Tony and I have been getting repeated emails, texts, and phone calls regarding the two proposals on the ballot and how to vote. As an initial matter, Tony and I would like to make clear that the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee takes NO POSITION on the initiatives. We do not believe it is right or fair for a political organization to place its collective thumb on the scale regarding important issues of democratic principles when we are an organization with hundreds of members where opinions will vary as will support thereof. Where matters of democratic principles that invoke issues of societal advancement, our organization has shown to move quickly to condemn behavior or principles go against the grain of the Democratic party as we did last week where Chairman Speelman was swift to condemn President's Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacy.
In short, we are sending this email with an attempt to assuage concerns regarding the Ballot Proposals and hopefully provide some information.
Proposal One Text Of PROPOSED Statute
Proposal One is a familiar proposal that we all know in Brookhaven. The difference here is that unlike Brookhaven's initiative in 2018, which tried to cryptically tie term limits that were already on the books to an extension of terms from two years to four years. Here, the proposal is to extend the term of office from from two years to four years while maintaining the 12 year term limit.
Political campaigns are expensive and require a significant amount of time spent calling donors for contributions. I know this personally because I ran two unsuccessful races against the Dan Losquadro Highway $500k juggernaut. I raised roughly $25k from family, friends, and our generous committee members. The corrosive power of money in politics cannot be denied. When a local Highway Superintendent and a Town Supervisor candidate have hundreds of thousands of dollars at their disposal, making a challenge difficult, it makes democracy feel futile. On the other hand, the time to gear up, get organized, and create an effective challenger campaign is not something that can be done in two years.
This proposal comes down to one issue for the voter: do you think it is more effective from a governance standpoint to have county legislators have four years to plan and develop long term solutions to issues like water quality, land use, and infrastructure or is the ability to vote for your representatives every two years more important?
Long term planning requires representatives to be able to look ahead, rather than look behind for challengers every two years. But, to the same token, there is something to be said about the corrosive power of incumbency with longer elected terms in a system where elected officials win 95% of the time. This is why the BTDC does not take a position. It is up to you, the voter, to think long and hard about which principle is more important to you: voting every two years on your representative or whether long term planning is a reasonable compromise for elected officials to work with the many layers of government to solve the problems facing our region. You have to make that choice.
Should you wish to know Tony or my position, we will be more than willing to discuss this Saturday for a few minutes.
Resolution No. 547-2020, "A Charter Law to Transfer Excess Funds in the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund to the Suffolk County Taxpayer Trust Fund and to Eliminate the Requirement that Interfund Transfers Be Made from the General Fund to the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Fund"
Shall Resolution No. 547-2020 be approved?
The link to review the text of the PROPOSED Statute is here:
Proposal Two is more complicated. It boils down to Should the County be able to take money specifically earmarked in a referendum for one purpose to be able to be repurposed and put into the general fund?
The County's finances are heavily dependent on sales tax revenue, a problem for all sixty two (62) counties in New York. Despite what the Suffolk GOP tells you, every county in NY has the same problem because sales tax funds operations for every county in New York, even my most hated county, Herkimer! Sales tax is highly volatile. In good times, there are surpluses to be had, but in bad times, when no one is buying cars, clothes, and other consumer goods, deficits are huge. We saw the $500 million hole that Steve Bellone and the Democratic County legislature inherited in 2011 and it took a lot of hard decisions to stave off that financial albatross. But, they were successful and have paved the way for a better future in Suffolk.
The County is looking to build a bridge to the future while preserving the services that have made our County a great place to live and work without resorting to drastic remedies like job layoffs and eliminating/pausing capital projects that will rebuild our infrastructure.
On one hand, the County being able to have the flexibility to move money around to preserve taxpayer resources in fiscal crises is an important tool to have. On the other hand, why put up a referendum for issues such as sewer quality if the fund is going to be raided and treated like a piggy bank? Is there a guarantee that the money will be put back if it is taken?
Lastly, the referendum seeks authority to forego the required $29 plus million deposit into the existing fund that was required by Court Judgment dated December 12, 2019 due to the fact that there already is a surplus in the fund.
Personally, I am not a fan of the tax "general fund" game. NYS does this every year and picks "winners and losers" in the budget reconciliation process every April that deprive school districts of revenue, local towns with monies for water quality and municipalities with winter recovery paving funds [which is why we need to elect and re-elect our democratic candidates to the State Senate and State Assembly so they can fight for Suffolk's piece of the tax pie]. However, the ability to give the county the flexibility to push and move levers in financial crises is an important consideration.
We should have had a sewer system built long before I was born on Long Island, but here we are.
For a brief overview of why we don't have sewers check out Newsday's Special Report here:
As a voter, you need to decide if it is worth it to give the County authority to move funds when they face budget problems (a "Yes" Vote) or should we ensure that voter approved referendum funds are only spent on what they are approved for (a "No" Vote).
We hope that this makes the proposals more clear. We hope you will be able to make decisions easier.