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Staten Island Secession

Secession dreaming

Published: Sunday, May 17, 2009, 2:48 AM     Updated: Sunday, May 17, 2009, 2:59 AM
Staten Island Advance Editorial

Talk of secession is in the air again and it's not surprising. The crushing economic recession has led government officials and governmental entities to impose and array of higher taxes, fares, fees and service cuts. And this burden falls heavily on ordinary people whose own "revenue stream" has shrunk alarmingly.

People are distressed in general and when public policy-makers start piling on, they focus their anger on their government. There's a natural allure to the belief that a smaller, localized government run by neighbors can do better than large centralized government controlled by people who don't care about the local folks.

The idea has been around a long time on Staten Island, which has long been out-muscled by the other, more populous boroughs and therefore chronically short-changed by city government.

The Staten Island secession movement in the early 1990s actually reached the point of a court-approved referendum in which 65 percent of Staten Island voters approved secession from the City of New York. That democratic idealism, however, ran headlong into raw power politics in Albany, of course, and the movement slammed to a halt.

A few months ago, state Sen. Andrew Lanza revived talk of breaking away from the city. Mr. Lanza succeeded "The Father of Secession," John Marchi, in the state Senate in 2007. In making his bid to revive the secession effort, Mr. Lanza cited the imbalance between high city taxes paid by Staten Islanders and the paltry services supplied by the city. In particular, he pointed to the city's failure to provide adequate funding for health care here.

Interest died down after an initial flurry of debate in December. But the senator is hoping to revive that interest now that secession has become a hot topic in another part of the state.

Last week, the Suffolk County Legislature, by a 12-6 vote, approved a home-rule message that calls for a study and referendum on the possibility of Long Island seceding from New York State.

"Home-rule message" and "referendum" are terms all too familiar to Staten Islanders.

Among many other gripes, many Long Islanders are incensed about the $1.5-billion regional payroll tax enacted by the state legislation bailing out the Metropolitan Transportation.

Suffolk Legislator Daniel Losquadro thundered. "We are at the point of revolt. . . . Long Island needs to stand up and take whatever action is necessary to throw off those shackles of the tyrants up in New York State."

Mr. Lanza takes the unrest as a sign that the concept of localities seceding from oppressive larger government entities is gaining momentum.

"Secession is certainly in the water," Mr. Lanza said. "People are waking up and seeing the bill that they have to pay. More and more, they are seeing through the nonsense, that something's not right."

That something's not right can't be argued. We'd have a hard time challenging the assertion that the state government in Albany is abysmal, and has been for a long time. The bloated state budget (amid a terrible recession) and its botched and unfair MTA bailout package are Exhibits A and B in making that case, and only the most recent examples.

Some may disagree, but we'd contend that city government, for all its flaws, operates considerably better than that.

However, we agree with Mr. Lanza that the disproportionately high amount of city taxes that come from Staten Island don't square with the low level of city services, often grudgingly provided. His claim about health-care funding is on the money. Someday, a separate Staten Island may again be the only feasible option.

The question we have about secession now, however, is whether it's not a case of believing that the government you don't have -- that doesn't even exist -- being better than the one you do have.

The question becomes all the more relevant in the midst of the worst economy in 70 years.

As they used to say during the Depression, things are bad all over. Are restless localities such as the Borough of Staten Island wise to try to strike out on their own now? We understand it would be a long process at best and the economy might improve, but boosterism aside, is this borough really self-sufficient?

More to the point: The Long Island insurrectionists have found there's red tape. Suffolk County's home-rule message and referendum would have to be matched by one from Nassau County, and Nassau County officials, so far, aren't biting. What's more, even if Nassau were to jump on the bandwagon, the state Legislature would have to approve.

When Staten Island tried to secede from the city, it required approval from the city. Now that Long Island wants to secede from the state, it would have to get approve from the state.

See how this works?

Take it from us. Nobody ever said secession would be easy -- or even possible. But it's nice, in the middle of all this festering anger, to dream.

Admitted: June 1, 1796
Population: 77,262
Prior time as territory: 6 years
Journey to statehood: Took place without congressionally approved "enabling act," and in so doing blazed a trail for six future states that would similarly barge into the Union without first being invited. Tennessee's first two "senators" were denied entry to Congress, but the territory later lobbied successfully for admission. Its first officially recognized congressman, Andrew Jackson, was elected in August 1796.


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