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State budget a mixed bag for Long Island

The New York State Capitol on June 19,

The New York State Capitol on June 19, 2019, in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

New York’s budget was approved last week, but how Long Island’s interests will fare with all these programs and taxes is still to be determined.

Taken as a whole, this year’s spending plan, combined with generous federal COVID-19 stimulus, has created immediate winners statewide. Start with pre-K-12 education, with the "pre" newly added. A new commitment to prekindergarten funding will create 5,500 seats in 64 Long Island districts next year, with plans to add more districts and seats over the next two.

That three-year funding model is also the blueprint for Long Island’s biggest budget win, an increase in the largest pot of annual state school aid, averaging 13% for 124 school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, the first of three such planned, cumulative annual increases.

That school funding, along with generous state and federal aid to municipalities, creates an opportunity for Long Islanders to begin to lower their enormous tax burden, but only if districts and local governments forgo property tax increases, and even enact cuts. We haven't broken the cycle of more taxation; state lawmakers just shifted who got the bill and got lucky with federal aid meant to spur the economy.

What else did our Democratic legislators, badly outgunned in city-dominated conferences, and Republicans who are largely ignored in Albany, get for the region? Public colleges, crucial to Long Island, got a 3.8% hike in funding, peanuts compared to the largesse for pre-K-12, and a tuition freeze when flagships such as Stony Brook University badly need modest, regular hikes. Democrats are touting a property-tax relief bill that will bring the majority of local homeowners $250-$350 in relief, but no real school-funding reform. Also delivered: an income-tax cut that will save taxpayers who earn $100,000 a year about $120, a hike that will cost families earning $3 million about $8,300, and a large boost in taxes on companies earning more than $5 million, plenty of which call Nassau and Suffolk home.

There were some local wins and losses. American Water customers in Nassau got no relief from high rates that jump another 26% next month. Nassau and Suffolk were denied new gambling machines and their revenue. But the state Department of Environmental Conservation gets $250,000 to study the Island’s solid-waste disposal future as Brookhaven Town's landfill moves toward a planned 2024 closure, thanks largely to the efforts of Assemb. Steve Englebright, and Nassau owners of newly constructed homes got a break on brutal property taxes.

Long Island’s lawmakers must create stronger alliances with upstate representatives to deliver what Nassau and Suffolk residents need. They must shout louder from the bully pulpit to be heard over larger factions from New York City and advocacy groups who push with relentless aggression for pet causes. Suburban Democrats should remind their city counterparts that they must beat strong competition from the right, not survive primary battles over who can tilt furthest left.

— The editorial board