A recent turn of events, which saw the Nassau County Legislature pass a 2001 budget it felt was a step on the road to fiscal stability only to have Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta veto it, has left the county's financial status in limbo. The legislative Democratic majority is now calling for an override of Gulotta's veto.
Nearly two weeks ago, the Legislature adopted a $2.2 billion budget that included a 15.4 percent property tax increase that amounts to an estimated $155 a year for the average homeowner. The budget, claims the Democratic majority of the Legislature, would set Nassau on the path to fiscal recovery by eliminating government waste and consolidating departments. The budget was adopted with a 10-9 vote, with all Democratic members of the Legislature voting in favor of it.
After calling the Democrats' plan unacceptable, Gulotta vetoed the budget's 15.4 percent tax increase, proposing in its place a 7.9 percent increase, as well as other line items in the Democrats' budget.
Among some of the other line items the county executive also vetoed were a $10 million contingency fund, a proposed $3 million restoration of funding for Long Island Bus and the restoration of 15 percent of positions that were filled by employees who took early retirement incentives from departments such as public works and parks. The county executive also vetoed a $3 million technology initiative that Jacobs said would have increased the county's ability to have offices that are functioning correctly.
Gulotta claimed he was able to veto the 15.4 tax increase as well as the contingency fund because sales tax revenues for fiscal year 2000 are exceeding budget estimates by $18 million, which will also result in an additional, unanticipated sales tax revenue of $5 million for fiscal year 2001. Also, Gulotta said that fund balances from prior fiscal years amount to approximately $21.4 million. The county executive also took into account $6.6 million due to the county from the sale of Nassau County Medical Center and $3 million in New York State Grant Reserves for childcare.
Legislative Majority Leader Judy Jacobs expressed disappointment in the county executive vetoing what she called "a very solid budget and the only budget that was balanced for Nassau County."
The presiding officer blasted the county executive's decision to veto, saying Gulotta is relying again on "one shot" revenues, amounting to $53 million. Relying on one shot revenues, Jacobs said, is what got Nassau County into its fiscal crisis in the first place.
Democratic Legislator Brian Muellers expressed his concern over Gulotta's veto of the increase in the subsidy to Long Island Bus, a service he believes needs to be maintained. Muellers also criticized the county executive's veto of the Democrats' plan to restore some of the positions of employees who took early retirement incentives from departments such as parks and public works. "Without that kind of backfill, we've heard from the departments, we know that parks will close," he said. "We also know from the departments that we will not have the resources in this county to plow roads. If we have to put through an emergency [personal service contract] to plow, we'll do that, but that blows a hole in the budget."
In addition, Jacobs was angered that Gulotta had vetoed the legislature's four-year plan, which was mandated by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA). "We were disturbed that this veto literally wiped out any four year planning that was involved," she said. "Without having something in place that is a four-year plan, you do not have a 2002 budget and you do not have anything for 2003 and 2004. The people of Nassau County cannot sleep as easily today as they could last week when we presented our plan because there is nothing that secures their future."
The Democratic majority is calling for an override of Gulotta's vetoes, which they have until Thursday at midnight to secure. The Legislature will meet on Thursday and vote whether to override the county executive's vetoes. The Legislature must obtain 13 votes in order to override. Since the Democrats control 10 of the 19 legislative votes, they must secure three more from the Republican delegation of the Legislature. The Democrats are, therefore, calling on their colleagues to support the override.
"They [the Republican members of the Legislature] should step up to the plate and join with us in overriding the veto on this budget and putting Nassau County on the right path to fiscal stability," said Democratic Legislator Jeff Toback.
The Democratic majority remains hopeful that NIFA will reject the budget with the vetoes in it and send it back to the Legislature for revisions if it cannot secure an override. As it stands, the Democrats feel the actions of the county executive represent the decisions that have been going on for years in the county and they are looking for NIFA to intervene if an override is not achieved. "This is more of the same. This is the same thing that has been going on, year after year, that has gotten Nassau County into this problem. We were put here to stop doing the same thing and I believe NIFA was put there to stop doing the same thing as well," said Muellers.
"To see this budget [that the Democrats originally passed] literally thrown away for another shot at one shots and another shot at items that will never hold true for 2002 and to think for a minute that NIFA would give its stamp of approval to this is not only frightening, but should be totally unbelievable to all of us," Jacobs said.
In a statement, Legislative Republican minority Leader Peter Schmitt said, "We need to review the county executive's actions and await comment from NIFA with respect to the impact of these actions on the county budget."
Jacobs said NIFA originally said it would wait until after the Legislature's override vote before they render a decision on the budget and the vetoes.