June 28, 2006

Decry "Bogus Political Threat"

Members of the GOP caucus in the county legislature expected something like this. Ever since East End lawmakers Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine proposed offering gasoline sales tax relief to motorists, fellow Republicans predicted retaliation from the Democratic majority.

It debuted on Monday morning. Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay (D. Holbrook) and Majority Caucus leader Jon Cooper (D., Lloyd Harbor) premiered a plan that, if adopted, would result in what Romaine called additional "punishment" for the East End.

With the contention that they would provide "real" relief to consumers, the majority caucus proposed offering three weeks free of sales tax on clothes and shoes a year from now. Dems, with Cooper at the lead, have repeatedly argued that if the county were to cap the amount of gasoline sales tax it collects, there's no guarantee the savings would be passed on to motorists. Instead, Cooper claims, only big oil would benefit.

The proposed three tax free clothing weeks would truly put money in consumers' pockets, Cooper said in a release on Monday.

But not for a while, if at all.

Reacting to the proposal Schneiderman and Romaine reminded that earlier this year the state approved a measure waiving the sales tax on clothing and shoes for the entire year. Suffolk County was offered the chance to participate in the program, but declined. The adoption of the year-round waiver removed muncipalities' chances of calling for isolated tax-free weeks, as the Democrats plan proposes. "It was all or nothing and Suffolk took nothing," Schneiderman said. In order for the majority's plan to be implemented, they'd have to find state lawmakers willing to sponsor legislation giving the county the authority to waive the sales tax for the designated timeframe. Romaine quoted Shakespeare to reveal his opinion, the plan is "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Derision escalated upon discussion of the way lawmakers proposed to offset the revenue loss a tax-free three weeks would entail. Cutting legislative aides and expenses, taking away funding for contract agencies and reverting to the 2005 figures for public safety revenue sharing are among offsets proposed. That last would cost East End police departments close to $2 million.

"This is a political trick designed on its face to be unpalatable," Schneiderman fumed. "This is the kind of stupid stunt I was hoping wouldn't be a part of this year's legislature, but I've never seen more childlike behavior."

The South Fork lawmaker took special exception to the proposed cutting of police money. He called it "a bogus political threat to steal $2 million County Executive Steve Levy promised to the East End last year when he vetoed a plan to give local towns and villages a fair share of revenue earmarked for public safety."

Money the Dems would shave from contract agencies includes small non-profits, like food pantries, in individual districts. They could target those agencies in Republican districts alone, as with the plan to cut aides.

"They'll cut one aide in every Republican office. This is their idea of good government? I want to hear their argument for this. I want to hear that it's not politics," Romaine concluded.

According to sources in the party, Levy voiced opposition to his majority's proposal behind closed doors Monday morning. He was particularly opposed to targeting police money, one source reported.

As The Independent went to press yesterday, Levy was expected to present his own plan for providing gasoline sales tax relief.

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