Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00
Nassau County’s structural deficit—the difference between its recurring revenues and expenditures—was larger in 2008 than at any time since 2001, according to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), the state agency created to oversee the county’s finances.
How did NIFA’s directors reach such a conclusion? Isn’t it the Democrats, under county executive Thomas Suozzi and a county Legislature they completely control, who brought Nassau back from the brink of bankruptcy and ushered in an era of municipal managerial excellence dating back to 2002?
No, that’s the fictional story line which has been pushed by the Suozzi administration and their friends in the media. But the myth is a much harder sell when the people who read the papers and watch TV news review carefully their property and utility bills, too. Nassau’s Democrats raised the county portion of the property tax bill by 3.9 percent in 2009 while also imposing a 2.5 percent county home energy tax. Yet that wasn’t enough. In their endless quest to right the county’s financial ship with short-term fixes that have long-term negative economic consequences, Nassau’s Democrats won Democrat-controlled Albany’s permission this summer to borrow $65 million to finance the county’s early retirement incentive program.
“The NIFA report is an eye-opener,” says county legislator Edward Mangano (R-Bethpage), the Republican nominee for county executive in the Tuesday, Nov. 3 general election. “It clearly identifies that Nassau County was mismanaged in the good times.” (Full disclosure: Legislator Mangano and I serve together on Briarcliffe College’s board of trustees.)
The 32-page NIFA report, released in late May 2009, offers a powerful rebuttal to the Democrats’ oft-stated version of reality: the county budget fell apart because of the global economic downturn. About 40 percent of Nassau’s $2.6 billion annual operating budget is financed through sales tax revenue, and lower consumer spending has contributed to the county’s budget problems. Alas, that is only part of the story.
“The county has continued to balance its budget with one time resources taken from its significantly depleted reserves. It is noteworthy that the drawdown of these reserves in better economic times has limited the amount available to cushion the impact of the current economic crisis,” NIFA’s report stated.
To illustrate that point, there’s a jaw-dropping chart on page 24 of the NIFA document, available at http://www.nifa.
state.ny.us/reports_financial/May2009Update.pdf, which shows how the county’s general reserves sank by $217 million since 2004.
“They spent the rainy day fund in good times simply because he (the county executive) wasn’t minding the store,” said Legislator Mangano, who has served in the county legislature’s GOP minority since 2000. Gubernatorial campaigns, such as the one Suozzi ran in 2006, do offer distractions from your day job.
The Mangano platform focuses on cutting wasteful spending; fixing Nassau’s property tax assessment system, which in the Legislator’s view would save an estimated $100 million annually; and repealing Nassau’s home energy tax.
“They’ve doubled the number of patronage hires and don’t even know where all the county cars are,” Mangano said, when asked what constituted wasteful spending.
To learn more about the candidate, or receive details on Legislator Mangano’s Saturday evening, Sept. 12 fundraiser in Massapequa, log onto www.edmangano.com
Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.
Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net