One thing about Suffolk County: Its politics are never boring.
Legislators always have a lot going on. In the last two years, they’ve voted to set up a grant program to help homeowners convert to high-tech septic systems, establish a 5-cent fee on plastic bags, make it easier to build affordable housing, and take steps toward a major sewer expansion on the South Shore.
It’s what they don’t do that’s frustrating.
The county budget is still out of whack. Murmurs about a state control board have started. Lawmakers complain of proposals from County Executive Steve Bellone but don’t offer feasible specifics of their own. They carp about their lack of participation in the preparation of the budget, the scant time they have to evaluate it and the lack of an open process.
We’re tired of it, and so are voters.
It’s time lawmakers, especially those in the Democratic majority, use their bully pulpit and be judged by whether they seize it. Angry about being shut out of the process? Speak early and loudly about what you want. Don’t like Bellone’s budget? Offer specific ideas for cuts and revenue. Not happy that you’re not at the negotiating table on union contracts, like the police and other law enforcement deals that expire on Dec. 31? Make your goals clear before talks begin and have an advisory group that can be a soundboard.
Lawmakers should remember: Election results and the mood around the country show there’s more to be gained by standing out than fitting in. Your job is oversight; if you are in the majority, show some leadership.
Other big issues loom. The opioid epidemic continues to mushroom, more rental and affordable housing is needed, and the county has been sued over excessive fees.
This year could reshape the legislature, with four seats open because of term limits. Some contenders have fresh ideas, and stress the importance of working together. The outcome might not flip the Democrats’ 12-6 majority, but it might send a message.
The people of Suffolk deserve a more dynamic body that works together to make real headway on intractable problems. On Election Day, voters can make that happen, and tell the talkers to go home.