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Legislature’s Minority Leader Tackles Major Issues

 Abrahams does not think borrowing is the answer for fiscal recovery

There are easier tasks than the one facing Kevan Abrahams. As a Nassau County Legislator, he will be grappling with the issues facing the cash strapped county and in particular will be deliberating on a budget which may call for more layoffs of county workers, reduction of services and changes for Nassau police precincts. As the Democratic Minority Leader in the legislature, he will be one of the more prominent figures as those discussions take place, a position that requires he walk a political tightrope as he leads the opposition to some of those proposals while also trying to get Republican County Executive Ed Mangano and the Republicans in control of the Legislature to give consideration to his party’s suggestions and input. And, he will also do so while getting a feel for his new role as he has just taken over the position of the Minority Leader in the Legislature after being chosen by his party last November. Yet, despite all of this, there is a calmness and confidence about him as he takes this all on, something that he attributes to many years of experience in both politics and finance.

“We’re going to need that type of financial expertise, somewhere in the leadership,” said Abrahams of his work history during a media event attended by Anton Community Newspapers which was held on Jan. 30. “I truly believe that my experience in that capacity will help us going forward.”

The experience that Abrahams was referring to began when he graduated college and worked as an assistant to Congressman Floyd Flake. He also served as a District Representative for Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and has also worked in the private sector as a financial analyst with Astoria Federal Savings. He currently provides what he describes as strategic financial analysis for North Shore-LIJ Health Systems.

However, perhaps his most relevant experience for his new role occurred right here in Nassau where he was named to the role of Deputy Finance Director in 2000 during the height of a county financial crisis and was later elevated to the position of Finance Director, before seeking and winning election as the legislator from Nassau County’s 1st Legislative District.

“The reason I focus so much on my budget experience,” said Abrahams, “It just seems by coincidence when I first came on with the county in a financial capacity, we were dealing with a financial crisis. At that time it was Gulotta. Same variables though, same out of control spending - no reality with realistic budgeting.”

Abrahams says that the pattern of out of control spending continued last year, when he states that Republicans wasted $15-$20 million last year on items such as holding a referendum on a proposed new arena to replace the current Nassau Coliseum and also for the cost of lawsuits filed by Democrats regarding the Republican plan for reconfiguration of the county’s legislative districts. He said that with Republicans spending money on such adventures, they should not be calling for layoffs of county workers or other reductions which would impact public service or public safety.

“Let’s reel that in first and then we’ll start talking about everything else,” said Abrahams.

Abrahams does say that even without that spending, the county would still have a tremendous financial shortfall to overcome and further says that more concessions will be needed from county unions in order to help solve the county’s fiscal woes. In fact, the county budget for next year proposed by Democrats calls for $40 million in labor savings. However, Abrahams confidentially says that the county should explore ways of doing this without layoffs and stresses that the county needs to have meaningful discussions with union leaders in order to try and negotiate giveback on holiday pay, overtime and other similar items in lieu of laying off workers.

“The unions are a very big part of the picture,” said Abrahams of solving the county’s budget woes. “We have to get some type of working relationship with them. We’re in a fiscal crisis. All hands need to be on deck.”

Abrahams said that he can empathize with union members who believe that they have already given back their fair share in order to save the county. Yet, he feels that more sacrifices will have to be made, hence his strong opinion that the county needs to work with the unions in order to achieve an agreement that will preserve jobs and public services while also making the cuts necessary. Abrahams further stated that he feels that county leadership has failed in doing so because they have taken what he called a “bullying” attitude toward unions and this tactic has hurt negotiations.

Another somewhat controversial method which Abrahams and the Democrats would use to overcome the county’s financial shortfall for next year budget is the use of $56 million in reserve funds towards that budget. While acknowledging that the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) would probably take issue with that, he said that nevertheless it must be considered.

“The county has probably close to $150 million in reserve funds,” said Abrahams. “NIFA’s approach could be negative but at the same time NIFA’s not in a position to respond to the public. I would much rather dip into the reserve fund than announce that four precincts are going to be closed.” Simultaneously, as Abrahams was conducting his media event, County Executive Ed Mangano was holding a press conference to announce a restructuring of Nassau’s eight police precincts. There had been speculation that precincts would be closed prior to Mangano unveiling the restructuring plan.

Abraham’s also took issue with payments that Nassau County makes to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to maintain the stations. The legislator said that the stations are not being maintained and therefore, the MTA has not held up their part of the agreement and in turn, the county should renegotiate with the MTA or withhold these payments. The proposed Democratic budget proposal attributes about $28 million in savings by doing so.

Despite their party being in the minority in the Legislature and the county executive’s office also held by a Republican, Democrats will still have a meaningful say in county affairs, according to Abrahams. As an example of this, he said that Republicans would need the support of at least three Democratic legislators in order to go forward with bonding proposed by Mangano. Abraham’s said that Mangano is proposing to borrow $450 million over the next three years.

“We don’t think that’s the best way to fiscal recovery, just to borrow your way out of things,” said Abrahams. “We have a large stake as to what we can implement from a financial standpoint.”

Another way that Abrahams believes that the county can achieve significant savings is to fix the county’s assessment system. He criticized Republicans for promising to fix the assessment system when they came into power after the 2009 elections and then have failed to do so.

While criticizing the fiscal policies of Republicans in control of Nassau County government, Abrahams did express a desire to work with them in the best interests of the county. One issue in which cooperation will most likely be needed is the future of the Nassau Coliseum, Last summer, Nassau County voters rejected a proposal for a new arena at the site and the Islanders’ lease with the county will expire in 2015. However, despite the results of the referendum and the time remaining on the team’s lease dwindling, Abrahams seemed confident that something would be worked out and the Islanders will still call Nassau County home after 2015.

“The county has to do something,” said Abrahams. “We still have time. I truly believe we will have something done.”

(Editor’s note: Anton Community Newspapers has scheduled an interview with Nassau County Legislature Republican Majority Leader Peter Schmitt to get his perspective on the issues facing Nassau County.)