The following are answers to The Foggiest Five, a set of questions asked to influential Long Islanders on the future of the region. This round features answers from former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who served in office from 2004 to 2011. The views presented are the author’s alone, and do not represent those of The Foggiest Idea:
1. What is your favorite part of living on Long Island?
Long Island is the best of all worlds We have proximity to the world’s greatest city and yet can live in a suburban atmosphere that’s wonderful for our children. We have good schools and safe neighborhoods and access to the best beaches on earth. We have the chic of the Hamptons and the charm of the beautiful vneyards of the North Fork We have great universities and a highly educated workforce.
2. What is our greatest regional challenge?
Our greatest challenge continues to be our very high cost of living. High housing costs, taxes and electric rates make it very difficult for people on fixed incomes, young people starting out, and even middle-class homeowners to stay. The silver lining is that home values are so high in part because people want to live here so much. Still, all the programs in the world don’t mean much if you can’t afford to live here in first place
3. What is an easy first step to solving this challenge?
There is no easy first step. The tax cap has helped but there still needs to be control over the root causes of excessive spending on Long Island Much of it is generated by the overly burdensome mandates and regulation that is pushed down from State, as well as the disproportionate power of municipal unions in New York and Long Island in particular There has to be a cap on public safety salaries and reform of a pension system that is simply unsustainable there was a time when people went into public service knowing that they would take less pay and be compensated with decent benefits and stability.The pendulum has shifted however, to the point where salaries now outpace the private sector in many cases and little to no contribution is expected of those in retirement systems. This is very cos for taxpayers.
4. What has been the biggest change that you seen on Long Island during the course of your career?
The biggest change that I’ve seen on Long Island is a recognition by other elected officials that taxes are the number one issue. When I came into office I found many fellow elected officials concerned mostly about creating new programs for their constituents. Having knocked on so many doors over my career it became clear to me that the top three issues to people of any demographic or political party was; taxes, taxes, taxes. I sought to change the paradigm and the conversation in Suffolk to make the controlling the taxes our number one priority, We managed to go eight straight years without a general fund property tax increase and saw the implementation of a tax cap. I am also happy to see that the seeds we planted in revitalizing our downtowns are starting to take root. We invested millions of dollars as a test case in Patchogue to see if workforce housing could help revitalize a struggling downtown. It seems to have worked. I think we found a template for success in other downtowns as well where we can provide a thriving cool place for young people to reside and others to recreate.
5. What do you think Long Island will be like in 20 years?
Long Island will look quite similar to what it does today. We are already built out in Western Suffolk and Nassau. We have done a good job in preserving much of the east end, so it shouldn’t change much. Brookhaven is where the majority of development will occur. We will continue to become more ethnically diverse. The percentage in the lower economic strata may increase as more folks displaced by higher rents in New York City seek options elsewhere and illegal immigration continues on it’s present trend.
Steve Levy is a graduate of Sachem High School, Stony Brook University (Magna Cum Laude) and St. John’s University Law School. In 1985 Levy was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature at age 26 – the beginning of a 15-year tenure as a member of that body. During this time he served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and as a Deputy Presiding Officer. He left the Suffolk Legislature after 2000 when he was elected a member of the New York State Assembly. In November 2003, Mr. Levy was elected as Suffolk County’s seventh County Executive, where he served until 2011.