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Legislators Join Together and Repeal Home Energy Tax

Despite narrowly passing a 2.5 percent home energy tax earlier this year, the Nassau County legislature last week voted 13-5 in favor of repealing it. During a meeting Dec. 21, the 19-member legislature voted 13-5 in favor of eliminating the tax; Republican Nassau County Executive-elect Edward Mangano, who currently represents the 17th District, was not present for the meeting and therefore did not vote.

The home energy tax, approved by the legislature in February and implemented in June, was imposed on all residential home energy sources – including LIPA electric usage, oil, natural gas, steam services and even coal, propane and firewood.

Republican legislators were opposed to the tax since initially proposed but earlier this year the 10-member Democratic majority approved it. As a result, Republicans, specifically Mangano, promised elimination of the tax once in office and, as of Jan. 1, the GOP will have an 11-8 majority.

At last week’s meeting, five of the county’s 10 Democrats – Jeff Toback (D-Oceanside) and David Mejias (D-Farmingdale), who both lost their re-election bids this November, along with re-elected Legislators Joseph Scannell, Wayne Wink and Dave Denenberg – joined with Republicans and voted in favor of repealing the tax; party mates Judy Jacobs (16th L.D.), Judi Bosworth (10th L.D.), Kevan Abrahams (1st L.D.), Roger Corbin (2nd L.D.) and Diane Yatauro (18th L.D.), the current presiding officer, however, stuck to their guns and voted against the repeal.

“Repealing the energy tax was a Republican initiative and a cornerstone of my campaign,” said Mangano. “I intend to stand by the promise to repeal the energy tax and look forward to doing so responsibly. My financial team will address this through a collective and thoughtful process.”

Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-9th L.D.) was among the members of the Republican caucus who initially voted against the energy tax and voted for the repeal. The legislator believes the tax unfairly hurt taxpayers during hard economic times. “No taxes increases are good in the economic climate we’re in, but this one, in particular, was regressive and offensive simply because of the fact that home energy is something everybody has to use,” said Nicolello.

According to Legislator Norma Gonsalves (R-13th L.D.), the tax was unfair and unjust in that it “not only impacted on those who could least afford to pay the 2.5 percent tax on all sources of energy, but to all residents finding it difficult during these economic times to pay their existing taxes and the high cost of living in Nassau.” She added, “The voters spoke and we listened.”

It is believed that some $18 million was generated between June and December and it was anticipated that the energy tax would have generated nearly $40 million in 2010 alone. This much-needed revenue is, according to proponents, why the energy tax remains as necessary today as it was when it was initially proposed.

While Presiding Officer Yatauro could not be reached for comment at press time, Legislator Bosworth told Anton Community Newspapers that “the energy tax represented one of the options County Executive [Tom] Suozzi proposed to address the current fiscal crisis … This was an emergency measure that was enacted only in response to the decline in county revenue caused by the recent worldwide financial decline.”

The legislator added that the energy tax was the responsible thing to do some months ago as was voting against repealing it. “It was a necessary and painful step to take … [but] there has not been enough of a change in the economy to say it is no longer necessary which is why I [voted] against repealing the tax,” said Legislator Bosworth. “This measure was one that made our fiscal outlook better in a very challenging fiscal time.”

Legislator Gonsalves, however, assures taxpayers that there are means in which to fill the budget gap without affecting our quality of life. “Nassau must return to the place where we can afford to raise our families and enjoy the quality of life our residents deserve,” she said.

The Port News asked our Nassau County Legislator Wayne Wink to comment on the repeal. He wrote the following:

“During the depths of our nation’s recession, we were presented with a $130 million projected deficit which needed immediate attention. At the time we enacted an unpleasant but necessary sales tax on energy which, combined with landmark labor concessions, dramatic spending cuts, and federal stimulus monies maintained the fiscal integrity of our county. While the energy tax was a small portion of the solution, it was clearly a significant concern for the taxpayers not only in my district but throughout Nassau County.

“Our residents have spoken and I am pleased to have sponsored the ordinance repealing the energy tax, providing some measure of relief to our already burdened taxpayers. This initiative, coupled with my passage of a no tax increase 2010 budget was intended to acknowledge that all residents of Nassau County are under extreme financial pressure and we in government need to heed their calls for relief in any manner we can provide.

The incoming county executive has targeted $40 million worth of spending cuts to offset this loss of revenue and I look forward to working with him to ensure that the county will continue to provide the services that our residents have earned while identifying non-essential spending for elimination.”

The Port News asked Legislator Wink to elaborate on where the cuts would come from. He first noted that all spending reductions will be determined by the county executive. He then advised that in the past, the county executive elect has proposed; spending cuts to appointed positions, reduced expenses across all departments, cuts from contingency and reductions to funded but vacant positions.

(Jackie Pierangelo contributed to this story.)