Make America Great Again – Ernie Fazio

Recently in the new budget we added $64 billion to the defense budget. Does that contribute to the notion that America is great? I don’t think so. I am quite aware that it is important to protect the country, the question is how is that protection best achieved?

Here is an observation that may be controversial. America is more protected by the fact that it is admired and has allies. In 1947 America made an enormous investment in the same places that we had recently vanquished. We invested $112 billion in today’s equivalent to rebuild Europe and Japan through the Marshall Plan.

It made a certain amount of sense to rebuild our allies, but Germany, Italy, and Japan? Yes! In one grand move we showed the world that we were ready to change conditions so radically, that further conflict made little sense. The result has been peace in Europe that has lasted more than 70 years.

When we elected John F. Kennedy in 1960 he took an idea from Representative Henry Reuss of Wisconsin. It was called the Peace Corp. President Kennedy created the Peace Corp by Executive Order. Later it was written into law. As a promoter of peace and cooperation the program is an on-going success. The entire cost of the Peace Corp in this year’s budget is $318 Million. That price-tag is less than one B-1 Bomber ($388 million). Which of those expenses increased the security of the US more? I’ll let you guess. The legions of effective leaders that returned to the US over the years has been remarkable. Leaders that went into various fields such as medicine, politics, and business created a culture of Americans that are a well-respected fraternity.

Here is a suggestion that will help the country. America has 10 Giant nuclear powered aircraft carriers and 2 more on order. In addition we have 9 conventional aircraft carriers. All of them are huge vessels with about 5000 service people on board. By the way, Russia has one aircraft carrier and it is a candidate for the scrap yard.

What if we took several of these vessels and converted them to FEMA vessels. They would be outfitted with a variety of heavy construction equipment, a hospital section, urban rescue trucks, electrical restoration equipment, deck equipment that could lower small vessels to enable rescues. Large scale generators and large refrigeration units. These ships would carry only light armaments. Protection would be accomplished with the usual fleet complement.

When disaster strikes these vessels would be deployed to the stricken area. This worldwide rescue force would be devoted to saving human lives whether the country be a friendly nation or not. As long as these vessels were not already in use serving an American city or territory.

The ancillary benefits of this endeavor would be very substantial:

  • The service will train many skilled workers at approximately the same cost as military training
  • Personnel would have the choice of going out to industry after 2 years
  • The program would give the young people who would participate a meaningful work experience
  • I could easily see these vessels of mercy working in a tsunami in the Pacific, a hurricane in the Caribbean or a big assist to a city as large as New York
  • The service would tend to draw talented men and women from all over the country in an enterprise that would foster a feeling of unity among our citizens

My vision- The effort once established could invite other wealthy nations to participate. This would truly lend itself to making “America Great Again.” Ernie Fazio

Meeting Recap – Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter

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Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter discussed the recent developments at Long Island-MacArthur Airport. She said one of the main factors in ensuring that the airport is managed properly is that person must exhibit not just leadership experience, but experience in airport management. After conducting a nationwide search, Shelley LaRose-Arken – who was in attendance – was chosen to oversee the operations at MacArthur.

Supervisor Carpenter said that, after years of financial underperformance, the airport has begun to see a profit, which provides more revenue for the town. In the past, Supervisor Carpenter said, the town had to resort to selling town-owned properties and one-shot gimmicks to fill the town’s coffers.

Noticing that the airport was an underutilized resource, Supervisor Carpenter formed an Airport Advisory Board consisting of members from various business sectors who meet a few times a year to discuss how the airport can become a major benefit not only to the town, but to Long Island as well.

One of the things Supervisor Carpenter is looking to do is to expand the West Terminal to allow more flights. Currently, Southwest Airlines has used much of that terminal but, at the same time, has acted as a good neighbor in allowing other airlines such as American and Frontier. She added the only complaint she has heard from travelers is that there are not as many places to go; she said that is being worked on.

One of the topics discussed was connecting public transportation to the airport. There was talk of having a monorail or gondola bring people to the airport, but she said those options are too expensive and would not be doable.

Another item on her wish list is to make extensions on the runways. The town recently received $15.5 million from the FAA to replace one of the runways.

In addition to discussing what is going on at the airport, she discussed the latest developments in the town. She said last year, a Parks Foundation was established in which funds would be used to maintain the town’s parks as part of its beautification program. People donate money to the Foundation, which is set up as a 501c(3). For a sizable donation, a person can claim naming rights to one of the parks. She said the state set up a similar program in the 1990s and it was very successful.

In developing the downtown, the town raised $750,000 for its parking management program in Bay Shore. This program, she said, was paid by all the town residents. She is also looking at structured parking at Southside Hospital and adaptive reuse.

The town has also doubled the road repair budget without raising taxes. Instead, the town bonded the money. Islip received a bond rating of Aaa – the highest rating for any municipality. The town could bond more money, but the Fed’s recent rate hike could mean the town may have to pay more money.

She also addressed school taxes. While she believes a consolidation of school districts into counties – like in Georgia, Maryland and Florida – will never happen, she suggested town wide consolidation with one school superintendent per town and a handful of assistant superintendents. That, she said, would reduce school taxes and allow the schools to keep their individuality.

Meeting Recap – County Executive Laura Curran

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In an effort to boost the Nassau County tax base, Ms. Curran appointed a deputy county executive for economic development. She is also looking to promote some of the attractions that people may not be aware of, such as the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, the Holocaust Museum & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove, and Old Bethpage Village Restoration. When people visit these attractions, they spend more money, which is good for Nassau. Of its $3 billion in revenue, 40% comes from sales tax.

Ms. Curran expressed excitement with the proposed Belmont Park expansion with the hotel and arena, and the completion of the East Side Access tunnel, which will provide more opportunities for developing communities. She said she wants to see more TODs (Transit-Oriented Developments) to keep families and younger county residents on Long Island. She has seen this transformation at Mineola, Rockville Centre and Farmingdale.

One of the programs used by the county to promote TODs is Great Places, in which local areas seeking to become TODs will be given grants to help make that transformation. This is not restricted to downtowns; it is applicable to hamlets located in historic and waterfront districts. The county executive will work with local officials in those areas to help accomplish this vision.

As county executive, Ms. Curran said she will fix the roads. The county recently received money from the federal government to conduct a study on which county roads are in the most need of repair. There are 1,500 miles of county roads. The county also has a 24-hour pothole hotline in which motorists can report a pothole and the county workers will come out and fill it immediately.

Reform was one of Ms. Curran’s campaign themes when she ran for county executive. In an effort to promote transparency, she created a new IDA that will operate more openly, removed county officials’ names off all park signs and implemented an edict in which county employees cannot offer gifts to any contractors involved in the bidding process, nor can they be an active participant in a political party or donate to a political candidate’s campaign.

On the subject of property assessments, Ms. Curran said she signed an executive order unfreezing the assessment rolls. In 2011, the assessment rolls were frozen; she said there was a wide disparity in these assessments, making them unfair and inaccurate. To fix this, the state Legislature established a Disputed Assessment Fund, which is an escrow account that pays out to those who successfully grieved on their taxes. During the time of the freeze, more than half of Nassau property owners grieved and 80% of them won. The problem with the DAF is that there is no mechanism to pay it out consistently.

By unfreezing the assessment rolls, Ms. Curran said, the properties will be back to fair market value by January 2019, but it will not happen immediately. For some properties, it will take time to be at fair market value.

The opioid issue has been a major subject among all elected officials on Long Island. Ms. Curran credited the new police commissioner, Patrick Ryder, for his work in fighting this epidemic. The police department has implemented a mapping system which provides real-time reporting on opioid overdoses and opioid-related crimes (such as burglary). As a result, the number of non-fatal overdoses decreased by 29%. She is working on a bill in which dealers would be held criminally accountable, while users who are arrested get help for their addiction.

In the Q&A period it was suggested that a thorough review of public transportation must be made and recommendations for trains, buses, and ferries must be considered if growth is to be embraced. Ms. Curran agreed.

April 6 Meeting Recap – NY State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli

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Mr. DiNapoli spoke on the state of New York State, and Long Island. This year marked the 25th
anniversary of the greatest achievements – the Long Island Pine Barrens Act. He credited the
resilience of the Long Island residents who fought to preserve the island’s environment.

He pointed out that, while Long Island has a high cost of living and traffic problems on its
highways, the region provides its residents quality health care, a wonderful educational system
and a quality of life, so the benefits of Long Island outweigh the drawbacks.

Since the Great Recession, New York State and Long Island have seen sizable improvements in
the economy and the job market. This year, the state’s unemployment rate is half of that during
the recessionary period. Last year, New York created 850,000 private-sector jobs – the third-
highest behind California and Texas. Over 90% of the new jobs were created in the downstate
area (Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland Counties). Further, more than 9 million people
are currently employed – the most since the Great Recession.

Despite the positive numbers, Mr. DiNapoli says the economy and job market in New York State
is “a tale of two cities”; he sees the downstate area thriving, while upstate New York has been
struggling.

Sales tax revenue has gone up as a result of an increase in consumer confidence. Last year, sales tax revenues in the state increased by almost 4% – the highest year-over- year increase since
2013.

The year 2017 was also good for the securities industry, according to Mr. DiNapoli. Profits of
dealer-broker firms rose by 42% last year – twice the amount of the previous year. This is
significant because the state is dependent on the securities industry’s performance for its
economy. His concern was the federal government’s rollback of the financial regulations that
were put in place by the previous administration. He said such regulations are needed to
stabilize the economy.

He also noted that Wall Street has an impact on the state’s economy. In order to stay profitable,
may Wall Street firms have trimmed personnel, resulting in fewer available jobs. He said,
regardless of what people may think of Wall Street, it does great things for the state’s economy.

On the topic of pension funds, Mr. DiNapoli said the state has one of the best-funded pension
funds, behind Wisconsin and South Dakota. Every five years, the comptroller’s office examines
the numbers and determines what the rate of return should be. The rate is currently at 7%,
which has been lowered. Mr. DiNapoli said the rate may be lowered again. Any
recommendation he makes is based on the report from his office’s actuaries.

Mr. DiNapoli also pointed out that 60% to 70% of a Long Island homeowner’s tax bill is school
taxes. When he was told of some school districts which carry surpluses in their funds, he said he
has called on those districts to use some of the surplus, but has received pushback. Under New
York State law, a district cannot carry over a surplus of 4%. Although carrying a higher fund
balance is against the law, there is no way to punish the districts. Rather, the comptroller’s
office completes an audit on the school district making recommendations on how districts can
be more fiscally responsible. While school districts are restricted from making certain purchases
with their surpluses, the comptroller cannot tell the school district what to do. If the school
district has a surplus, the comptroller is required to notify the district residents.

The subject of school district consolidation came up. He said that everyone is for consolidation
until it happens in their neighborhood. He does not believe school district consolidation will
happen, but he suggested that district can share personnel at the administrative level in an
effort to save taxpayers money.

Mr. DiNapoli said Long Island taxpayers will be affected by the president’s tax law, as the state
and local tax deductions will be capped at $10,000. In order to alleviate the tax burden,
Governor Cuomo has set forth two proposals: one to replace the income tax with the payroll tax to shift any further burden on the taxpayer, and another to set up a charitable trust so that any
tax payments counts as a charitable deduction.

When asked why state authorities (Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York State Dormitory
Authority, etc.) exist, Mr. DiNapoli said the purpose of the authorities was to let them operate
independent of any undue political influence. Unfortunately, these authorities do not report to
anyone else, no there is no accountability on their part. He said the state will have to look into
reforming these authorities and making these authorities more transparent.

April 21 Meeting Recap – Reclaim NY with Michael Watt

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Michael Watt talked about whet Reclaim New York does. He says Reclaim New York is a nonpartisan think tank. It does not lobby elected officials on behalf or against any legislation they might vote on. Rather, the group’s mission is to get local citizens involved in the political process by engaging with local elected officials or school board members and taking action on issues of concern.

Mr. Watt pointed out that New York State has the second-highest cost of living (next to Hawaii) and is one of the worst in the nation when it comes to the tax burden on its residents. The Empire State is second-highest in personal income taxes, fourth-highest in property taxes, ninth in sales taxes and 12 th in excise taxes. Further, New York is second to New Jersey in having the worst business climate.

More than half of a Long Island resident’s tax bill comes from school taxes. Mr. Watt said a majority of the school taxes go to pay for teachers’ and administrators’ salaries and benefits. It may be difficult to have the school board deal with the issue because some of the sitting board members are also schoolteachers or are with the teachers’ union and do not want to vote against the budget, especially when it comes to reducing salaries or partial contributions to health care.

According to Mr. Watt, senior citizens are the most politically active age group. The younger generation, he said, are very smart and have a great work ethic, but are not as involved in the political process. Although they want to stay on Long Island, they fear that they cannot afford live here. In order for a young Long Islander to live here, that person must make between $150,000 and $200,000 a year.

Reclaim New York is challenging local and state governments on the “fees” that are imposed on residents, such as the $500 mortgage recording fee when buying a house and the five-cent- per-bag fee at supermarkets. He said that, unless the fee is being used to cover the cost of municipal services, it is considered a “tax.” Such fees, he said, are illegal.

Another problem with state government is corruption. In the last 10 years, 36 state legislators have resigned or been removed from office as a result of illegal activity, such as bribery or embezzlement. Mr. Watt spoke about the New York Transparency Project, in which places all information on the website to show if a municipality is being fiscally responsible with taxpayer money. This, in turn, makes government workers more efficient in their jobs.

Mr. Watt said the problem with the cost of living is that it is tied to taxes, which is why many people are leaving the state. He said 1.8 million people have moved out of New York since 2000.Despite home sales at record prices and job growth, there is a lack of good-paying jobs in the state that would allow those to afford a home. He said that, sometimes, we are our own worst enemy because we complain about the high cos tof living and high taxes, yet, at the same time, we admit we will pay more for services if it is totally worth it.

New York State was one of five states in the nation that were negatively impacted by the$10,000 state and local tax cap under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. But the reason these states were impacted was the high taxes.

Mr. Watt urged those in attendance to hold their elected officials accountable, attend a public hearing at the state, county, town and village level and talk to their elected official.

March 9th Meeting Recap – Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith

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Laura Jens-Smith was suggesting a course of action that the then Supervisor Sean Walter did not agree with. He said “When you are Supervisor you can do it your way” She replied “OK I wll” and ran for the office and won. That’s how it began.

But Laura was not a political neophyte. Supervisor Jens-Smith has sat on numerous community boards including the Board of Education, eventually serving as President until her move to Riverhead Town Hall.

She began her prepared remarks pointing out a number of strong points that the Town can claim as well as the diversity of economic winds that prevail in the area.

After awhile when she touched upon the need for transportation I suggested that using a Maglev on a single guideway would work extremely will to connect Ronkonkoma to Riverhead and could be run constantly. I asked if she would support that effort. She thought it would be a good idea. At 100 MPH the trip would take 15 minutes each way.

Ms. Jens-Smith expressed concern that the rural community in the Town of Riverhead is disappearing as farmland is giving way to newly built houses. She is looking to use Transfer of Development Rights in order to preserve open space.

She is taking an active role in revitalizing the downtown area as local stores compete with shopping malls and their big-box counterparts. She has seen how Patchogue and Greenport turned around blighted areas in their villages into thriving hot spots.

She is also trying to build up the art scene in the downtown area with the help of local developers, the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, the Riverhead Business Improvement District, and the East End Arts Council. One of the ways to attract more creative types to the area is an affordable housing lottery, with preference given to artists.

She is looking to rezone the downtown area so that newly constructed buildings along Main Street will keep with the character of the town. She is also proposing a “hub and spoke” transportation system in which people can easily access downtown Riverhead from various modes of transportation (LIRR, bike lanes, buses, etc.) She also wants the MTA to expand train service to Riverhead and redevelop the shuttered LIRR station.

EPCAL is still yet to be developed. There has been talk of installing a solar panel farm on the property. Ms. Jens-Smith said, while solar energy is a viable alternative energy source, that should not be the only use for that property. EPCAL would need to be developed into a place for good-paying jobs, not for residential use.

Route 58 has long been known as an avenue through Riverhead for retail space, but the Internet is competing with these brick-and-mortar stores that are struggling to keep open. She proposed “repurposing” the road, in that one-story buildings along the corridor will have an additional story built on top to be used for commercial space.

While she is looking to build up the town, Ms. Jens-Smith said the town should preserve its rural character. The problem is how to save the next generation of farmers and how to making farming profitable enough for the younger generation to stay.