This is the week Albany makes sausage. We've always liked the meaty metaphor as a description of the mysterious behind-closed-doors production of a spending plan by the governor and state legislative leaders.
The budget negotiations are happening amid urgency to wrap it up by Friday to meet the April 1 deadline. Leaving aside the stalemate on the disclosure of lawmakers' outside incomes and education funding tied to teacher tenure and evaluations, here's our wish list for Long Island:
Windfall settlement money: Long Island needs more than the two parking garages in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's initial proposal for the $5 billion-plus one-time infusion of cash the state is getting from Wall Street malfeasance. There are many good ideas, including a capital fund for innovation to help our world-class research institutions commercialize their research. But the best use of this major funding for Long Island would be a significant outlay toward the $550-million cost of an ocean outfall pipe for the Bay Park sewage treatment plant. Nothing is more important to the environmental health of Nassau County's South Shore, but the state's hope of getting Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for it is, alas, a pipe dream. Start funding it now.
Environmental Protection Fund: Everyone wants to increase funding for the EPF, so vital to Long Island. But Cuomo and the Senate want to use money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to do it. That's a very bad idea. Taking money meant for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, such as solar panels for schools and modernizing inefficient buildings, and putting it into the EPF for clean water protection, farmland preservation and recycling programs is a shell game. It doesn't increase environmental spending by one dime. Proposed increases range from $10 million to $38 million, all of which still would leave the EPF far below its high-water funding in 2007. We like the biggest number, and stay out of RGGI.
Water quality: Within EPF, the state should designate $3 million for the first part of a plan to assess nitrogen pollution in Long Island's waters, identify the sources and where it's going, establish reduction goals for each watershed and evaluate ways to accomplish that. Next year, the state must fund the remaining $2 million required to finish the plan. Reducing nitrogen is critical.
Special high schools: The Long Island High School of the Arts and the Doshi STEM Institute, both run by Nassau BOCES, are in danger of closing. Enrollment is dropping at the arts school and stagnant at the second-year STEM school because school districts can't afford the per-student tuition bills. The total cost to run both schools at full enrollment is $3 million per year. The state should fund these schools directly, so students who need them are not denied the opportunity because of their districts' financial conditions.
Deepwater port: A deepwater port at the site of the shuttered nuclear power plant in Shoreham, coupled with a connection to the Long Island Rail Road's Main Line, could transform traffic by taking many long-haul trucks off our roads. The budget should fund the estimated $1 million for a study to analyze the feasibility of such a plan.
Brownfield reform: This broken cleanup program must be overhauled. Tax incentives for cleaning toxic properties should go to struggling communities where public investment can turn brownfields into economic engines, not to developers building expensive properties in competitive markets.
LIPA debt: A plan to refinance Long Island Power Authority debt to ease the burden on ratepayers should be approved, but LIPA cannot be allowed to extend the repayment schedule beyond the current limits.