We can overwhelmingly thank and congratulate our elected leaders who represent Smithtown and North Bellport for applying for some of the most competitive grants in the state solely for the purpose of community input-driven Downtown Revitalization Initiatives (DRI). Especially for a Town like Smithtown, that has been written off and left by the wayside by elected officials of yesteryear, it’s truly a remarkable accomplishment and a good day for its residents.

            But we find that Governor Kathy Hochul’s surprise visit to Kings Park High School, while a welcome one as she came bearing gifts, was in bad taste and, frankly, a slap in the face to the Kings Park community just mere days after announcing proposed budget cuts that will gut the school district – and many others like it – over hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding.

            Firstly, the visit was a surprise to the media and community members alike, as the Superintendent of Kings Park High School announced – ahead of time – on the school’s online forum of an “unforeseen closure” a week prior to the Governor’s visit. The Governor’s decision to drop in during school hours – a Thursday morning – not only reeks of disregard for the school day but also creates an unnecessary security risk. We find it odd the Governor could not find a local community space to host the gathering.

            Secondly, the Governor touted her record-setting $233 billion spending plan for the 2025 fiscal year. The Governor of New York already enjoys outweighed say in crafting budgets, as governors in other states usually only pass or veto the budget while the legislature creates the actual budget. Contrary to other states, New York allows policy to mingle with fiscal measures in the budget, creating an odd power dynamic when certain parties decide to hold each other hostage with municipal salaries and governmental operation on the line. Hochul touted her budget plan as something to be proud of, as something that returns Albany dollars back to Suffolk when we ordinarily do not see much of that money back.

            We think Hochul’s budget has some decent points, but trying to frame a massive spending plan around Long Island’s already pitiful ratio of dollars sent to dollars received is an insult to injury.

            Finally, and our biggest criticism of the Governor, is that she decided to hold her surprise press conference in one of the very buildings for which she intends to slash funding. Under her budget proposal, local school districts across Suffolk County are set to lose upwards of $30 million, creating either a vacuum in which school functions disappear or a scenario in which already-exorbitant property taxes are raised higher than the roof itself.

            We cannot endorse this aspect of her budget and we simply cannot condone her usage of a school for this press conference, despite the positive overtones of her visit. Not only will Kings Park and Smithtown School Districts see funding cuts, but so will Connetquot Central, Eastport-South Manor, Three Village, Bayport-Blue Point, and nearly three dozen others across Suffolk County. From Cold Spring Harbor to Fisher’s Island, Suffolk County’s students, parents, and teachers will feel the pain of budget cuts, making a regularly-asked question all the more inconvenient: is it fiscally possible to stay in Suffolk County?

            It’s ironic that Hochul’s presentation of a DRI grant comes in tandem with her budget cuts to schools. In a move to help local municipalities retain residency and create self-sustaining economies, she’s also giving families a gilt-edged reason to pack and split for another state. Suffolk County already sees highest-in-the-nation property taxes; it seems counterintuitive to try to retain residents by making them higher. There’s already way too much of that, so why not more?

            While Hochul deserves praise for working with local leaders of a separate party who represent constituents who overwhelmingly opposed her in the 2022 gubernatorial election, she cannot get a pass for hosting her guest appearance in a place that, by her own craftsmanship, will see less funding next year.

            Again, the budget is still conjecture at this point and requires deliberation by the state legislature. Last year’s budget proceedings resulted in a month-long showdown between Hochul and the progressive wing of Albany Democrats, effectively letting moderates fall by the wayside and Republicans to sit out negotiations almost completely. We hope all factions of each party stand up to oppose Hochul’s state funding cuts to school districts and we certainly hope that the next time Hochul makes a guest appearance bearing gifts, the venue of choice is not one that might not be able to afford such an arrival next year.

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.