New York's Senate leader Wednesday warned Suffolk officials that if they go ahead with a planned $10 million cut in the county's bus system, they should not expect the state to make up the difference.
The firm admonishment from Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) came as Suffolk bus riders and advocates urged the county to reconsider its plan, which could result in the elimination of several routes.
The proposed cuts come as the Suffolk County Legislature struggles to fill a $51 million sales tax revenue shortfall, and after several failed calls to the state to increase its aid by $10 million to Suffolk County Transit, which serves about 22,000 riders daily.
The $29 million Suffolk receives from the state is about half what the state contributes to Nassau's bus system, but Nassau carries about four times as many riders.
"We have not been getting our fair share. Not even close," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk). "Nobody wants to see any reductions, so we're in this very difficult position of trying to figure out just how to maintain the current level of services."
But Flanagan said Suffolk's plan is "highly inappropriate" and "not how it works." He said the state would be more inclined to help Suffolk if it simply made its case without threatening to slash funding.
"I don't see how they could come to us with a straight face and tell us, 'We just cut $10 million from our budget. Now you fix it,' " said Flanagan. Noting that the state has increased aid to Suffolk by 15 percent since 2012, and also included $1.5 million in capital funding in the current state budget, he said, "I will now rethink every one of those things and ask my colleagues to do the same."
Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders Union, a nonprofit advocacy group, agreed that trying to force the state's hand was not a wise strategy.
"In gambling that if we cut our funding then maybe the state will step in, I think it's a gamble we can't win," Watkins-Lopez said. "It's not right to gamble on some of the most disenfranchised in Suffolk County."
Under the proposal, the county would take $6 million from its fixed-route buses and $4 million from its Suffolk County Accessible Transit program for disabled riders.
Routes with low ridership would likely be eliminated, while other lines would see bus frequency reduced.
"While we may not feel it the day after buses are cut, we're definitely going to feel it a year after buses are cut," Anita Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs With Justice, a workers' advocacy group, told lawmakers at a meeting of the Suffolk Legislature's Public Works Committee. "People use the buses in order to support our local economy. And when those buses are no longer there, our local economy will not be able to thrive as much."