Legislator Jeff Toback (D-Oceanside) said that the county could no longer avoid imposing a home energy sales tax, and the extra revenue would help close a $130 million deficit in the county budget. "We've avoided doing this for as long as I've been here," said Toback, whose district includes South Valley Stream. "We would rather not have done it, but there was no credible alternative."
The Legislature's presiding officer, Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), said that Nassau County was the last downstate county to opt into a home energy tax, and that it will help steer the county in the right financial direction. "It took a financial crisis of seismic proportions for us even to consider this," Yatauro said. "Hopefully the economic recovery is beginning to take hold, and further emergency steps will not be necessary."
But Republicans in the Legislature are outraged. They voted against the tax - which was passed on Feb. 23 by a 10-9 vote - and are lobbying to have it repealed. Legislator John Ciotti (R-North Valley Stream) said that a sales tax on home energy sources will overburden residents who are already facing tough economic times. "It will impose an additional burden on a county that is already overtaxed," Ciotti said. "I think it's a regressive tax, and it will have a significant impact on seniors, the unemployed and underemployed. The bottom line is that the county has to cut spending, not increase taxes."
Ciotti added that a petition demanding the repeal of the tax is circulating in his district, and that all the Republicans need is one vote from the Democrats to repeal it in the Legislature. "I'm hoping someone on the other side of the aisle will wake up and not vote with their bloc, but with their conscience," he said.
Legislator Francis Becker (R-Lynbrook) called the sales tax "nonsense and a disgrace" because county residents will be forced to pay it. "It's not an option - people have to heat their homes," Becker said. "It's not a luxury. It's a necessity."
LIPA's vice president for communications, Ed Dumas, said that LIPA would collect the tax and pass the money on to the county. He noted that the tax would appear under a separate header on LIPA bills.
John Sorenson, owner of Laco Oil in Valley Stream, said he thinks residents will have to squeeze their budgets more to make ends meet, especially those on fixed incomes, and the tax will adversely impact their purchasing power. He said the tax wouldn't qualify more people for the Home Energy Assistance Program because that is based on income. "But this will put another burden on their income, and it's unfortunate and unfair," he said.
Marc Tenzer, a Valley Stream resident for 28 years and president of the Mill Brook Civic Association, said he thinks the tax is a bad idea because residents don't have a choice when it comes to heating their homes, and the county should look into alternative ways to raise revenue. "Everyone is carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders," Tenzer said. "I don't have a choice, I'm on a budget plan. They have me over a barrel."
Michele D'Elia, president of the Valley Stream Council of PTAs, said that with rising gas prices and increasing school taxes, a home energy sales tax could not have come at a worse time. "It's totally unfair," D'Elia said. "There is no good time to raise taxes, especially after all that we've been through. We need to do whatever we can to repeal this."
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The sales tax applies to all home energy sources, including electricity, gas, oil, coal, propane and firewood. Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi said the taxes will bring in $18 million in revenue between June and December.