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Alfonse D'Amato

Some New Year’s wishes for our leaders


As we begin a new year, I’d like to share some of my wishes for the next 12 months for our leaders at all levels of government.

Let’s start on Long Island. The biggest challenge in our region is keeping our young people here and not losing them to other parts of the country. While we have many advantages on the Island, the next generation is being squeezed out by the high cost of housing and punishing local taxes, particularly our steep school levies.

Yes, we have great schools here, but if their cost is so prohibitive that young families can’t afford to put down roots, then we’re in danger of losing a generation to other, less-costly states. Much has been written about the duplication and excessive expense of Long Island school districts, but more needs to be done to address the problem.

Local school leaders would be wise to take proactive measures to reduce costs significantly. Steps that have been resisted in the past, such as consolidating school districts and eliminating excessive administration overhead, should be considered anew and seriously pursued.

In Albany, the state now faces one-party rule, but if the new Democratic majority wields that power responsibly, Long Island needn’t be adversely affected. Our incoming state legislative leaders should work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to rein in state and local government costs and make sure Long Island gets its fair share of state assistance. We can be thankful that State Sen. Todd Kaminsky is in a particularly strong position to help protect the interests of our local communities.

But simply offering state and local leaders best New Year’s wishes won’t be enough if our national leaders don’t step up and take on the very real challenges facing America. Here, too, the solution isn’t more partisanship, but less. Most of the impasses that have tied Washington in knots for too long have stemmed from excessive posturing and pandering on both sides of the political aisle. Having seen for myself during my own time in the Capitol that political leaders with widely divergent philosophies can still work together to accomplish big things, I have a few wishes for Washington.

First, President Trump and Congress should get a federal budget done, and not just lurch from one stopgap spending measure to another. The financial markets are roiled enough right now without piling on more uncertainly from Washington. Even with a politically divided Congress, it’s imperative that federal budgeting offers the markets steadiness and predictability.

Next, I wish the Federal Reserve would stop putting the brakes on our economic recovery with unnecessary increases in interest rates. There’s simply no indication that inflation is a serious problem, and no warning signs that the economy is racing ahead too fast. It’s good, not bad, that wages are finally going up, and it’s equally good that unemployment is staying low and that businesses are growing and prospering. The Fed should think twice about throwing cold water on the nation’s prosperity with interest rate hikes that will raise the price of borrowing for a business, a house or a car.

I wish, too, that the U.S. and its trading partners — especially China — would come to terms to make trade both fairer and freer. A bitter trade war right now will only hurt every nation’s economy, so let’s hope the president and his negotiating team will make progress on closing trade deals and giving the world economy a boost of confidence.

There are a few other items I wish Trump and Congress would finally tackle. Enough already with the heated rhetoric on immigration. Along with improving border security, we need to change our wrong-headed immigration laws to end “catch and release” policies that encourage illegal immigrants to make dangerous border crossings, seek asylum, get released and then disappear.

Let’s also wish for a bipartisan agreement on a national infrastructure program to fix our decrepit roads, bridges and mass-transit systems. That would put even more Americans to work and help our economy grow.

And if our national leaders are serious about protecting Social Security and Medicare, they should form a bipartisan national commission to make recommendations to Congress and the president on the future of these programs. Measures should be taken now to shore them up before they face predicted shortfalls in the next few years.

Too much to wish for? Not if our leaders will lead.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.