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OpinionOpEd

OPINION: New LI leaders, our economy is your problem now

Scott Rechler is the CEO and chairman of RXR Realty.

Recently elected officials settling into their offices need to appreciate that, whether they like it or not, they are now full-fledged partners in returning Long Island to economic health.

New Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano acknowledged as much during his inauguration last week, as he made reference to economic incentives required to bring investment and confidence back to the county's economy. He does so as homeowners wonder whether they'll have to choose between food and paying their taxes.

As part of the process of creating solutions, individual taxpayers are going to have to accept responsibility for the years of politically expedient land-use policies that have long defined our region. "Not in my backyard" won't cut it anymore. And voters have to come to the polls, or no one will hold our elected officials accountable for progressive action.

Recovery will be a partnership, as both voters and politicians appreciate that our region's problems aren't cyclical but structural - which makes it far more difficult to confront the recession. Those who believe that a resurgent New York City will tow Long Island out of its woes will be profoundly disappointed. We can't be rescued by a neighboring economy until we address our own deep-seated deficiencies.

There is nothing to suggest that Long Island recognizes the threat or is moving forward to successfully build its future. A myriad taxing districts, timid public officials, indifferent business incentive programs, the high cost of housing and a confiscatory tax burden remain daunting obstacles.

As a priority, we need to take specific action to stop the loss of our best and brightest young entrepreneurs who seek to live anywhere but here. We can't sustain the 30 percent loss of our 25- to 34-year-olds we experienced over the past nine years; they are the very ones with new entrepreneurial vigor.

We need to review and approve economic incubator opportunities that will provide incentives to the business community. The Regional Planning Council has designated three projects on Long Island as regionally significant: the redevelopment of the old Pilgrim State complex, and two that my company is involved in, the Lighthouse and Glen Cove waterfront proposals. Together, these three projects would create a $10 billion investment in the region, create 150,000 construction jobs at a time of 35 percent unemployment in that sector, and provide 80,000 permanent jobs. These properties would generate $100 million in annual property tax revenue and, most important, become a magnet to bring companies that seek a high quality workforce on Long Island.

In addition to approving projects that create genuine economic growth, government has no choice but to embrace efficiencies of scale and consider areas for privatization in order to reduce the tax burden that threatens our economy and our future. Long Island has more than 900 taxing authorities; New York City has one. We have 124 school districts, each with its own infrastructure and budget. Failure to change will create an economic wasteland where communities that currently parade their scholarship winners will begin to look like the gutted suburbs of Detroit.

Nassau voters have wiped the slate clean. That provides a historic opportunity to reinvent our region as the vibrant and dynamic place it has been and will be again. Leadership that rejects partisan politics and parochial regionalism can create the environment that encourages business reinvestment, community growth and personal confidence in our region. Going forward, engaged and active voters need to judge public officials on their ability to transfer bold thinking into practical reality, and their ability to bring genuine economic return.

If, in this new decade, we fail to do so, we'll have no one but ourselves to blame.

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