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Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone urges funding transportation projects as key to economic growth

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gives his State

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gives his State of the County speech in Hauppauge on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone urged state leaders in his State of the County speech Thursday night to fund transportation projects, sewers and parking at research hubs and downtowns as a way to spur job growth and keep young people on Long Island.

Bellone said using part of the state's $5 billion surplus from financial settlements is key to improving commuter access to Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory as well adding more jobs and housing.

"We cannot reach our economic potential, we cannot build a prosperous future if we are not a region that can attract the high-knowledge, high-skill workers necessary to build an innovation economy," Bellone said at the Legislative Building in Hauppauge.

Bellone used the speech to pay tribute to Suffolk police officer Mark Collins, who was shot and wounded March 11 by a suspected gang member after a chase in Huntington Station.

He also said Suffolk has put off construction of a new Yaphank jail, and criticized county government as "over-processed, over-regulated."

"We have a government in Suffolk County where devotion to process is rewarded while innovation is discouraged," he said. Bellone said he would introduce a program to use data to evaluate county services.

The county executive said the state surplus money would help fund Connect Long Island, a regional plan that includes construction projects linking train stations and transit hubs to the three research centers.

Bellone said some of the funds would help the Long Island Rail Road build a train station at the Brookhaven lab. He also touted a bill that will be introduced in the Suffolk legislature that would offer incentives to municipalities for participation in regional planning.

Part of Connect Long Island's goal is to link Brookhaven, Stony Brook and the Cold Spring Harbor lab with existing downtowns and planned developments such as the Ronkonkoma Hub, Wyandanch Rising and the Heartland Town Square project in Brentwood.

Bellone also called for funding the "double track" on the Ronkonkoma line and electrifying the rail lines farther east. Bus routes would run north-south along Nicolls Road, Route 110 and the Sagtikos Parkway, linking the three Long Island Rail Road lines.

With infrastructure improvements, passengers landing at Long Island MacArthur Airport could take a train to Manhattan in an hour, Bellone said.

In January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed funding a $50 million parking structure at Ronkonkoma and another in Nassau, which sparked criticism from Long Island business groups that Suffolk groups didn't get more money. Senate Republicans have said they'd advocate for more funding for Long Island. Bellone, a Democrat, is running for re-election this year. Republicans have yet to announce a candidate.

Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said in the Republican response that the county faced large financial problems, which he compared to Nassau County before it was put under the oversight of a financial control board.

"Suffolk County has an out-of-control spending problem. This problem is bringing us close to complete financial ruin, akin to the disaster which befell Nassau County," McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said the Bellone administration has filled "no fewer than 20 positions" with Democratic political staffers, at a cost of $1.5 million. He called for more legislative oversight over employees making $100,000 a year or more.

He said abandoned houses on Long Island are proof that young people, professionals and businesses are leaving.

Bellone said a referendum that eliminated the elected treasurer showed residents want more efficiency.

"They get that the status quo isn't good enough, that government needs to change," he said.

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