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From The Desk Of Senator Jack Martins: February 20, 2014

Beware Of Mayors Seeking Tax Hikes

I guess I rained on the parade and I have to admit, it felt pretty good.  

I’m talking about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ill-conceived plan to raise taxes to purportedly pay for universal pre-k in New York City public schools. On its surface, it’s a noble idea and one that would eventually bridge gaps of inequality for future New Yorkers. Honestly, who wouldn’t be in favor of improving the education system? I guess that’s why the mayor made it one of his core campaign promises even though he knew full well that enacting it was totally out of his control. What he continuously failed to point out is that responsibility for making such an aggressive plan actually work falls squarely on the shoulders of state legislators and Governor Cuomo in Albany. And it’s no secret that together, we’ve spent the last four years fervently trying to lower taxes—not raise them.  

So Governor Cuomo’s team went straight to work and somehow managed to offer Mayor de Blasio state funds totaling a very generous $1.5 billion over five years without having to raise taxes on anyone. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Inexplicably, the mayor flat out refused the assistance. Like me, you’re probably wondering why anyone would look a billion dollar gift horse in the mouth. So I asked the mayor at a recent hearing and here’s what I learned.   

First off, pre-k already exists in New York City although not throughout the rest of our state. Currently, approximately 60,000 NYC children participate but there isn’t enough funding to allow all of them to attend full-time. When I asked how many more needed full-time status the answer was about 27,000. I pointed to New York City’s $70 billion budget and maintained that certainly, savings could be found somewhere that might allow the city to feasibly fund a few more hours a day for 27,000 youngsters. His team flatly responded that it had to be an “add on and not a subtract.” Frankly, after years of belt-tightening across all levels of government, I find it disconcerting that this new team should remove themselves from the effort.  

That’s when I moved to surpluses that are mysteriously being left out of the pre-k equation. The New York Times wrote, “State Senator Jack M. Martins asked why the city could not use projected surpluses—$2.4 billion this year and $1.9 billion next year—to pay for prekindergarten. ‘Why is a tax increase necessary?’ Mr. Martins asked. Mr. de Blasio said the surpluses were needed to settle contracts with unions representing city workers, all of which have lapsed.”

There it was—that moment of uncomfortable truth hanging in mid-air that the Daily News would later categorize as a de Blasio “misstep.” Clearly, the jeers from his supporters were meant for me but I don’t apologize because the whole exchange made things abundantly clear. Mayor de Blasio and his allies are willing to walk away from an immediate and certain victory for our children to make sure there’s money in the coffers for the unions, the same unions that supported his bid for mayor.  That also explains why he turned down Governor Cuomo’s offer of state funding. He is openly insisting on a new revenue stream, one that will ultimately free precious budget dollars for labor negotiations.

Now he can call it whatever he wants and promise the funds will be kept separate but that does absolutely nothing to change reality. The funds are there for the taking, in the city as well as state budget, and they’re walking away from it. They are fixed on raising taxes so he can use the surplus for labor negotiations, the complete antithesis of our “taxpayer first” approach these last three years.

Friends, we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Special interests groups feed at the public trough, political operatives congratulate each other with slaps on the back, and the taxpayer gets the bill. Unfortunately, the Mayor doesn’t understand that every New York City taxpayer he chases away is one less taxpayer for the entire state, so we all suffer for his high handed approach.

What a sideshow our education system has become, first with the ongoing debacle of Common Core and now this slap in the face. An educator I spoke with earlier this week likened it to a sinking ship. Only instead of bailing out the water, they’re taking on more passengers. Let’s focus on saving the ship first.

News

Many would consider it rude to play with your food. That is unless, you’re participating in the Long Island Potato Festival. The event, which was held in Cutchogue, NY, included a mashed potato sculpting contest which was dominated by Hicksville’s Sarah Tsang, who won first place in the youth division.

Contestants were allowed to use any tools and materials to help bring their creation to life. Sculptures were left on display throughout the day and voted on by festival goers.

Some students returning to school the first day might see a new face on the bus: Hicksville’s new interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso.

“Every year on the first day of school I ride one of the buses. To see the face of a kindergartener on that first ride just reminds you of why you’re in the field,” he says.


Sports

Somehow LSA, the Levittown Swimming Association, has always been a part of our Hicksville summers. My family’s introduction to the organization in 1975 began when our two older daughters tried out for the Parkway Swim Team, one of the nine teams that competed through July and most of August.

It was no small task for the younger girl, swimming her first full lap in the deep end of the pool to qualify at age six, but both girls made the team and donned the coveted gray tee shirts as the trees cast their shadows over the pool water at the end of practice.

I’m convinced that the soul and the center of Hicksville is Cantiague Park. And why not? Every weekend it’s a beehive of activity ranging from tennis matches, hand ball games, basketball and baseball games, swimming, hockey and of course ‘the beautiful game’ called soccer. Cantiague has two professional soccer fields that are perfectly manicured and begging to be played on. And they were. This weekend was the finals of the East Meadow Soccer Tournament which is one of the largest youth soccer tournaments in the nation, sponsored by the US Soccer Federation. There were 18 boys and girls teams in the finals and a large staff of referees.

Two of the refs were Steven Orozco and Randy Vogt who told me how soccer had been growing and has now become the second most popular participation sport in America with 25 million of us watching this year’s World Cup.  I also met and interviewed Joe Codispoti who along with Tim Bradbury is the head coach of Rockville Centre United, a U16 boys club.  This U16 team has a group of standout players led by  Jack Graziano, AJ Codispoti and Pat Basile who have been playing together for six years.


Calendar

Close Encounters with Benevolent ETs and Ascended Masters

August 29

Adventures in Genealogy

September 4

Greek Festival

September 5-7



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
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