Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo brought an impressive bag of Long Island goodies to Farmingdale State College on Tuesday for the local stop on his State of the State roadshow. He promised solid investments in transportation and sewer infrastructure, big commitments to offshore wind energy and water quality, and yet another novel attempt to get local governments to cut property taxes.
The question, as always, is: How much will get done? With the state budget under increasing stress, where is the money? What about details? And given his rocky relations with state lawmakers, can Cuomo get the legislative buy-in he needs to turn ideas into reality?
His most intriguing idea calls for county executives to convene towns and other local governments and special districts to jointly find savings via various efficiencies. Their plan would be subject to voter approval, empowering citizens in the fight to reduce property taxes. This would be a one-time exercise, and there are lots of logistics to figure out, but Cuomo is right that local property taxes are the biggest part of Long Island’s crushing tax burden, the tax cap has been a brake but has not reduced taxes, and his efforts to get districts to voluntarily share costs and services have failed. This new pitch, which requires a new state law, will likely face stiff winds. So he smartly appealed to people to call their state lawmakers, who always campaign on reducing taxes, and demand that it get done.
More tangible presents included $120 million in improvements for the Long Island Rail Road. Sixteen stations will be updated and a new station built at Brookhaven National Laboratory. But the greatest impact could come from $20 million Cuomo pitched for direct access to Long Island MacArthur Airport from the LIRR. Whether the money is spent on a modern people-mover to the existing terminal or used as a down payment on a new terminal across from the Ronkonkoma Hub, quicker train-to-plane service via the second-track project would be a boon to customers and prospective airlines. With the addition of a new customs facility, it might finally unlock MacArthur’s great potential.
Cuomo also made a huge commitment to offshore wind energy. He pledged to generate a total of 2,400 megawatts by 2030, the biggest commitment of any state in the nation, beginning with the Long Island Power Authority’s 90-megawatt project off Montauk Point, an area with the potential to produce 1,000 megawatts. He also plans to spend $2 billion over five years on drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, critical to local efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution, and pitched $40 million to add sewer service in downtown Kings Park and Smithtown. The money, which would pay for the Kings Park facility and cover half of Smithtown’s cost, would support development while improving water quality. And new measures to fight the opioid epidemic include 24/7 treatment centers to give people in crisis critical support services when needed.
Next up, after Cuomo’s final two speeches Wednesday, is the release of his proposed budget. That’s when the blueprint becomes visible and the tug-of-war over priorities begins. Cuomo has sketched out an ambitious vision for our region. Now it’s up to him and state lawmakers to bring it home. — The editorial board