For several months, Long Island Life & Politics has been sounding the alarm that Suffolk County is seeking to raise the sales tax at the same time it is sitting on a record $700 million in surplus funds that came through the federal government for Covid relief.
This money can be used to build sewers, so why would Suffolk lawmakers raise our sales tax to one of the highest in the nation to effectuate the same goal?
One of the reasons is that they want this extra sales tax money so that they can use the Covid surpluses for all their other pet projects, including major personnel and salary increases. It’s no surprise the municipal unions want the sales tax increase.
We understand why big-spending Democrats would push this proposal, but why are the Republicans going along? The GOP delayed the sales tax increase push for a short time to tweak the language and to push it off past the election, but they are not asking the most important question as to why the surplus monies cannot be used for sewers.
We called upon the GOP, which controls the committee process, to hold hearings months ago to get the true nature of the surpluses. Where is this money sprinkled throughout the budget and why isn’t the legislature demanding accountability as to how it’s being spent? Wouldn’t it make sense to segregate that money for the sewers so it couldn’t be squandered for other reasons?
Many legislators said, “Don’t worry, we’ll find out how much is there once the county executive submits his budget and our Budget Review Office delves into it.” We warned that this would be an inadequate amount of time to react to the executive’s spending plan.
And, lo and behold, it’s gotten even worse, now that the county executive has issued an executive emergency order claiming that he will be delaying the submission of his operating budget because of last year’s computer hack.
This means that the Suffolk Republicans and the entire legislature will have even less time than originally anticipated to dig through the budget to find out where the executive has sprinkled $700 million in COVID surpluses.
We fear that the GOP has been fooled into thinking a sales tax increase is needed for sewers when it’s not. We fear they’ve been led to believe that the surplus just isn’t there. Then they mistakenly believed that they would have adequate time to review the budget.
The Republican majority should’ve been having hearings throughout the summer asking for the Budget Review Office to lay out where the surplus funds are before they were allocated in dozens of different line items throughout the executive budget. Now they have to play catch-up, and it will be that much harder to segregate these monies for the sewers.
It’s not too late for the Suffolk Republicans to start acting like a majority and abandon their likely approval of the sales tax increase referendum after the election. If they get to work now, they can isolate the hundreds of millions in COVID funds, build sewers and avoid a sales tax increase.