July 05, 2006
Stall Levy's "Nuclear Option"
It was, according to Legislator Jay Schneiderman, "the nuclear option." For weeks, representatives from County Executive Steve Levy's office have hinted the CE was working on his own plan designed to provide relief from the high cost of gasoline. Earlier this spring, Schneiderman and North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine sponsored a measure that builds on the state's cap on gasoline sales tax. The state last month voted to freeze the sales tax it charges at the $2 per gallon level. Anything over that would be tax-free.
Republicans in the county legislature sought to replicate the state action and provide extra sales tax relief. Citing financial woes, the Democratic majority opposed the notion. Instead, last week they debuted a plan to cut sales tax on clothing and shoes for three weeks next year. They'd offset the revenue loss with a variety of cost-saving measures, including reneging on the promise of increased money for local police departments.
GOP lawmakers excoriated the idea, until they saw what Levy planned.
During the waning hours of the legislature's session in Riverhead last week, Levy's plan to provide tax relief at the pumps was revealed, and for Republican caucus members, reviled.
Levy's plan would cap the sales tax collected after the $3 mark. To offset the cost, the county executive proposed laying off legislative aides and eliminating grants lawmakers give to nonprofit agencies in their districts. That means money legislators allocate to local soup kitchens, little leagues, churches, and charitable organizations like The Retreat would be X-ed out of the budget to pay for the sales tax program.
"This isn't serious government," Romaine rebuked during debate of the bill last week. "What really troubles me, is that time and time again we said we'd would negotiate with the executive on this," Romaine declared. But there was no outreach and the new proposal "coupled with this poison pill offset," he said, "makes me question whether the county executive is serious."
The lawmaker fulminated at length and with such passion that as he finished, Legislator Ellie Mystal (D. Amityville) asked, "Mr. Khrushchev would you like my shoe?"
Schneiderman, too, had harsh words for the proposal. "I'm ashamed of those that are putting this forward," he said. Democrats defended the measure. Legislator Lou D'Amaro (D. Huntington Station) characterized it as a responsible means for providing tax relief without busting the budget. The cuts to staff and agencies he said, demonstrate a willingness to pay for the relief "with our own hides." GOP caucus members, however, were skeptical that legislative staff in Democratic districts would be excised, however.
After a bitter verbal battle, the majority voted to send the bill to committee for review. Lawmakers break for the month of July, so the earliest the bill can be discussed again will be in early August.