capacity to handle more passenger trains.
Another Cuomo idea for a deep-water port, whether in Shoreham or some other location, alone won’t fix the region’s economy. But it would help by opening a new route for goods to get to Long Island — via water rather than via so many trucks on the Long Island Expressway.
And a tunnel linking this Island to the continental United States? For travelers, that would be a dream — and for Long Island during emergencies, an option the region now lacks.
All of the above were included in Cuomo’s pitch to the LIA, the region’s largest business group; and, this week, in proposals included in the governor’s proposed budget. They’re big, bold plans. They’re modestly funded in the proposal, alas, and in the case of the third track on the LIRR, already generating heated opposition.
While the proposed tunnel and port may be off in some distant, and perhaps, sigh, unrealized future, a few of Cuomo’s proposals, properly pitched and funded, could have a chance.
The most likely are two initiatives: A state-of-art bioelectric medical site near Nassau Coliseum, with Cuomo’s proposed $50 million state investment matched by $300 million in private funds. And creation of a customs house at Long Island MacArthur Airport, which could bring international carriers looking for relief from crowded NYC airports to Long Island. Cuomo has proposed investing $6 million for the customs facility.
As for the third LIRR track, there may be movement as well. Cuomo wants to amend earlier proposals, and limit construction to the already existing right of way. He also wants to fund a community outreach program to address residents’ considerable concerns.
Cuomo is the first governor to step out on the decades-old rail expansion plan. It’s a bold move that bolsters the project with the bully pulpit of the state’s highest elected office.
But he can’t fix Long Island’s economic issues on his own.
If the region’s fortunes are to to go up, rather than go down, residents will have to do their part too.