Steve Levy


It’s Not Too Late To Resurrect The Landmark 2011 Sewer Program

A 2011 proposal I laid out to install needed sewers in Suffolk County was squandered, but it’s still not too late to reinvigorate that program.

Early that year my team saw that there was more than $100 million in surplus money sitting in a fund created to stabilize county sewer rates. We had enough money to stabilize these rates for two decades, while still having a tremendous surplus remaining. In the meantime, there was a dire need for more sewers in Suffolk so that we could grow responsibly and maintain our water quality.

Sewer construction stagnated for decades because of the Southwest Sewer District scandal, and federal aid drying up. We thought it was time to resurrect our sewer programs, and thankfully we found a pot of money to accomplish that goal.  

I, therefore, announced the landmark program to utilize the majority of that surplus for new sewers and to upgrade our present network to enhance water quality. A smaller remainder of the funds could also be used to help mitigate property tax increases over the next two decades. 

A legal discussion ensued as to whether the initial establishment of the Sewer Stabilization Fund, which was passed by a public referendum, would require a subsequent referendum to modify its terms. A recent court decision had upheld a New York City resolution altering its term limits laws, even though the original proposal was passed via a referendum. So Suffolk did the same and jump-started this new program of restructuring of the Sewer Stabilization Fund to build sewers.

Our first directives called for an analysis of installing sewers for the Ronkonkoma Hub and downtown Smithtown. Many other localities, including Mastic and Oakdale, would follow. 

The program was derailed when a private group sued to void the program because it did not seek a follow-up referendum. While the county triumphed in the lower court, eventually, it was decreed that a subsequent referendum would be needed, despite a ruling in an opposite manner for the New York City case.

A subsequent referendum was approved, but it unfortunately gutted the ability of the county to redirect the surplus funds for sewers, and instead allowed it all to be siphoned for filling budget holes. Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been taken for purely budgetary purposes. Had our original landmark law been kept in place, by now, eight years later, we would’ve had many of our downtowns enjoying the needed sewers they have been asking for for so many decades.

It’s still not too late. When those funds are replenished, we should insist that the majority of that money go back toward the construction of needed new sewers. A smaller amount could go toward retiring debt, but ultimately, it makes the most sense to direct surplus sewer money back toward condo growth and a cleaner environment.

Steve Levy is the former Suffolk County executive and president of Common Sense Strategies.

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OpEd: We Must Control This Virus Without Creating A Depression

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It is perhaps the biggest decision of our time: In the wake of the coronavirus, how do we balance the goal of saving every life possible without sending us into a deep economic depression?

New York State closed down every non-essential business via an executive order two weeks ago. In doing so, the Governor said this drastic action would be justified if it saved just one life. 

In a vacuum that may be true, but what also must be considered is that creating a possible depression, and the poverty that comes with it, could also lead to lives being lost. Who knows how many in the long run?

Let’s be clear at the outset that raising these questions of balance is not in any way criticizing the intentions of any decision maker in this process. More than at any time since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, we are all in this together. Park the party registration at the door. Let’s not talk about taking credit or pinning blame on anyone. But let’s also have an honest, intelligent conversation as to how we save our residents and our economy.

The valiant doctors who surround our elected officials provide needed data based advice that is invaluable. Their one and only goal is to take any means necessary to preserve life to a maximum degree. Thank goodness for these heroes. 

But let’s remember that it is not the job of these healthcare professionals to look at the larger picture as to what the ancillary consequences could be to a prolonged economic shut down. That is the job for our elected representatives.

With coronavirus, we are talking about life and death, so we rightfully will not quibble over the trillions it will take to keep our heads above water. It is also understandable why any elected official would say close everything down and take any measure, regardless of how extreme, to bend the infection curve downward as soon as possible. Doing so avoids Monday morning quarterbacking months down the line where some might ask, “Why didn’t you go further when you might’ve been able to save an extra life?” There’s also the legitimate point of taking the maximum hit now to lessen the pain later.

It’s much more difficult, and far more risky, for the elected official to say we are going to go after this virus in unprecedented ways, but still keep our economy in place so that we do not create problems that could become just as insurmountable as the virus itself.

We have to refrain from trying to tar those who would express concern about economic conditions as being greedy fat cats who put money over lives. The bottom line is that more people thrive in good economic times and more people die when resources are scarce. In other words, poverty kills. Sometimes, it can kill even more than a virus does.  

When I heard about the shutdown, I thought it was something we could handle. Telling half your workforce that they have to stay home is understandable, and will help lessen contact and spread. It’s also survivable, even for most small businesses. Telling three-quarters of the workforce to avoid the workplace creates a level of strain that can bring a business to the brink. Still, maybe for a short duration, we could make it through. 

But telling 100 percent of the nonessential workforce that they have to stay home is in essence shutting down our economy and causing a recession at the least, and possibly creating conditions we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, if this is prolonged. 

What if in a few months the virus is gone, but the economy is left in tatters? Could we face medical conditions that, previously treatable, would be jeopardized because our depressed economic conditions could not support proper care? Money that could go to healthcare would have to go to extended unemployment benefits and welfare assistance. The hope is that everything will bounce back. Perhaps it will, but what if it doesn’t? What if a two-month shutdown puts our small businesses at a point of no return?

Once you close everything down, it becomes extremely difficult politically to reopen until the curve has not only peaked, but has flattened back to near zero.  

So is there a way to keep our businesses open, even if just a skeleton version, while simultaneously isolating the vulnerable within our population? 

Maybe the lockdowns could apply to large gatherings, the elderly, and the infirm. This could be coupled with wide-scale temperature readings so that those identified with a high temperature can be segregated from the larger population. That, along with massive testing, is what seems to be working in South Korea.

An March 17 article in Science magazine noted:

“The country of 50 million appears to have greatly slowed its epidemic; it reported only 74 new cases today, down from 909 at its peak on 29 February. And it has done so without locking down entire cities or taking some of the other authoritarian measures that helped China bring its epidemic under control.

“Behind its success so far has been the most expansive and well-organized testing program in the world, combined with extensive efforts to isolate infected people and trace and quarantine their contacts. South Korea has tested more than 270,000 people, which amounts to more than 5,200 tests per million inhabitants — more than any other country except tiny Bahrain, according to the Worldometer website. The United States has so far carried out 74 tests per 1 million inhabitants, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.”

I hope that our leaders’ decision to close down the economy turns out to be the right one. Let’s monitor it and maintain the flexibility to moderate these extreme edicts. Controlling this virus is essential. And so is avoiding a depression.

Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a New York State Assemblyman, and host of The Steve Levy Radio Show. He is the author of Bias in the Media and can be reached at SteveLevy.info,@SteveLevyNY

How Creeping Taxes Are Destroying Long Island

If you want to know why taxes on Long Island are so high, pay attention to tax creep. It’s the $20 here and $30 there that add up to almost $1,000 in higher taxes annually.

How many times have we heard that there’s no reason to fret; the proposed increase on that new bond is only $20 per month?

That’s what taxpayers in one district heard when a new library was built. That’s another $240 a year, before they’ve even factored in their school’s operational increases. A typical 3 percent increase for a guy like me comes out to about an additional $218.

That’s on top of the extra $140 for the recent school bond that passed on the theory that it was only another $12 per month.

When Suffolk County police got their latest contract, we were told it’s only $35 more a year. This, while the town was saying its modest general fund increase was only another $18.50 a year.

The Suffolk County Water Authority is going to take a certain chemical out of its system? Rejoice, it’s only going to be an extra $80 annually. That doesn’t include the usual increases for general operations. And there’s the other county initiative floated to take another $300 annually for more “water cleaning” programs? Not to mention the $21,000 they want some to spend to replace our cesspools.

Meanwhile, New York State is giving us offshore windmills, while we continue to pay to subsidize inefficient upstate nuke plants. Another $30 a year for that. That’s on top of National Grid’s increase of $38 approved for 2020. By the way, the utility is presently asking for another hike of almost $100.  

Look also to your cell phone bill, where in New York, taxes comprise 28 percent of the bill. The average is $260 per year, up from $229.

The $20 here and $30 there just added up to a whopping $813 theft from our pockets on these items alone. 

Former Senate Floor Leader Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking about real money.”  Same for the local level. $20 here. $30 there. Soon you’re talking about a grand in extra taxes and fees. 

And they wonder why we are leaving?

Steve Levy is a former Suffolk County executive and current president of Common Sense Strategies.

Levy: Schools, Parents Should Protect Kids From MS-13


How foolish must parents and administrators at a Huntington school district feel after banishing an anti-gang school resource officer, only to then see an assault on their students by alleged MS-13 gang members?

Open border policies led to thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America being relocated into our Long Island schools over the last several years. Many of us warned that this was a recipe for disaster. Having young male teens sent with no parental influence meant that many were going to come under the wing of MS-13 as their new family. And that’s exactly what happened, as we saw dozens of our young students, primarily in minority areas, slaughtered by these gang members.

In response, the Department of Justice became involved and put on a full-court press. Their aggressive tactics worked. We haven’t seen another student slaying since.

Meanwhile, the horrific policy decision by the Suffolk County government in 2012 to stop cooperating with the feds — thereby helping the MS-13 gang metastasize on Long Island — was reversed after the killings. School resource officers from the county police were doing a fine job in monitoring potential gang activity. But then an article parroting the radical illegal immigration lobbyist front persuaded some naive residents and administrators to push back on the aggressive efforts of the resource officers, and basically told them to stand down.

This was all because a single student was spotted by a resource officer as being a suspected gang member. His name was forwarded to the feds and they deported him. The student, like any other individual, was entitled to due process. But it is sheer lunacy for many parents and administrators to have come down hard on the resource officer, who was simply doing his job and trying to protect our innocent young students.  

The youngster showed three things warranting further investigation. He was wearing blue sneakers — the color associated with the gang. He was also brandishing the area code of his hometown, a frequent gang indicator, and he possessed numerous drawings of the devil (which he noted was the school’s mascot).

Of course, none of these items standing alone would be enough to send up any red flags. But when taken all together, it was certainly warranted the office or to at least initiate an investigation. The feds must have found something to believe that the individual had gang affiliation, yet many parents and do-gooders were out in full force at a school board meeting demanding that resource officers stop doing their job. If there was an overreach in this particular case, deal with it, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

It must have seemed to these folks that the killings of our students by the MS-13 members was ancient history. And then, last week, a stabbing occurred, which should be a wake up to many naïve individuals who pander to the radical elements within our society, as opposed to focusing, first and foremost, on protecting our children.

We are the grown-ups. Our children depend on us for their safety. Stop playing politically correct games and do your job as a parent and as leaders of the community and protect them from gang assaults.

Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a NYS Assemblyman, and host of “The Steve Levy Radio Show.”

Consumer Beware: Electric Bill Shock

Newsday recently published an editorial promoting windmills off the Long Island shore. The editorial centered on whether windmills could coexist with the livelihood of fishermen. Ultimately, the editorial concluded they can, and that the windmills should be built because it’s good for the environment. Case closed.

Remarkably, the editorial completely ignored the enormous potential costs of the project and its impact on ratepayers. As a former Suffolk County executive, I prided myself in promoting alternative energies, but never took the unrealistic view that renewables could replace all of our fossil fuels within the next few years.

However, politicians, including New York’s governor, are spouting the nonsense that we can mandate having renewables meet 50 percent of our energy needs in the next decade, without causing extensive economic hardship. These politicians have an obligation to warn ratepayers that their electric bills are going to skyrocket, and that wind power could cost anywhere from four to seven times more than traditional means.

For instance, windmills off Block Island had start-up costs of $240/MWh (per megawatthour), while nationwide wholesale electricity prices averaged $20 to $45 per MWh in 2016.

LI’s planned windmills are modeled after those in Ocean City, Md., which cost $132 per megawatt. New York State’s average cost per megawatt hour for power is $36.56. If New York were to provide the same subsidy Maryland did, it would cost our ratepayers $392 million annually. That’s $7 billion over 20 years.

Yet another $7 billion price tag awaits New York ratepayers because the governor has, in his quest to meet his self-imposed renewable goals, demanded that failing upstate nuclear power plants (which fall under his non-fossil fuel label) be kept open via ratepayer subsidies, even though they are noncompetitive in today’s market. His rationale is that we must save the 1,000 jobs employed by the plants — that’s $7 million per job.

And, let’s reflect on what Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce noted about Germany’s experience in pushing to have 80 percent of its electricity coming from renewables by 2050. He cited a German study, which confirmed that between 2007 and 2018, residential electricity prices in Germany jumped by 50 percent.

German residential customers now pay nearly three times the price of residential electricity in the U.S.

Moreover, Bryce referenced California, which also mandated 50 percent of the state’s electricity be sourced from renewables by 2030, and an Environmental Progress study, which reported California’s rates rose more than five times the rate of electricity prices in the rest of the U.S. between 2011 and 2017.

Californians now pay about 60 percent more for residential, commercial and industrial electricity than residents of other states.

I’m not exactly California Dreamin’ over that, and neither should any other New York ratepayer.

Stop Pretending Spending More on Schools Improves Performance

A recent letter to the editor from a well-intentioned resident on Long Island regarding the quality of its schools reinforces the myth that more money is the answer to failing schools.

The letter writer, whom I will call Ms. Dogooder, stated emphatically that the reason students in low wealth school districts on Long Island underperform is because their communities are unable to generate as much property tax revenues as their wealthier counterparts. She stated that an article describing problems in a local school “highlighted one of the salient reasons why some schools fail. Money is an important factor. Higher performing schools spend more per pupil because their property taxes are usually higher.”

She represents a surprisingly large segment of the population, who believe that the cure to fixing underperforming schools is simply to throw more money at the problem. Unfortunately, continuing to hold onto this discredited concept punishes not only over beleaguered taxpayer, but also the very students that the do-gooders claim to be advocating for.

Ms. Dogooder states that schools such as Hempstead, in Nassau County, are spending far less per pupil than wealthy districts, because they cannot raise enough in property taxes. This is simply false.

Ms. Dogooder is correct in her assertion that Hempstead, will raise less money from property tax collections than say, Garden City, a far wealthier zip code. But she seems to be unaware that disproportionately higher state aid granted to low wealth districts more than offsets any disparities in property tax collections.

For instance, while the wealthy district of Garden City garners $5.7 million in state aid, Hempstead receives $119 million. Thus, the $27,000 average spending per-pupil in Hempstead, is actually more than the $25,000 per-pupil spent in Garden City.
From 2006 to 2015, state aid to education increased by $6 billion to a total of $23 billion, despite a brutal recession in between. By 2018, aid had risen to almost $27 billion, with lower wealth districts receiving the far more dollars per pupil.

The average New York State spending per pupil in 2015 was $21,000, almost double the $11,000 national average. Using Ms. Dogooder’s logic, wouldn’t that mean that New York test scores would be twice as good? Actually, our reading test scores for fourth-graders are below national average, according to “The Nation’s Report Card”, proving that simply pushing more money toward the problem is not the solution.

Perhaps if we instill more competition and discipline, along with higher standards, we would see better results. Rather than pretending that low performance is the result of a lack of funding, perhaps we’d be better off looking at root problems of underperformance, including the breakdown of the nuclear family.

The only thing the philosophy espoused by Ms. Dogooder has accomplished is making New York one of the highest taxed areas in the nation. We need to fix the problem, but we can’t do so until we understand the cause.

Steve Levy is Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Governance. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a NYS Assemblyman, and host of The Steve Levy Radio Show.

Election Reform: Proceed With Caution

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a New York State election reform bill and it’s about time. But as the old saying goes, the devil’s in the details.

There are many derivatives to this overarching theme. And while the state has some of the most archaic election laws on the books, we have to be careful which reforms will move us forward and which will make matters worse.

There’s no liberal or conservative answer to the problem; rather, it’s a mixed bag of common sense.


New York is a rare state, restricting voting to just one day. Having early voting stretch out weeks before the election is not only expensive, but it overlooks that so much can change just a week before the election. The best route is to allow for voting on the weekend of election week, in addition to the traditional Tuesday.


Placing the burden on nonprofessional per diem election inspectors to validate the eligibility for those registering at the same time they are voting is too much to ask. The potential for fraud is just not worth it.


What’s wrong with automatically registering American citizens to vote once they become 18, as long as this is limited only to those with valid social security numbers? Yes, it would give an advantage to the Democratic voting bloc, but more voter eligibility is healthy for a democracy.


New York is notorious for kicking candidates off the ballot for the most minor technicalities. Just last year, a candidate running for the Nassau County Legislature was temporarily thrown off the ballot because his petitions stated he was running for Nassau legislator instead of legislature.


This is one of the trendiest, yet most problematic, of the proposed reforms. The only people determining who the standardbearer for a party should be are the registered members of that particular party. In 2016, there were numerous instances in open primary states of folks admitting to mischievously voting in the their opposing party’s primaries to support a candidate they perceived would be the weakest.


President Donald Trump dramatically overstated the extent of voter fraud. However, the claim by Democrats that fraud is nonexistent may be even more dangerous. Voter fraud is rare, but you don’t need many illegitimate votes to tilt an entire election. Al Franken won his U.S. Senate election by a smaller margin (312) than the number of votes that were suspected as being tainted (at least 393).

When it comes to election reform, it indeed depends on how you define “reform.” Let’s say “yes” to greater ballot access and opportunities to vote, but “no” to any so-called reforms that weaken the integrity of the voting process.

Keeping Taxes, Fees Down Around Long Island

Long Island

A better way to remove nitrogen in Suffolk?

As county executive, I passed a law that allowed surplus revenues in the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Fund to be used for the upgrades of existing sewer and septic systems. We didn’t mandate septic systems replacement because it could cause severe financial hardship on homeowners.

The Bellone administration put forth a different program, also providing money for these purposes. However, a new Suffolk law will require that the homeowners replace deteriorating cesspools with systems that may cost $17,000 to $25,000. There may be small grants or loans available, but it will still be quite burdensome.

But there may be a better way – through technology that can dramatically reduce nitrogen, while costing only about $1,000 for the equipment and $1,500 for installation. The legislature must analyze this option as a possible way to improve the environment without placing our over-beleaguered residents into financial turmoil.

Don’t handcuff Hempstead Supervisor

Kudos to Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, who is bringing a lawsuit to invalidate the power grab by the outgoing administration that sought to prevent her from implementing any layoffs as she took the reins of power.

This was a disgusting partisan ploy by an outdated political machine. An executive must maintain the power to trim the size of government to keep taxes under control, or even to be able to make the threat to impose layoffs.

Without such leverage, there is zero ability to obtain concessions from the very strong municipal labor unions on Long Island. Let’s hope Gillen wins this suit and that officials from both parties refrain from this type of patronage protection in the future.

Higher LIPA rates?

Clean alternative power sources are the wave of the future, but we have to implement their usage in a sensible way. For instance, we should not be destroying woodlands, as is happening in central Brookhaven, for the purpose of laying down solar panels. (The town is wisely fighting it.) There are thousands of buildings and deteriorated centers that can host solar panels without having to resort to destroying whatever limited foliage still remains in our suburban community.

As for windmills, they might be an additional power source in spots, but we should be honest with the public that energy generated by windmills can cost four to seven times more per kilowatt than standard power plant energy. Beware, because our energy prices are about to go even higher, due to the governor’s pledge to have ratepayers throughout the state bail out failed nuclear power plants upstate. This will cost us $7 billion in our rates. No one bailed out Long Island to cover the cost of Shoreham.

Nassau exec v. unions

Interesting that it is the new Democratic executive who is standing up to the municipal unions in Nassau County. Laura Curran deserves credit for not having caved in her pre-election interviews with the unions by making a crazy promise to raise taxes over imposing layoffs.

It allowed her to maintain her independence and now we are seeing her seeking to invalidate a memorandum of understanding between the last administration and the unions that gave them additional longevity payments. Curran is also wisely embracing the Nassau Interim Finance Authority control board, which under the leadership of Adam Barsky, is finally acting like a true monitor and demanding cuts, instead of practicing the “don’t make waves” posture of the past.

Suffolk, which actually has a deficit larger the Nassau, should be seeking a control board itself to provide the statutory power to change burdensome contracts that are taxpayer killers. Curran and Barsky are showing how cooperation can be a bonus for the taxpayer.

Return school surpluses to taxpayers

Schools on LI continue to deliberately overestimate expenditures and underestimate revenues in order to create artificially high escrows, which illegally exceed the 4 percent limit imposed by the state.

The state comptroller should implement legislation that mirrors how improper escrows are handled with the MTA. The state intercepts sales tax money that would otherwise go to the MTA. State aid that would otherwise go directly to the school should instead be rerouted directly to the taxpayer in an amount equal to that above the 4 percent escrow limit.

Make tax cap permanent

Long Island residents shouldn’t assume that the very successful 2 percent tax cap will be around forever. It was temporary and must be renewed by the state.

It’s scary to know that the power of the Senate may shift from the Republican suburbanites to the New York City Democrats. They would have no desire to keep the cap in place unless they were able to first extract a huge price from Long Island taxpayers. Now is the time for the state to make the cap permanent, while the Republican suburbanites still maintain control of the Senate.

Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a NYS Assemblyman, and host of “The Steve Levy Radio Show.”

Hopes for a Taxpayer Friendly 2018

It’s laudable that our state legislators lashed out against parts of the federal tax plan that will hurt New York. But the taxpayer protection measures below are all within the power of these same legislators.

Will their votes back up their rhetoric? We will find out over the months to come.

From all of us at the Center for Cost Effective Governance, here are our wishes for the upcoming year.

1. Make the two percent property tax permanent
This important protection should not be a bargaining chip for New York City legislators on extraneous matters every few years. Make it permanent.

2. Stop circumventing the tax cap
Since interest on bonds is exempt from the tax cap, more and more schools have been floating bonds of over $200 million, which cost each household about $250 per year for several decades. Make the cap a real cap. At the very least, require any bonding votes be held on the same day as the budget vote in May; not in winter, when folks are away.

3. Return school surpluses
Let this be the year the courts enforce provisions that require schools to return surpluses over four percent back to the taxpayers. This law has been ignored for too long. A law should be passed permitting the Comptroller to intercept state aid for districts keeping too much surplus, and return it directly to taxpayers.

4. Eliminate overtime from pensions
Employee shouldn’t be able to double their pensions by working unlimited overtime in the last few years of service, thereby artificially increasing their base salary on which the pension is set. Six-figure pensions are becoming commonplace in public safety unions. It’s unsustainable.

5. Allow schools to buy off of the federal purchasing list
At the Center’s request, Rep. Lee Zeldin has sponsored a bill to allow schools to buy goods off the federal vendor list, as they can presently off the state list. The larger the pool, the lower the cost.

6. Abolish the Railroad Disability Board
Years after it was uncovered that 97 percent of retired LIRR employees were receiving disability pensions, reforms were supposedly enacted. The result? Ninety percent of employees are still being granted such pensions. Throw this board overboard and let claims be heard through a more balanced entity.

7. End Gerrymandering
As we approach the 2020 census, government should be preparing to implement nonpartisan, independent redistricting panels.

8. End Union Leave
Either the courts or the Legislature should invalidate the concept of having taxpayer dollars used to free up union leaders to lobby for their union issues, which often result in higher taxes. Let union dues pay for that purpose, as is the case in the private sector.

9. Suffolk’s first I&R
This may be the year that citizens finally implement a successful Initiative and Referendum petition in Suffolk County. It’s possible there may be a proposal requiring all budget votes be taken before, rather than after, the election.

10. End the Scaffold LawNew York is the only state that makes a building owner absolutely liable for worker injuries, even if the injuries were caused by the workers’ negligence. It’s estimated this law adds $10,000 to the construction of every new home.

Steve Levy is Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Governance. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a NYS Assemblyman, and host of “The Steve Levy Radio Show.”

When A Tax Cap Is Not Really A Tax Cap

When is a tax cap not a tax cap. The answer is when, as with our New York State cap, bonded interest is exempt from the parameters of the cap.

Thus, we hear of Port Jefferson schools proposing a bond of $29 million, which will not be counted in the cap calculations, yet will raise taxes by 5 percent a year, costing each household about $200 annually over and above the regular increases that will come with the budget that will supposedly be within the 2 percent cap.

So, in essence, the school taxes will increase by 5-7 percent or more, while the press release will proclaim that the budget is within 2 percent.

This is nothing to sneeze at. The same residents will be paying an almost 5 percent increase in their police taxes next year. Yet the county says the increase is within the 2 percent cap, because folks in the Southwest Sewer District in Babylon will get a return of some of the millions that were improperly taken from them after the bonds for the sewer district had already been paid off. (Residents outside the sewer district, including Port Jeff, will not see any of those offsets.)

Expenditures dedicated to paying off the skyrocketing pension costs are also exempt. That is significant when you consider that the county has borrowed over $300 million for pension costs over the past five years (even though the recession has abated).

At least in the county, when the operating budget, upon which the tax levy is based, is put together, the budget crafters already know the size of the capital budget and the extent of the bonds and interest to be incorporated into the general fund.

Schools, on the other hand, can craft an operating budget in May, citing a specific tax levy, and thereafter float a bond that dramatically increases that number. Voters are duped into believing they are voting for a 2 percent increase in May, only to have an extra 5 percent piled on them in a bond vote in September.

There are two potential solutions:

The first is having the state legislature revise the law and remove the exemption of bonded indebtedness from the cap. But that, admittedly, is a heavy political lift.

The second, more realistic, proposal is to require that any such bonding referenda be voted upon on or before the school’s operating budget is put up to a public vote in May of each year. If a bonding referendum is floated, it should contain wording clearly alerting voters to the extent that the bond would have on the cap and the real dollar tax impact upon the average household.

The good news is that there is such an amendment that has been introduced in the state legislature. Our Center has been promoting its adoption. The bad news is the state legislature continues to bottle this reform up in committee.

Once again, the status quo is winning in Albany. If you are tired of paying a 7 percent tax increase when your school is telling you the budget is within the 2 percent cap, give a nudge to your state rep to change this madness.

Steve Levy is Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Government. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a NYS Assemblyman, and host of “The Steve Levy Radio Show.”