The elections of November 1999 sent a clear message - Nassau County taxpayers have grown tired of years of fiscal mismanagement. At a time when business is booming and the regional economy is in the midst of unprecedented growth, the county can barely balance its checkbook. Nassau's credit rating is barely above "junk bond" status. Fiscal watchdogs cringe when they review the county's finances. The statement on Election Day was clear - new leadership is needed to put Nassau's fiscal house in order.
Clearly, the most important task in this effort is to develop a responsible budget for the county. Since taking office, my legislative colleagues and I have been carefully studying the options (many of which were brought to our attention by ordinary citizens) in an effort to determine which actions need to be taken that bring the budget into balance and at the same time preserve essential services. We already have taken a significant step - committing ourselves to a new property tax assessment system that is equitable.
However, one should never forget the important role our state officials play in the process. They have the ability to advocate for our county's interest in Albany during state budget negotiations. They have the authority to draft legislation that ensures that a sufficient level of independent and unbiased oversight is maintained on Nassau's finances. It was for this reason that I decided to make my first official trip to the state capital last week to meet with Speaker Sheldon Silver, Herman Farrell and Thomas DiNapoli of the Assembly, and Minority Leader Martin Connor and Deputy Majority Leader Dean Skelos of the Senate.
One of my main goals was to express my opposition to several components of Governor George Pataki's proposed budget for Fiscal 2001. If left unchanged, his budget would reduce state aid to Nassau County by approximately $3.2 million for transportation, criminal justice, education and social services. We are already facing a potential deficit of almost $200 million this year and can ill afford to lose another $3.2 million. The legislators assured me that they would fight for the county's interest as they negotiate the budget this spring.
I also urged the state legislators to work closely with our office to develop a plan to establish a fiscal oversight board for Nassau County. This board would have the ability to take the politics out of the budget process by ascertaining that revenue estimates submitted to the county Legislature by the county executive as part of the proposed budget are realistic. In addition, it would regularly review the county's finances to ensure that spending levels do not exceed plan. This would assure the people of Nassau and outside budget watchdogs that the county is on its way toward fiscal stability.