By Karl Grossman
Â “Suffolk’s Declaration of Independence,” was the heading of a statement issued by the Suffolk County Legislature last week after it passed a home rule message backing bills in the state legislature that would set up a commission to study secession of Nassau and Suffolk from the state and their formation into a new State of Long Island.
The rhetoric at the meeting at which the home rule message was debated included Legislator Dan Losquadro of Shoreham, leader of the panel’s GOP minority, with a history degree from Stony Brook University, citing Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” He went on: “I think we are at the point of revolt. I think we’ve gone past it…I think we need to stand up and take whatever action is necessary to throw off those shackles and not be beholden to the tyrants in Albany.”
Â “We’re being exploited. We’re being raped,” said Cameron Alden of Islip.
Behind what was happening was the imposition by the state of a bail-out package for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that includes a payroll tax of 34 cents per each $100 in salaries for businesses, non-profit organizations and school districts in a 12-county area that includes Suffolk.
Some might say the talk was an extreme overreaction. But consider what the state will be doing. Although initially, county officials calculated that Suffolk provides more than $250 million a year to the MTA, including through a quarter-cent in sales tax for every dollar spent here, further analysis done last week by Bill Faulk, aide to Legislator Edward Romaine, working with the county legislature’s Budget Review Office, showed quite more is involved—that the actual figure is $393 million. This includes monies going to the MTA from the sales tax ($97.5 million last year), an even bigger chunk from the mortgage recording tax ($125 million), from the petroleum business tax ($92 million), a general business surcharge ($47 million) and a surcharge on telephone use ($8 million).
The new taxes and fees which will be going to the MTA from Suffolk were estimated at $127.2 million a year with $98.5 million from the payroll tax, $26.5 million from a steeper vehicle registration fee and $2.1 million from in a higher drivers license fee. That comes to $520.3 million to the MTA from Suffolk—or $347 a year for each man, woman and child in Suffolk.
As William Lindsay, a Holbrook Democrat, presiding officer of the legislature and author of the home rule message, said in last week’s statement: “This MTA payroll tax has pushed me over the edge. New York State cannot continue to bleed Suffolk and Nassau counties dry to bankroll programs that do not benefit Long Island residents in any way, shape or form. If we need to declare our independence to be taken seriously in Albany, then so be it.”
There was opposition to the home rule message, which passed 12-to-6.
Legislator Brian Beedenbender of Centereach said “New York State clearly hasn’t given us a fair share” but urged consideration of the “gravity” of what was being proposed. Making Long Island a state “would change everything—from the make-up of the House of Representatives to the number of people in the U.S. Senate to what the U.S. flag looks like.”
Mr. Romaine of Center Moriches stressed, meanwhile, “that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. And Presiding Officer Lindsay wants to squeak.”
Not too incidentally, the bills in the State Legislature to set up a commission to study the feasibility of creating a State of Long Island—and having a referendum on the issue held in Suffolk and Nassau next year—are sponsored by two officials not known for histrionics: State Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor.
Legislator Thomas Barraga of West Islip, a former New York State assemblyman, said in last week’s debate: “I understand the frustration of this body” and the measure “may make you feel good but it will go absolutely nowhere.” But, as Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki of Southold, also a former assemblyman and long a Long Island statehood proponent, told the county legislators: “It’s time to make a stand and send a message to Albany. I’ll be the first to admit this is a long shot but, if nothing else, it focuses on how Albany mistreats Long Island.”