Long Island: The 51st state?

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Long Island -- bigger than 19 states and more populous than all but the country's three largest cities -- is big enough to stand on its own, secede and become the 51st state, said Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki.

Sawicki will formally renew his call to make Nassau and Suffolk -- with their 2.8 million people -- its own state at an 8 a.m. breakfast Friday morning sponsored by Dowling College's Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute.

"Before you dismiss me as being on the fringe of craziness, just imagine: Taxes raised on Long Island would be spent on Long Island," said Sawicki, dusting off an idea that he first proposed as a state assemblyman in 1991.

Sawicki said the region in 2004 sent $8.1 billion to Albany in taxes and fees but got back only $5.2 billion. "I don't know about you, but I don't like the way these numbers add up," he said. "It leaves Long Island paying for the rest of the state."

Such local movements have been a recurring issue across New York for years. Long Island's East End has sought a separate Peconic County, Staten Island has sought to break away from New York City and Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. has also pushed to make New York City a state unto itself. Most such efforts fail because the rest of the Empire State balks at such political amputations.

But Martin Cantor, the institute's director, said the sagging economy and the state's turmoil -- amid resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the ascension of successor David Paterson and questions over control of the state Senate -- make the time ripe for reviving the idea of Long Island statehood.

"It makes sense now because whether it be Spitzer or Paterson, no attention is being paid to Long Island," Cantor said.

Reaction from top Long Island figures was mixed. Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi said, "There should be some serious people looking at this," noting that Long Island communities would benefit because tax revenue would remain here. However, he worried that separating from New York would mean reproducing state services here, which could mean higher taxes.

Others were emphatic against the notion. "It's asinine," Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio.

Some took a more lighthearted view of the idea. Islip Supervisor Philip Nolan said, "The creation of Long Island as the 51st state would set off the best competition ever -- between Tom Suozzi and Steve Levy. That would be brutal. I'd love to watch that."

Staff writers Stacey Altherr, Susana Enriquez, Chau Lam and Jennifer Maloney and Patrick Whittle contributed to this story.

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