Tom Barraga (Republican, Conservative, Independent): Incumbent
The candidate for the 11th Legislative District race is incumbent Tom Barraga, who is running unopposed for his final term as a member of the Suffolk County Legislature.
Barraga, a retired United States Marine Corps Reserve officer, spent 13 years in the private sector, holding various administrative positions with the American Can Company, Dun and Bradstreet Inc., and Pfizer Inc. In 1977, he was appointed Town Clerk of the Town of Islip, where he served until 1981. His first election was in 1982 to the New York State Assembly, where he remained for the next 23 years before joining the legislature in 2005. Today, he resides in West Islip with his wife, Joanne, with whom he has two daughters and seven grandchildren.
Barraga said that the biggest challenge currently facing the county is its fiscal situation, namely its $100 million structural deficit. To help erase the shortfall, he said he has helped the county implement some changes in recent years, including cutting 1,100 positions (saving $100 million annually), privatizing all county health centers (about $80 million over five years), halting the construction of a new $112 million county jail in Yaphank, the closure of the Foley Nursing Home (about $12 million annually), and consolidating the Treasurer and Comptroller’s Office (up to $1 million per year). He also noted that general fund property taxes would not increase this year for county residents and that he would support a 12.5 percent reduction in sewer taxes, saving about $75 per household.
“We really are still dealing with some very serious fiscal issues that have to be dealt with,” said Barraga. “We’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions and tell people that there’s a difference between a real ‘need’ and a ‘want.’ It won’t make some people happy, but unfortunately it has to be done because we are broke.”
Barraga noted how much of this year’s budget was predicated on a 4.85 percent sales tax increase. Through the first seven to eight months, that figure has only reached 0.6 percent.
“Long Island is an extremely expensive place to live,” said Barraga. “When you take a look at the overall expense of everything, this place is almost cost prohibitive. We’re not only losing younger people to other areas, but older people as well. We need to look at every department and agency to see how we can add revenues while saving money and keeping costs down.”
Barraga said that in his last term, a concerted, successful effort to drop the structural deficit down to between $25 and $50 million would “be a great accomplishment.”
Barraga also gave his view on the $4 billion Heartland Town Square plan, which seeks to transform Brentwood’s former Pilgrim State Hospital into 9,000-plus apartments, 1 million square feet of retail space, and 3 million square feet of offices—amounting to the construction of 15.5 million square feet of development over the next three decades.
“I really do believe that the project must be built in phases instead of rezoning the whole property,” he said. “Once Phase 1 is done, you can take a look at where you are and see whether or not it’s working and if you have to go in a different direction. It’s in the best interest for everybody.”
Looking ahead, Barraga is strongly in favor of a push to transform Suffolk County Community College into a four-year program He noted that SCCC already has three beautiful campuses—Michael J. Grant, Ammerman, and Eastern—approximately 26,000 undergraduate students, 475 full-time faculty, 1,289 adjunct faculty and over 70 academic programs.
Students, if given the opportunity, would stay an additional two years to earn their bachelor’s degree in one of the many programs that Suffolk County University would offer,” said Barraga.
He noted that SCU’s Baccalaureate program—with an annual tuition comparable to SUNY tuition—would effectively save students tens of thousands of dollars in education costs and reduce overall higher education loan debt for Suffolk County residents.
“Suffolk County University would be a leading institution by offering a way for Long Island’s young, talented men and women to stay here for their education instead of incurring large debt when transferring to a four-year college in order to earn their bachelor’s degree,” he added. “All of these other projects [i.e. Heartland, Ronkonkoma Hub, Islip Pines] require hundreds of millions of dollars to implement and take many years. With SCU, it wouldn’t be a huge investment since everything is already there. In just a few years, we could be retaining all of those graduates. This is doable.”
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