"This budget is a complete disaster for our community. The governor and Senate Democrats have taken away the STAR rebate checks, they tax our utility bills, they increase income taxes, they cut our share of school aid, they increase SUNY tuition, they increase taxes on small businesses and the shocker is that they gut the job-creating Empire Zone program in Elmont," said an outraged Assemblyman Tom Alfano. "I don't know how they can look people straight in the face when they increase taxes $10 billion, increase spending $10 billion and they slash schools, economic development and tax everything in sight."
Alfano blasted the budget agreement crafted in secrecy by Governor David Paterson and Senator Malcolm Smith as irresponsible and shocking. "This budget spends and spends and spends and taxes middle class families and seniors. It's unbelievable that for months all we've heard about from the governor and Senate Democrats is how we need to cut spending and do more with less. This budget is $10 billion more than last year's budget. The stimulus package from President Obama was supposed to be used to cut taxes and they blew it. The president gave us a life preserver and 'the three men in a room' told homeowners to drown," Alfano quipped.
"The biggest blow to taxpayers in Floral Park, Franklin Square, Bellerose Village, Elmont, North Valley Stream, West Hempstead, South Floral Park, Bellerose Terrace, Stewart Manor and New Hyde Park is the fact that the governor and Senate Democrats robbed their STAR rebate checks. Under this budget, the STAR rebate checks are eliminated. Seniors and working families count on this check and now it is gone. This is what happens when the governor is from the City, the Speaker of the Assembly is from the City and the Senate Majority Leader is from the City. They're not sensitive to the fact that homeowners are barely making ends meet. People have lost their jobs. They've lost their health care and now they not only lose the STAR rebate checks, but taxes are going to skyrocket? They just don't get it and I wonder if they even care."
Alfano pointed to the school aid portion of the state budget as a "disgrace" noting that Long Island's share of the state aid has traditionally been 13 percent. Under the new state budget, the share is slashed to 5 percent. Under the new budget, New York City will receive a whopping 33 percent.
"Long Island pays the most in taxes and homeowners are seen as an ATM machine by this governor. The bottom line it that we are robbed over 8 percent of our share of state aid. It's outrageous. Some politicians will try to play with numbers on school aid, but the fact remains it's gone. We lost 8 percent from our fair share of school aid. Why? So it can be rerouted to the City," Alfano said, adding, "They should be ashamed."
The assemblyman further noted that in Floral Park, they continuously struggle to get their fair share in good economic times. For their schools to lose 8 percent is a body blow and it's outrageous. For Elmont, the challenges they face are made that much more difficult while uncaring and insensitive politicians play games with their aid package. In Franklin Square, they've made incredibly tough decisions over the past five months with state aid cuts. Schools in Franklin Square are cut to the bone. In West Hempstead and Valley Stream 13, they struggle with a commercial tax base that is constantly shrinking. They are facing real problems and this budget only compounds them. For the Sewanhaka Central High School district, they are cutting summer school as a measure.
"You can't play games with school aid and that's exactly what they did. They should be ashamed," Alfano said.
For college students, the new budget will increase SUNY tuition. "SUNY was created to make college affordable for everyone. When you increase SUNY tuition you put college out of reach for young people. It just boggles the mind," Alfano, a vocal advocate for college students, said.
As proof positive of the budget game-playing being acted out in Albany, Alfano pointed to the governor's and Senate Democrats' cuts to school aid months ago as a clear indicator of their lack of sensitivity to school districts and homeowners. "We were told we had to pass these cuts and increase taxes on homeowners to save the state. Back then, I stood up and said we should wait and look at the stimulus package to see if we could stop the cuts right then and there. They refused. Now, the governor and Senate Democrats are restoring these cuts using...guess what? The stimulus money! And, they are peddling this as a big win as part of the budget? It would actually be funny if it weren't so sad. This is no way to govern. Taxpayers don't deserve this," Alfano said.
In terms of economic development and job creation, Alfano pointed to the fact that the budget "totally guts the Empire Zone in Elmont and makes it useless. They took away the incentives and made the thresholds totally out of reach for small business and medium-size business. The zone is useless if it can't help anyone under this budget. The facts are very simple. You can't take away economic development and just hope you create jobs. And, you can't tax your way out of a recession. Unfortunately, they do just that. This budget taxes and spends and we see no benefit. Absolutely none," Alfano said.
The Empire Zone is a critical element in the Belmont redevelopment plan currently under consideration in Elmont. In addition to the plan, the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development is embarking upon a Hempstead Turnpike revitalization plan that uses key elements of the Empire Zone that was attained by Assemblyman Alfano, Senator Dean Skelos and former Governor George Pataki.
"The gutting of the Empire Zone renders it ineffective and is a slap in the face to the Elmont and Floral Park communities. It's an affront to the people who worked so hard on this plan. And, it shows everyone who really wants to create jobs, revitalize the area and cut taxes in communities," Alfano stated.
The tax package agreed to by the governor and Senate Democrats increases utility bill taxes. "Imagine the senior citizen, single mom or working family that is already struggling is now facing an increase in utility taxes. Gas and electric bills are high enough as it is. Now, this budget, crafted by the governor and Senate Democrats, taxes gas and electricity bills? What were they thinking?" Alfano said, adding, "For hospitals they have a new gross receipts tax, home-care assessments, hospital surcharges, hospital assessments and the list goes on and on.
"The bottom line is this. This budget is a STAR rebate check-killer. This budget is a job killer. It's a school district killer. It's a hospital killer. It's an economic development killer. It's a homeowner killer. The three men in a room should be ashamed. Our economy is in great distress and instead of putting water on the fire, they put gas on it." Alfano concluded.