When you pick up the newspaper these days it may seem that all you ever read is bad news when it comes to Nassau County's finances. And at first glance, one might think it was just more of the same when Standard & Poor's, a Wall Street bond rating agency, downgraded the county to one step above junk bond status last week.
But there was something else in their announcement that gave myself and the other Democratic legislators a moral boost.
Back in February S&P put Nassau on 'CreditWatch,' which meant the agency doubted whether we could pay off our long-term debt. Since then state officials have created an oversight board with teeth, an action the Democrats had been calling for since last summer. This new board, called the Nassau Interim Financing Authority (NIFA), is made up of seven experienced professionals from Long Island who had a vested interest in helping this county get back on its feet. S&P has removed the CreditWatch rating because they have faith that the newly elected legislators and NIFA will have the courage to reject unrealistic budgets put forth by the county executive. They have recognized the fact that with new leadership, there is new stability.
At NIFA's first meeting last week the panel accepted the $52.5 million in saving the legislature and county executive agreed upon last month. However, we don't have much breathing room. NIFA wants to see another $70 million in cuts by September. These are huge dollar amounts, and they must be followed by a total of another $150 million in 2002 and 2003. But unfortunately, it is the predicament this county is in, after more than ten years of spending more money than it was taking in.
Fortunately, the legislature, with the leadership of my Democratic colleagues were able to restore much of the funding to social service agencies and day care workers that was slashed earlier this year. We will continue to be the voice for the people who can't make themselves heard and the voice for fiscal responsibility. It's a shame prudent measures weren't taken sooner, but at this point, myself and the other elected officials have no more time to waste.