In the wake of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi's emergency budget speech on February 2, 2009, I would like to shed light on the some of the true facts regarding Nassau's fiscal status while Mr. Suozzi has been at the helm. His speeches and comments are routinely aimed at blaming all fiscal woes on the previous county executive and administration. I'd like to first point out that the year is 2009 and the previous administration exited in 2001. So if we briefly step outside of Suozzi's looking glass, we can see what has really been happening in Nassau County.
Mr. Suozzi claims that he and the Democrat Majority haven't raised property taxes in five years. So what. Property taxes have been increased four times since the Democrats have held the majority on the Legislature. The most recent increase was for 2009, when, over the objections of the Republican minority, the Democrats raised taxes nearly 4 percent. This is on top of a 9.8 percent increase for 2001, a 9.2 percent increase for 2002 and the granddaddy of all the tax increases, a nearly 20 percent increase for 2003.
What is so troubling is not only the distortion of certain facts but also the ignoring of other facts. Since the Democrats assumed total control of Nassau County they have received millions of dollars in new taxes and they were provided $105 million in funding from New York State under the auspices of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA). This does not even take into consideration the myriad of fees and fines that were increased under their watch for almost every service Nassau County offers.
And where is all the money raised by these fees and taxes paid by our residents? It is all spent and then some, so much for a "rainy day" fund - it's pouring outside. Nassau County had accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves over the past few years, but that money will have been spent by year's end along with all the additional tax and fee revenue paid by our hardworking residents.
This would be bad enough but the situation is worse. Nassau County has borne a large amount of debt service due in large part to the funding of tax grievance refunds out of borrowed funds instead of from operating funds. This practice was supposed to stop under the direction of NIFA and future refunds were to be paid from operating funds only, a pay as you go system. But the magician of Mineola, Tom Suozzi, ably assisted by his friends in the Democratic Majority, has reversed this course of action. Tens of millions of dollars in tax certiorari refunds continue to be paid from borrowed funds and it is getting worse.
Recent articles have compared Nassau's finances to Suffolk County's. While Suffolk has prudently issued its debt using fixed rate borrowings Nassau County has gambled on variable and auction rate securities, at a time when interest rates were at or near historic lows. This has already cost Nassau County millions of dollars and yet Mr. Suozzi continues this practice.
Higher taxes, more spending, more fees and fines, less service and now County Executive Suozzi and the Democratic Legislators seek to impose a tax on electricity, oil, natural gas, coal, firewood and any other heating source together with reducing services and closing the County for part of every week.
Declining sales tax revenues due to the global downturn in the economy is not the sole reason Nassau County is facing such fiscal devastation. Of the approximately $130 million deficit, only $40 million is being attributed to lost sales tax revenue for 2009. The risky and reckless financial practices of our County Executive and his rubber stamp Majority on the Legislature over the past 8 years have created a tidal wave of fiscal irresponsibility that should not be borne on the shoulders of our taxpayers.
I urge the County Executive to pause his campaigning for Governor, senator, etc., and stop pointing fingers at the previous administration. Now is the time to return to Nassau County and take responsibility for the mess he has created. Unfortunately, we do not stand very far from where we did when Tom Suozzi showed up in Mineola, we just are paying much more for the privilege.
Peter J. Schmitt
Minority Leader, District 12
Nassau County Legislature