By Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.
Government can be too small, but it can also be too big.
During the Great Recession we have looked for chances to consolidate government where it would be more efficient. We should be equally diligent in looking at government entities that have become too large, expensive and unaccountable. The perfect example is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) which seems to constantly cost more and more in taxes and provide less and less in service. We would be better served on Long Island by the break up of the MTA into smaller more efficient and accountable units.
This brings me to the recent proposal by the Long Island Association (LIA) to study the concept of consolidating Suffolk and Nassau County into one county to be known as Long Island County. While I never oppose the concept of a study, this just seems inherently to be a bad idea.
First, from the perspective of the East End, if you think County government is already too big and far away and indifferent to our region, how can doubling its size and moving the center of power even further to the west be a good thing? Attempting to address the unique needs of the rural East End with its farms, fishing and tourist based economy would be that much harder as part of a county that would have more than 2.8 million people. If there were a 22 member Long Island County Legislature, the East End would have one member.
From a broader perspective, County government was not meant to serve 2.8 million people. It is local government. Nassau and Suffolk are already the two largest counties in the State outside of New York City, which does not have County government. Thirty-nine of New York’s 57 counties outside of New York City have 150,000 people or less. This new mega-county would become just as large, inefficient, and unaccountable as the MTA.
If we really want to improve government efficiency on Long Island, we should pursue the concept of the State of Long Island with three counties, Nassau, Suffolk and Peconic. State Senator Ken LaValle and I are the sponsors of A.1406/S.1453 which would establish a bi-county commission to study the feasibility of the State of Long Island, and A.2082/S.1312 which would establish a procedure for the creation of Peconic County.
Long Island is larger in area than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware. Our population is larger than 19 states. For the years 2002-2004, Long Islanders paid $8.1 billion in State taxes and received back only $5.2 billion.
As for Peconic County, it was confirmed long ago, that smaller Peconic County could better focus County resources on East End needs and reduce the County share of the property tax by 50 percent.
Admittedly, the creation of new states or counties of any sort is a long shot in the current climate. Nevertheless, it is always a fruitful exercise to focus attention on the East End as we fight for our share of government resources on the Federal, State, or County level.
However, let’s focus on what alternatives provide more efficient government. Bigger is not always better.