The Floral Park, Franklin Square and Hempstead Public Libraries, which had been slated to receive a combined $17,000 in the proposed 1998 budget worked out by the New York State Legislature, were among several "member items" eliminated from that spending plan by Governor George Pataki last week.
Also slashed was $10,000 earmarked for the Bellerose Business District Corporation, $2,500 for the West Hempstead Generals, and $5,000 each which was supposed to go to the Rockville Centre and Valley Stream Education Foundations.
In all, the governor struck some $760 million in spending, and another $840 million in borrowing, from the budget through use of his line item veto.
In a memo to the state senate explaining why he chose to strike down certain items, Governor Pataki said that funding the local libraries would, "result in excessive and unnecessary spending in the current year and will adversely impact the state's capacity to maintain a properly balanced budget."
That explanation, almost without exception, was given for each and every one of the several hundred items vetoed.
"The ink was barely dry on my thank you note to Senator [Michael] Balboni when I heard the news," said Floral Park Library Director Maria Sysak.
"It is a rather discouraging development, as a number of our patrons have asked that we provide computer services in the children's library, and now we're going to have to put those plans on hold until we find alternative funding."
Initially, the library director said, Floral Park had been seeking $8,000 to install computers and bring the internet into the children's library, but it was good news to hear earlier this month that the senator had been able to secure $5,000.
"Then, rather unexpectedly, we received word from the Nassau Library System, of which we are a member, that those grants, those 'Member Items,' had been cut," Sysak said.
Particularly devastating for the libraries was the fact that the governor appeared to target the member items of the state senate's Republican majority.
Funding for 14 local libraries in total was sponsored by Republican senators. Generally speaking, Republican and Democratic members of the state assembly got their member items signed into law, including funding for five local libraries sponsored by assembly members.
Members of the Nassau Library System had been seeking approximately $118,500 in state grants. From that total the governor slashed more than $87,000.
"When you look at most of the items that were cut individually, I'm sure to many people they seem like such small things, but the items that were cut made the difference in a lot of areas," Sysak said.
"Now we'll have to look to other ways to fill the gap," she continued.
"How do I feel about this? I feel a little poorer," said Francis X. Moroney, chairman of the Carle Place Educational Foundation, which also saw its $5,000 line cut from the state budget. "Now, I must tell you that we did not budget that money in for our anticipated expenditures this year, so this cut is not going to affect us that much in that respect.
"However, there are projects that we were looking to fund that we may now have to put on hold for a year," he added.
The cut in the funding of the educational foundation reflects, to a certain degree, the new budgeting realities of New York state government.
Hoping to avoid the fiasco that transpired last year, when the budget due on April 1 was actually ratified the beginning of August, state lawmakers changed the way they formulated the budget.
Instead of it being negotiated by the governor, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, behind closed doors, this year the various portions of the budget - actually a series of laws detailing spending and anticipated revenues - was worked out in legislative committees.
Therefore, the governor's line item vetoes were actually his first say in the budget process since he proposed his own spending plan in January.
The past two years, funding for the Carle Place Educational Foundation was secured by the late State Senator Michael J. Tully. This year it turned out to be one of two "member items" proposed by his successor, Senator Michael Balboni, to get the ax. The other was $5,000 the senator was hoping to secure for the Floral Park Public Library.
In all, 31 funding items directly impacting Nassau County residents were cut. These range from those vetoes already mentioned - 12 local libraries saw cuts - to funding for municipal programs like the Glen Cove Economic Opportunity Council and $2 million that had been earmarked to cover all services and expenses relating to the reinstatement of token clerks at Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Commuter Railroad stations.
"I understand the rationale that the governor used in determining what he would cut was that he wanted to eliminate 'legislative adds,'" Moroney said.
"In fact, in that regard he's said to have even vetoed a number of his own initiatives - proposals he made in his original budget for this year - so certainly, he has been consistent.
"That said, I've already been in contact with Senator Balboni's office, and we're certainly hoping that a restoration of this funding is included in whatever override or compromise legislation they come up with," Moroney continued.
In making his cuts to the budget, Governor Pataki eliminated many of the very items that state legislators had been most vocal about in recent weeks, including $500 million that they had included in the budget for school construction projects, and $1 million that they had set aside for the creation of a map that would pinpoint cancer cases statewide.
With a number of legislators understandably left reeling by the cuts - this is, after all, an election year - both Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver indicated that they are considering mounting an override effort in their respective houses of the legislature.
"It's going to be just unfortunate and difficult because here, in many instances, we've announced things, and now those announcement are no longer valid," Bruno said. "Given that, I'm not ruling anything out."
Sheldon Silver, who, like Bruno, only heard of the cuts minutes before they were announced, described the cuts as "irresponsible."
"He obviously has no understanding of the impact his vetoes will have on the day-to-day, pocketbook issues faced by hardworking, middle-class families."
Amidst word that the governor has begun trying to sooth some of the ruffled feathers, members of the Republican state senate majority met Thursday afternoon to begin to formulate a formal response to the budget cuts.
Asked about the cut in funding for the Carle Place Educational Foundation, Jim Sherry, Senator Balboni's chief of staff, said Thursday that the senator's reaction to the cuts was fairly simple.
"Our feeling is that if the organizations and funding in question were good enough for us to support them, then they are good enough for the governor to sign off on them," Sherry explained.
"Literally as we are speaking, the senate majority is conferencing on how to handle the situation, and what we hope will ultimately happen is that the respective leaders in the legislature and the governor will come to an agreement that will reverse some of these cuts."
As for the situation in Floral Park, Maria Sysak said the library still has other grant requests out there, "and we're hoping that one of them will come through and fulfill the need we've identified here.
"One thing you have to be in the face of something like this is optimistic," she added.
Though sources said the governor expected the outcry his budget cuts inspired, they said that he preferred to stress not what's gone, but what's been left in the budget.
His press office noted, for instance, that the budget still contains billions of dollars in tax cuts that will be implemented over the next several years, some of which the governor himself initially proposed, and some of which originated on the floor of the legislature.
Chief among those reductions is an acceleration of the STAR school property tax reduction program, which will ensure that approximately 52,000 senior homeowners in Nassau, whose yearly income is less than $60,000, will see their school property tax bill drop by 45 percent this coming October.
The tax cut package also includes a 25 percent reduction in motor vehicle registration fees, a reduction of the corporate tax rate from nine to 7.5 percent, and the elimination of the sales tax on college textbooks and computer hardware.
Also expanded in this year's budget are sales tax-free periods for both clothing and footwear.
In addition to the acceleration of the senior STAR program, the package signed by the governor Sunday includes an expansion of STAR in coming years.
Beginning in the 1999-2000 school year, all homeowners will be eligible for a $10,000 STAR exemption. That exemption will increase to $30,000 by 2001-02.