Fail to plan, plan to fail: A post-pandemic blueprint

Marshall moment: Like the post-World War II European reconstructon plan credited to U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall, the regional and national COVID-19 economic recovery will need lots of innovation, according to Michael Sahn.
By MICHAEL H. SAHN //

We are fighting a great battle against COVID-19. Healthcare providers – the people in the trenches, our heroic first responders – deserve our greatest admiration and deepest respect.

But in a very real sense, all of us are on the front lines and exposed to the dangers of this crisis.

We will prevail. But the costs will be staggeringly high, in both lives lost and economic damage.

To recover, we need a plan that makes sure our healthcare system is prepared for another pandemic, or something similar. We also need an economic-development strategy that unifies the public and private sectors, the best way to get the economy up and running, bring back jobs and energize investment resources.

Michael Sahn: Playing way past COVID-19.

This should be our version of the Marshall Plan, the strategy we put in place after World War II to rebuild Europe. Herein, the foundation for such an ambitious plan:

  • Adopt a regional approach to improving infrastructure. Let’s create a task force to identify and prioritize projects, initiate funding through bonds and other revenue sources and start building. Real and lasting economic development can only take place with a solid infrastructure to support the development.
  • While respecting the needs and unique requirements of local governments, create basic, uniform processes for the submission, review and determination of permit and land-use applications.
  • Continue amending environmental-review regulations and processes, including shorter, stricter time frames for SEQR-focused government agencies to review applications (ostensibly, decreasing review costs).
  • Promote e-filing. Take advantage of new technologies available for e-filing applications and online reviews by administrative agencies.
  • Embrace a variety of housing choices. We must recognize that new and different housing choices are needed to keep a diverse, well-educated, talented workforce on Long Island, and to ensure that we can accommodate all age and demographic groups.
  • Encourage special districts to partner with municipal government. This is key to supporting development and to both sustaining and increasing tax bases.
  • Engage utilities. We should develop a plan that solves utility taxation problems, makes sure utility rates are fair and better coordinates utility management with local government.
  • Solve tax-assessment system inequities. Creative solutions needed here, too. We must end the relentless cycle of assessments, challenges to assessments and refunds for inequitable or otherwise improper assessments. Basically, what we’re doing now is collecting tax money to fund current expenses and refunding it later, with interest – the worst type of financial planning.
  • Establish a broad-based agency to issue bonds and provide loan guarantees. This agency could unite under one umbrella all the various agencies currently supporting development projects – the SBA, the IDAs – for a streamlined, one-stop-shopping application process.

Most of all, we need to adopt a new, collaborative and collegial mindset in which we understand that – just like fighting the virus – we are all in this together. We must become compromisers, so that we all promote the common good.

“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors,” says the proverb with many sources, “we borrow it from our children.” Since we are all “borrowers,” it’s our obligation to prepare to re-energize our economy together.

If we do these things, we will be successful – just like the doctors, nurses and other first responders now battling for our health and safety.

Michael H. Sahn, Esq. is the managing member of Uniondale law firm Sahn Ward Coschignano, where he concentrates on zoning and land-use planning, real estate law and transactions, and corporate, municipal and environmental law. He also represents the firm’s clients in civil litigation and appeals.