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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Prejudiced Pundits Saw No Place For Polls

The Newsday/News 12/Siena College Poll had County Executive Edward Mangano leading by anywhere from 11 to 17 percentage points in the weeks leading up to Election Day 2013.

The Siena College Poll’s analyses were covered accurately by the reporters at Cablevision-owned Newsday and News 12 Long Island prior to Tuesday, Nov. 5. So, when the county executive was re-elected by 18 points (59-41 percent), a decisive result should not have caught many people off-guard, right? Well, it did if you were a Newsday editorial board member, or a News 12 commentator, one of whom said on-air on Election Night that they were not surprised at the county executive race’s outcome, but stunned at Mangano’s margin of victory. Newsday and News 12 commission the Siena College Poll. Is it too much to ask that the pundits who offer political opinions for Newsday and News 12 either read or occasionally acknowledge Siena College Polls? That’s a rhetorical question.

Siena’s consistent findings were the skunk at the picnic as Newsday’s editorial board spent months trying to convince its readers 2002-2009 was a municipal Golden Age in Nassau. As they did in 2001, 2005 and again 2009, before many of their preferred candidates lost bids for re-election, Newsday’s editorial page predictably sang this year the praises of former County Executive Tom Suozzi and former Comptroller Howard Weitzman while assailing almost everyone affiliated with the GOP at the county level. Newsday endorsed candidates in only five of the 19 county legislative races, a few of which were uncontested, with county Legislator Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), the Legislature’s presiding officer, the lone Republican to win the newspaper’s stamp of approval.

It was up to the Republicans, without the in-kind contributions of major media outlets, to remind Nassau’s voters that, between 2002-2009, the county portion of their property tax bill grew by 20-plus percent, a new county home-heating-fuel tax was imposed, and the county entered into an eight-year contract with its unionized employees which would have given these county employees a 25-percent raise within that time-frame. Ah, the good old days; may they never return, Nassau’s voters loudly said in 2013, just as the Siena College Poll predicted.

The Mangano administration and the Republican-controlled county Legislature (the GOP picked up an additional seat this month, securing an 11-8 majority) have their work cut out for them in 2014.

The South Shore is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, and the county must repair the Sandy-damaged Bay Park sewage treatment plant in East Rockaway. In addition, the county’s property assessment system needs to be improved, and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA)-imposed county employee pay freeze cannot last forever. There’s little doubt County Executive Mangano, as well as newly re-elected County Comptroller George Maragos, benefited politically and governmentally from NIFA’s decision to set aside contractually mandated pay hikes for county employees.

The future of Bay Park, where the sewage treatment for more than half a million Nassau residents takes place, has been a contentious issue at the county Legislature, with Republican county legislators seeking to borrow more than $700 million to finance the facility’s repairs. GOP lawmakers have correctly pointed out that the federal government’s Sandy relief package will reimburse Nassau for about 90 percent of these expenses. The Democrats have, to date, agreed to allow for Bay Park-related borrowings in the $200 million-plus range.

Meanwhile, 2014 is also when the county’s entire property tax roll will be reassessed, initiating the annual debate over who pays what. I hope someone during that discussion acknowledges it is the county’s share of the state sales tax — and not the county property tax — which funds much of the county’s operating budget, and that’s one of the reasons the county goes through periodic boom and bust cycles. Nassau County government’s revenue stream is driven largely by whether people are purchasing goods and services within Nassau’s boundaries.

Siena College Polls can envision electoral outcomes with great accuracy. But few can judge with any precision the cumulative future spending habits of Nassau’s consumers.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net