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Four More Years…For NIFA Takeover?

After election, Nassau taxpayers and workers await news on mass layoffs, precinct closings, extended ‘control period’

After going so far as initiating a lawsuit last year to avoid a takeover of Nassau County finances by the fiscal watchdog NIFA, County Executive Edward P. Mangano is now submitting a multi-year financial plan to that group seeking four more years of the “control period” that gives it authority over Nassau’s books.

Included in the plan is Mangano’s $2.6 billion budget for 2012 - approved by the Republican majority in the Legislature on Oct. 30 and currently sitting with NIFA for approval - which has left some glaring questions that many hope will be answered now that Election Day is over. These include, an announcement on which two Nassau County Police precincts will be closed, what the future of Long Island Bus will be, and whether $150 million in labor savings will come from union “concessions” or in the form of a massive decimation of the county workforce.

Mangano’s primary goal in financial management has been to keep taxes flat, offering another zero property tax increase for 2012. When the Legislature passed the plan, he said, “Nassau’s budget is the tough medicine the county needs to recover from decades of poor fiscal policies… The plan… addresses Nassau’s issues without raising property taxes.”

In order to get county finances on track while controlling taxes, Mangano has conceded that he needs NIFA. In budgeting for 2012, the county executive faced a $310 million shortfall, which he said came from “a broken assessment system, unaffordable labor contracts and a sluggish economy, collectively creating a fiscal crisis.”

To help close that hole, he therefore is seeking “transitional financing,” that is, permission from NIFA to borrow for tax grievance settlements and termination pay for workers leaving the county’s employ. Because his multi-year plan assumes this type of large level of borrowing - around $150 million for just the 2012 items mentioned - as well as a continuation of wage freezes through 2015, these measures would necessitate the NIFA control period remaining in place throughout the entirety of the plan. The NIFA board of directors is now reviewing the proposal and will hold a yet-to-be-scheduled public vote by the board, approving or disapproving the budget and plan.

Along these lines, Mangano’s office issued this statement to Anton Community Newspapers: “Over the last decade the Democrats spent lavishly, increased property taxes by 42 percent and let the broken assessment system accumulate over $1.6 billion in debt and outstanding liabilities. This fiscal mess cannot be cleaned up in a single year and transitional financing is necessary to prevent a double-digit property tax hike.”

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos had recommended a joint approach for fixing county finances and praised these recent efforts. He said, “NIFA and the Mangano administration should be commended for the historic cooperation in drafting a realistic multi-year plan which will put the county on the road to fiscal stability. The agreements provide for transitional financing as proposed earlier by my office to close the projected 2011 budget deficit and amends the original proposed 2012 budget.”

Members of the Democrat minority caucus in the Legislature voted against the 2012 budget, openly criticizing the proposed borrowing that would keep NIFA in control for the next four years. During the budget vote, Legislator Wayne Wink said, “This is a budget that reverts back to the old practice of borrow and spend.” He said that if NIFA allows the level of borrowing that Mangano and the Republican legislators propose, it will be “very much akin to the father giving the kid the car keys back after two accidents… hopefully NIFA, though, keeps a tow truck on speed dial…”

After the vote, Deputy Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams told Anton Community Newspapers, “I think it is unfortunate but necessary to keep NIFA around… As long as the county executive and Republican majority make decisions to waste much of the taxpayers’ money, we are going to continue to welcome NIFA to be part of the process.”

Beyond borrowing, Democrat detractors of the Republican budget objected to several issues, in particular the unnamed police precincts to be closed and the amount of layoffs that would be necessary to achieve Managano’s numbers.

“The people of Nassau should be very scared,” said Legislator Joseph Scannell during the vote. “We are closing two precincts and we don’t even know which ones they are.”

As far as cutting the cost of county employee salaries and benefits, which Mangano said accounts for about half of Nassau’s expenses, the county executive called for layoffs of around 1,000 people. The disagreement in planning for 2012 comes from Democrats and union leaders who say that this number will be far greater when the county realizes that the two main unions will not grant the level of concessions that Mangano seeks. During the budget vote, minority legislators claimed that no discussions were underway with unions to accomplish $150 million in concessions.

Wink said, “…concessions expected by unions are totally unattainable… [and this will] force layoffs.”

After the vote, Deputy Minority Leader Abrahams said that the Democrats had proposed a budget with $50 million in labor savings that included what they expected to be realistic concessions, such as givebacks on things like holidays and reimbursement for education. He estimated that the county executive’s layoffs of 700-1,000 people would actually amount to something more like 3,500 people to achieve the kind of savings he seeks. That would be almost half the county workforce.

“It is a farce,” Abrahams said. “It is not going to happen.”  

James Carver, president of the police union in Nassau, the PBA, echoed that sentiment, telling this paper: “This is a vote for layoffs… They will never be able to achieve that level of concessions. We always said we’ll help, but we can’t be the only solution.” Carver said that to achieve the savings proposed, the average police officer would see a $25,000 pay cut, $30,000 for detectives. He estimated that a non-police worker in the CSEA union would be looking at a $12,000 cut in salary.

Speaking for those CSEA workers, Local 830 President Jerry Laricchiuta said Mangano’s proposal “is simply unrealistic. To achieve $150 million in savings, each CSEA member would have to give up $12,000 per year, and pay $4,500 in health insurance. Those figures are simply not feasible for our modestly paid employees, many of them making in the area of $30,000 per year. That’s not to mention 700 proposed layoffs. We are protected by our contract and the U.S. Constitution which would not allow an employer to open our contract whenever they see fit.”

The county comptroller, while praising the steps Mangano is taking with NIFA, said that accomplishing the “significant labor concessions” that the county executive hopes for will be one of the “challenges” in the 2012 proposal. He said, “I encourage the labor unions to join in partnership with NIFA and the administration to save jobs and help put our county on long term fiscal health.”