At a special meeting of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset, Dr. Ann Golob, Long Island Index Project Director, led a discussion on the topic "The Crisis on Long Island." The Long Island Index Project (the "Index"), which is funded by the Rauch Foundation, gathers and publishes data on the Long Island region on topics like the environment, housing, taxes, jobs, health, and education. Its published motto is: "Good information presented in a neutral manner can move policy."
Golob, a Port Washington resident who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, used a PowerPoint presentation to address some of Long Island's strengths and challenges. Her presentation included illustrative graphs, and she made handouts available to the attendees.
An important strength, said Golob, is that 82 percent of those polled consider Long Island a "good" or "excellent" place to live. Another strength, she said, is the quality of public education; pointing out that regional schools typically exceed New York State standards. Long Island's support for the environment is also a strength, but Golob pointed out that the region must save an additional 37,000 acres of open space in the next decade in order to meet the State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) goals. A final strength mentioned by the speaker: Long Island's strong communities. One indicator of community vibrancy is the average vacancy rate in the downtown business district, which the Index estimates is 7.3 percent for Nassau and Suffolk.
In spite of these and other strengths, said Golob, there are still many challenges that the region faces. "More people are struggling to get by," she said. In 2006, over half of Long Islanders said that they were having difficulty paying the rent or mortgage, as contrasted with 2003, when the total was just over 30 percent. Golob described how the prices of homes are out of balance with incomes and showed a comparison with the available affordable housing between 2005 and 2000. She also noted that the proportion of rental units in Nassau and Suffolk in relation to the population was much smaller than in similar suburbs like Westchester. She said, "A teacher, a construction worker, a recently graduated professional - none of these could afford to buy a home here now." In part because of high housing and tax costs, more Long Islanders are saying that they are likely to move away in the next five years: 69 percent in 2006 as compared to 45 percent in 2004. This number is especially high among the 18-34-year-old age group. (A number of LWV members commented, however, that there are a wide variety of non-economic reasons that people decide to move, citing examples from their own families.)
Another economic issue on Long Island, said Golob, is the loss of high-paying jobs. She said, "There has been a tremendous loss of jobs in finance, insurance, information services, technology, and manufacturing. The only growth is in the lower-paying jobs."
To shed light on some of the reasons for the "crisis," Dr. Golob presented data from a case study conducted by the Index comparing Long Island with Loudon and Fairfax Counties, affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C. In many ways similar to Nassau and Suffolk counties, these counties nevertheless have a higher satisfaction with quality of life, lower taxes, more affordable housing, lower taxes and more industry and commerce. One of the major reasons for these differences is the governmental structure. The two Northern Virginia counties have 17 governmental structures compared with Long Island's 439. As a result, Long Island's per capita governmental cost is 45 percent higher than theirs. The elimination of some of our fractionalized government is currently being addressed by local elected officials. Howard Weitzman, Nassau's comptroller, in particular, is investigating the consolidation and/or elimination of many of the special districts, as is County Executive Thomas Suozzi.
During the discussion period, a number of LWV members brought up the need for public transportation on Long Island. The speaker agreed, and stated that the Index is doing research in that area. Some members questioned the comparability of Northern Virginia counties, but there seemed to be a consensus that Long Island's fractionated government is not working efficiently.
The Index's reports can be viewed and downloaded at www.longislandindex.org. Further information about the LWV can be found at http://www.members.aol.com/lwvoterspwma/.