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Bringing It All Back Home

Germino, DeRiggi-Whitton Talk Coliseum Referendum

Nassau County residents were split on County Executive Edward P. Mangano’s voted-down referendum on the borrowing of $400 million to try to keep the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum and revitalize the “Hub” area.

If the referendum passed, the next step would have been for the Legislature to vote on the proposal. This topic, therefore, is a good way to gauge which candidate represents your viewpoint as they vie for the 18th Legislative District - which includes Glen Cove, Sea Cliff, Bayville, Locust Valley, Brookville, Glen Head, Greenvale and Jericho - Robert Germino (R) and Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D).

So far this year, the Legislature has voted basically along party lines, with Republicans supporting every proposal that Mangano has put out – many of which have been greeted with controversy and criticism (wrong or right) - and Democrats fighting most of his efforts.

Major controversy has surrounded the Aug. 1 referendum. Critics accused Mangano of rushing to a vote in the summer when people could be away on vacation. They complained that holding the vote also cost the taxpayers into the millions of dollars and many, including the Republican county comptroller and the watchdog board NIFA, said that more information was needed before it was certain whether or not aspects of the deal were safe for county taxpayers, and to know how much property taxes would actually go up in order to make the deal happen. Further on the issue of taxes, critics pointed out that Mangano, elected on the Tax Revolt platform, was working to raise taxes, even as he laid off county workers, cut county services and was told by the Republican county comptroller and NIFA that major steps need to be taken this year to solve serious deficit problems.

Supporters of the proposal said that despite these issues, the Islanders are a key part of Long Island’s economy and jobs and revenue could come from the deal. We posed the following questions to candidates to see how they would have dealt with the Coliseum proposal if it went before them.

Robert Germino

Question 1) [Preliminary numbers suggest that voters in] the 18th LD appeared to not have supported this proposal to bond $400 million. Were you in favor of the bonding?

Answer 1) 57 percent of Nassau County voters were not in favor of the bond proposal. We don’t want to lose the economic activity created by the New York Islanders. Now we should examine private investment options to upgrade the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Question 2) If you were already representing the 18th LD and this referendum passed, it would then go before you for approval in the Legislature. Would you vote YES or NO to borrow $400 million while Nassau suffers from a major a deficit - raising property taxes at the same time? Either way, please explain why.

Answer 2) We should move forward with private investment.

Question 3) Both of you have so far campaigned pushing for fiscal caution. Does the County Executive’s proposal to borrow $400 million and raise taxes fall within what you would call careful financial management?

3a) Are you running to support the kinds of ideas he will put in front of you as a legislator for approval or do you think you will be opposing his management style? Do you think NIFA’s criticism of his style is fair?

3b) What is your opinion on that fact that many (including the Republican County Comptroller) were concerned that more details were needed before a clear decision could be made on the sense of bonding $400 million for this deal, and before it was clear how significantly taxes might actually increase to support the deal?

Answer 3) Management style is a county executive’s prerogative. I’m running on economic growth, efficient government, and responsible spending. As a legislator, I would favor legislation that promotes these principles.

Question 4) Do you agree with the cuts that have been made in county services and county jobs to keep taxes under control? Do you agree with the areas that have been cut?

4a) If so, do you condone: a) spending several million dollars to hold a referendum that b) proposes to raise taxes?

4b) Either way, what is something that should call for an increase in taxes right now?

Answer 4) The people of Nassau County are taxed enough already. The Tax Foundation consistently places Nassau County among the highest taxed counties in the nation. Residents are fleeing Nassau County for cheaper alternatives. If we don’t right-size government, those who can’t leave our area will continue to be crushed by its tax burden. In addition, these are tough financial times for the county. We must recoup the cost of this referendum in a future deal that lures private investment in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Delia DeRiggi-Whitton

Question 1) [Preliminary numbers suggest that voters in] the 18th LD appeared to not have supported this proposal to bond $400 million. Were you in favor of the bonding?

Answer 1) There were many issues regarding the vote on the Coliseum that concerned me, and therefore I was not in favor of bonding the $400 million. The first issue was the way this referendum was being held on a Monday in August. Most people take their vacations in the summer and may not have been aware of the special date. Another issue was the cost of the referendum itself. It did not seem logical to pay [an estimated] $2 million dollars for a referendum, when we could have waited for September during the primary election, when it would not have cost anything additional.

The most important concern I had was the burden on the taxpayers of Nassau County. It was estimated that this bonding would increase property taxes by 4 percent for more than 20 years. NIFA has calculated the actual cost of these bonds including interest would be over $800 million. A report from the Office of Legislative Budget Review stated that if the county used all of the revenue it was supposed to receive to pay for the bond, each county property owner would have to pay only $13.80 a year. However, county officials have said that the revenue (if any) would go to the county’s general fund, leaving a higher tax increase to pay off the bonds.

Regarding the revenue, Mr. Wang has stated that he is losing over $20 million dollars a year. And it is difficult to conceive how that could be turned into profit just by improving the facility. There are also cost overrun problems such as seen in Cincinnati.

Question 2) If you were already representing the 18th LD and this referendum passed, it would then go before you for approval in the Legislature. Would you vote YES or NO to borrow $400 million while Nassau suffers from a major a deficit - raising property taxes at the same time? Either way, please explain why.

Answer 2) If I were already representing the 18th district and this came up for approval in the Legislature I would have voted NO. Raising taxes and increasing our debt to support a billionaire who had once planned on funding a similar project himself with private investors does not make sense or in my opinion show good financial management. Too many questions were left unanswered for me to feel comfortable supporting such a proposition.

Question 3) Both of you have so far campaigned pushing for fiscal caution. Does the County Executive’s proposal to borrow $400 million and raise taxes fall within what you would call careful financial management?

3a) Are you running to support the kinds of ideas he will put in front of you as a legislator for approval or do you think you will be opposing his management style? Do you think NIFA’s criticism of his style is fair?

3b) What is your opinion on that fact that many (including the Republican County Comptroller) were concerned that more details were needed before a clear decision could be made on the sense of bonding $400 million for this deal, and before it was clear how significantly taxes might actually increase to support the deal?

Answer 3) I was very concerned when I read about the comptroller’s and NIFA’s questions. First, NIFA’s criticism of Mr. Mangano’s budget raises questions on how much of the financial pictures are facts and not just hopeful estimates. In reviewing the last Nassau County budget, NIFA has stated a possible shortfall of up to $225 million. $150 million comes from revenue of privatization of the sewer system, which has not happened to date. $23 million for union concessions, which have also not been realized, and the rest of the missing revenue was to come from additional traffic cameras. Although included in this year’s budget, it appears that none of the above stated items will be a reality.

The comptroller, Mr. Maragos, also expressed concern over the proposed lease agreement being too fluid, and stated that some details in the agreement were not finalized. The cost overruns, ability to profit share and the fact that Mr. Wang’s Delaware Corporation did not have the assets or credit history needed to stand behind the $14 million commitment, were all valid points that I thought needed to be addressed before asking the taxpayers to consider this proposal.

Question 4) Do you agree with the cuts that have been made in county services and county jobs to keep taxes under control? Do you agree with the areas that have been cut?

4a) If so, do you condone: a) spending several million dollars to hold a referendum that b) proposes to raise taxes?

4b) Either way, what is something that should call for an increase in taxes right now?

Answer 4) We would all like to see the improvements made to the Coliseum, I just feel that the taxpayers deserve a better plan to accomplish same. The outcome of the vote also shows this to be the overwhelming consensus, and I would definitely support the voice of the residents of the 18th District.

We all really want the Coliseum to be improved, as I would love to see the opportunity for future jobs and revenue; however I am very interested in getting the best deal possible for the taxpayers. I hope that in the near future we are presented with a new opportunity, which may include weighing purchasing the Coliseum or other investors getting involved to aid the burden of the taxpayer. We should have our house in order before we have anything additional.