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County Executive’s Column: February 18, 2011

More About NIFA

The Nassau County Interim Finance Authority or “NIFA” recently issued a control period over County finances. NIFA is comprised of non-elected and unaccountable individuals appointed by State politicians.

Many supporters have asked me if NIFA’s action is politically motivated since its board is comprised of the former Vice-Chairman of the Democrat Party and the political campaign treasurer for the former Democrat Presiding Officer of Nassau County. The Board’s statement that the board is bipartisan is hollow as the Republican member is former County Executive Tom Suozzi’s budget director.

My supporters and the media should know that while I am concerned that NIFA is politically motivated and partisan, I am alarmed that the architects of Nassau’s budget mess are now acting as its watchdog.

After all, NIFA sat idle for many years as the former County Executive increased property taxes, spent lavishly and negotiated unaffordable labor contracts that have driven Nassau into a fiscal abyss. NIFA suddenly awoke in January 2010 when I took office. Rather than work with me to close the $133 million budget deficit I inherited from by predecessor, NIFA provided critiques but no suggestions. Without their assistance, I turned Nassau’s budget deficit into a surplus while keeping my pledge not to raise property taxes.

Now, with just 24 days into my first budget, NIFA issued a control period over County finances. This unfounded and unfair act has many residents questioning their motives and inability to partner with the County to fix Nassau’s problems over the past decade. In fact, Newsday reported a NIFA board member stating, “There is no way we could partner with him or anybody else because we don’t have the authority to do that.”

So, what authority does NIFA have to protect taxpayers? NIFA can freeze wages for County workers.

On day one of the control period, NIFA unfortunately announced it would not freeze wages for County workers. This inaction leads many to believe that NIFA has an agenda that isn’t in the best interest of Nassau County residents. This agenda is easy to understand when NIFA has stated time and time again that they are interested in higher revenue. Where I come from, higher revenue is a code name for higher property taxes!

Let me be clear: I will not allow property tax hikes to be the solution to Nassau’s financial problems. From repealing the home energy tax to stopping a 16.5 percent property tax hike, we have come too far and I will not allow NIFA to take us backward.

Last month, I filed a lawsuit on behalf of taxpayers in Nassau County Supreme Court. This lawsuit is aimed at preventing NIFA’s unfounded and unfair takeover of our County’s finances. This action is essential to protect homeowners and employers from higher property taxes.

Nassau County residents cannot be victim to an unaccountable and nonelected board that seeks higher property taxes. The stakes are too high. After all, we already pay the second highest property taxes in the nation. NIFA’s actions have simply created a distraction from the real work that needs to get done.

The Legislature and I will continue to move forward with reductions to the size of County government. Although we saved taxpayers $55 million by reducing the workforce to the lowest level since the 1950s, more savings must be achieved since Nassau County’s labor contracts are simply unaffordable. While the Legislature passed a balanced budget for 2011, budgets for 2012 and beyond will not be balanced unless Nassau’s costly, entitlement-laden labor contracts are reined in. Since I will not raise property taxes by a penny more, Nassau’s public employee unions face three options, voluntary concessions, forced concessions through passage of the Taxpayer Relief Act, or layoffs.

Through these trying times, I vow to forge ahead because the residents of Nassau County put their trust in me to lead this government and they deserve nothing less. The Legislature and I will continue to make the tough decisions needed to return this county to greatness. We will not back down or give up, we will continue to fight for the taxpayers of Nassau County.