SUFFOLK COUNTY—Legis. Tom Cilmi (B-Bay Shore), minority leader of the GOP caucus, along with other Republican legislators, are criticizing cuts to nonprofit arts agencies supported by Republican members.
Cilmi’s office said that while funding is typically allocated by the Legislature in a nonpartisan way, a bill sponsored by county executive Steve Bellone allocates a portion of the county’s hotel-motel tax to a variety of nonprofit agencies for cultural arts programs. But cuts in funding due to reduced budgetary allocation were aimed specifically at agencies supported by Republicans, Cilmi’s team argues.
GOP legislators are calling on Democrats to reject Bellone’s “blatantly partisan proposal” and “instead work together to find a compromise” that allocates funding in an equitable manner. Cilmi said he has filed a bill that does just that.
This whole situation began in November when Bellone’s $3.11 billion budget for 2019 was approved by default. All nine Republicans in the Legislature, along with two Democrats, voted against $1.5 million worth of additions, which was proposed by the Legislature’s working group. This resulted in a 9-9 vote on a multifaceted omnibus amendment, which allowed the budget to go forward without any changes.
Cilmi believes the county executive is cutting funds to these nonprofit agencies in order to exact some type of punishment against Republicans in the Legislature. “But he’s not punishing us,” Cilmi said. “He’s punishing the thousands of Suffolk residents of every political affiliation who support and enjoy cultural arts programing sponsored by these agencies.”
Files provided by the minority leader’s office show that out of the 170 agencies funded by the hotel-motel tax, over 30 agencies, all supported by Republican legislators, lost between 15 percent and 36 percent of their previously allocated funding.
The Islip Arts Council used to receive $40,000 a year. Under the proposed bill, it would receive $37,355. Bay Shore Chamber of Commerce and the West Islip Library, which used to receive $6,500, are getting a $1,000 less. The Islip Chamber of Commerce, which gets $5,500, is also losing just under $1,000.
Agencies within Legis. Rob Trotta’s (R-Smithtown) district lost some of the most funding. Smithtown Chamber of Commerce, which collects $14,000, is losing just under $5,000. Friends of Smithtown Library, which collects $32,000, is also losing around $5,000.
Cilmi argues that agencies supported by Democrats were untouched, while in certain cases, some received more funding than the previous year.
However, there are numerous agencies within Democratic districts, including the Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Center (Patchogue), Staller Film Festival (Stony Brook) and Hampton Film Festival (East Hampton), which stand to lose about $1,000. These agencies previously received around $27,000 and $28,000. The Coltrane House in Dix Hills, which is within a Democratic legislator’s district, gets a slight increase from $11,000 to $12,000.
Legislators Steve Flotteron (R-West Islip) and Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) were the two Republicans who served on the budget group. Legislators Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) and Monica Martinez, before she was elected to the New York State Senate, were the two Democrats who served on the committee. While both Flotteron and Sunderman had input on the budget changes, in the end, they ultimately voted against the final product.
Flotteron, who has made reducing the county’s debt one of his top priorities since joining the Legislature last year, said Republicans are being penalized, through these cuts to the arts because they voted against a budget that “didn’t fix anything.” Flotteron pointed out that Suffolk County, which has accumulated over $880 million in operating debt as of November, has had numerous bond rating downgrades since Bellone took his post.
In regards to the agency funding cuts, Flotteron went on to explain that all of the art programs were bundled together within the budget. “We had no choice in how [the funds] were spent,” he added.
Sunderman wrote in a statement regarding the art funding cuts that Suffolk County has always had a “long history of fairness” when it comes to the allocation of resources, regardless of politics and the political makeup of the Legislature. “This recent change marks a dramatic departure from the fair policies of the past and interjects politics that deprive residents of my district their fair share of funding,” he added.
This publication reached out to Bellone’s office for a comment on the issue.
“Only Suffolk’s Republican legislators would cry about not spending more taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” wrote Jason Elan, a spokesperson for Bellone’s office. “Tom Cilmi and his caucus should instead explain to their constituents why they voted against these measures in the first place.”
Legis. Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook) was one of the two Democrats, along with Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai), who voted against the 2019 budget. Shortly after the vote, Lindsay reportedly stated, “We have to be a little more fiscally conservative.”
Cilmi said the GOP caucus understands there is less money in the hotel-motel tax fund, but insists that if all agencies took a “proportionate” share of the cuts, most agencies would only lose 3 to 4 percent of their funding. “We believe that’s a much more equitable way to go,” Cilmi said. “So we’re calling on our colleagues to reject the county executive’s partisan attack, and work together towards a fair compromise.”