We get it. The only time most of us think about Suffolk County buses is when we’re stuck behind them on the oft-congested Long Island roads.
But despite how many Long Islanders complain about the traffic, those who use Suffolk County buses every week have it that much worse, as the county has announced the potential loss of 19 bus routes all across the Island affecting about 2,500 riders. A loss of routes impacts the most vulnerable people, namely the poor, elderly or handicapped folks.
This is a real crisis, and it does not seem like everyone is on the same page about just what that means. The S62 bus is the only thing that can take somebody east and west in the Rocky Point area without having to call for an expensive cab. The north/south line of the S54, which many retail and service industry workers use to get to their jobs, is on the chopping block as well.
Some lines have very few daily riders, but even if one of those people won’t be able to get to their job, to the supermarket or even to visit friends and family, it will be a loss for the greater community.
This comes a week after county officials said they will need to cut two whole Suffolk County police classes, which means 200 new recruits not being put out on the streets.
County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) now weekly press conferences portending doom if the federal government doesn’t come through with funds for state and local municipalities are a kind of theater, yes, but they are also perhaps the only way for the county executive to make his point beyond sitting in the president’s lap and telling “Santa Trump” all the things he wants for Christmas, before the county hits the point where a budget goes through, and so do the cuts.
And that makes some local elective’s response to Bellone’s talk that much more exasperating. Republicans in the county Legislature contend the current financial woes are all the executive’s doing, and that since he already received over $280 million in federal aid, we should not be hitting up the federal government for more. That would be fine, if Suffolk wasn’t going to see at least an $800 million deficit going into next year
Beyond judging just how badly the current executive has handled Suffolk’s finances, the argument falls flat when every municipality from Montauk to Orange County, every village, town and county have all said they need federal funds as well. The congressional delegation, including both Democrats and Republicans, has at least been outspoken about the need for federal funds, but the fact is the top dogs for both parties have failed to drop the animosity and create an aid package for the municipalities nationwide who need it.
It seems like the executive and minority party in the Legislature are not on the same page — as if they ever really are — but there needs to be one, and only one, message on this issue, not a cacophony of back chatter. As important as the past state of Suffolk County finances was before the pandemic, and still is after the fact, the only way that any of these local municipalities can get to the position where those arguments are valid is if we’re all on a stable financial footing.
Because we believe Bellone when he says there won’t be a single line in the budget that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic. The loss of police classes and bus routes might be the most physical and politically stimulating examples, but one should shudder to think what other municipal services, not even county but town as well, might be getting axed in their 2021 budgets.
We are thankful that Legislature Republicans have been keeping on top of Suffolk’s financial well-being, beyond partisan politics we know it’s necessary, but now is not the time for disunity, not when the water is slowly rising and is at our necks.
Our voices need to be one, at least in this strange moment of time. We are beating back COVID-19, at least for now. Congress should not be as hard as that was if we stick together.