The fiscal tsunami headed toward Long Island because of the federal government’s inability to approve aid for distressed states, municipalities, school districts and public transportation systems is still off shore.
State and local government entities and public authorities have mostly postponed the pain while they beg Washington for help. But individuals and businesses already feel the damage from the failure to replenish the relief that came from the CARES Act passed in March.
Now Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s 2021 budget, which includes staggering cuts in both staffing and services delivered to residents, reveals what changes will have to be made starting in July, absent further help. And Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s plan to postpone repaying debt to prevent such cuts is nearly as daunting.
Bellone delayed releasing his budget two weeks past the usual date, hoping the stalled negotiating process on stimulus would move forward.
But now the budget is out, and it’s frightening.
Bellone says the county has a multiyear shortfall in excess of $1 billion, and must cut 500 jobs, through attrition, layoffs and early retirement incentives. That’s in addition to canceling the hiring and training of 200 new police officers and 40 correction officers. The budget also eliminates 46% of Suffolk’s bus routes, saving $13 million, and cuts Suffolk County Accessible Transportation services for the handicapped, which would save $5 million but hobble our most vulnerable residents.
And Suffolk’s budget includes 50% cuts for the county’s contract agencies, which provide youth services and substance abuse and mental health treatment. That would save $16 million now, but cost plenty, in both human misery and dollars, down the road.
In Nassau, where the Nassau Interim Finance Authority can help address the county’s financial struggles, Curran says she’ll refinance $367 million in debt repayments through the state control board, something Bellone can’t do. That lets the county keep providing services and paying employees now, but will necessitate huge tax increases or service cuts and layoffs later if stimulus never comes.
The MTA, hemorrhaging billions, is talking about cutting 50% of Long Island Rail Road service, which would change the Island’s essential character. And some school districts are already laying off teachers.
Jerome Powell, President Donald Trump’s hand-picked Republican Federal Reserve chairman, has repeatedly said that postponing more stimulus could create "tragic" results for our nation. Both parties are blaming each other, but the fault is not equal: The Democrat-controlled House has passed a plan that works as one half of serious negotiation. The Republican-controlled Senate has not, and Trump’s seesawing demands that Congress both approve a big stimulus package immediately and stop trying to pass stimulus until after the election are making matters worse.
Meanwhile, Bellone’s budget reminds us that every job lost means a worker that is no longer spending, a family that is no longer stable, a future no longer possible and services that are no longer delivered to those who need them.
— The editorial board