By Terri Alessi-Miceli
How should Long Islanders assess the merits of the $227-billion budget presented earlier this month by Governor Kathy Hochul?
Well, one way to look at it is from the perspective of the Long Island business community. And as president and CEO of one of the region’s largest business advocacy organizations, we’d ask these two questions:
First, will the new state budget help retain and attract a vibrant local workforce by expanding the availability of housing in Nassau and Suffolk counties?
And second, does it promote economic development in our region?
The housing problem is widely agreed to be a top issue for the Long Island business sector. Simply put, you can’t operate a business if you can’t find employees. And employees can’t stay here if they can’t afford to live here. Yet Long Island is hemorrhaging our younger workforce to Texas, Arizona, Florida, and other states.
A Regional Plan Association analysis in October 2020 concluded that “the chasm between Long Island’s housing needs and its existing housing stock is a serious threat to its recovery and future economic growth.”
Hammering home the point, a Newsday study in 2019 found that an eye-opening 67 percent of people between 18 and 34 said they plan to leave the region within the next five years. And they specifically reported that housing costs were the main reason they’re going. And a study by United Van Lines last year said Long Island is losing population faster than any major metropolitan area in the state.
Because of this troubling dynamic, Governor Hochul’s budget deserves praise for putting a major priority on the creation of new housing in the state.
Her budget sets in motion the New York Housing Compact, a “comprehensive, multifaceted proposal to address a historic housing shortage in New York State and build 800,000 new homes over the next decade.” On Long Island, the plan would create a four-tiered system for rezoning areas near train stations, with density requirements declining as the map moves eastward. It’s a novel approach that needs further study and input by local officials to ensure that the suburban character of our communities isn’t impacted.
As far as economic development, the budget contains funding for tourism, semiconductor manufacturing, and the renewable energy sector. Long Island business leadership will need to step up and advocate for the region, making it clear to Governor Hochul that we need our fair share of funding.
The governor is also carrying forward the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which has already targeted such communities as Hicksville, Westbury, Baldwin, Amityville, Huntington, and Riverhead. The program speaks directly to the retention of young people on Long Island. Younger residents appreciate the amenities downtowns offer as walkable, transit-oriented communities that offer easy LIRR connections to New York City.
The budget also helps Long Island by providing ongoing funding for Regional Economic Development Councils statewide. The councils take a bottom-up approach to economic development funding that puts local people in charge choosing priority projects in their region.
The long-term strength of the Long Island economy requires the active partnership of state government. Our regional business sector must capitalize upon the opportunities offered by Governor Hochul’s new state budget.
Terri Alessi-Miceli, of Smithtown, is President and CEO of HIA-LI, one of Long Island’s largest business advocacy organizations, based in Hauppauge.