Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi delivered an "emergency budget address" on Feb. 2 to the Nassau County Legislature outlining a plan to close an unexpected budget gap that could be as high as $150 million. Suozzi called on union leaders and both county and state legislators to take immediate action toward mitigating the county's plans to lay off nearly a thousand civil service employees, police officers, corrections officers, and other county employees.
During his address, Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi stated, "Things are as bad as they can be."
Suozzi is asking union leaders to agree to a 7 percent pay cut across the board in order to prevent massive layoffs, drastic cuts in services and the shutdown of county parks and other facilities.
"Things are as bad as they can be," Suozzi said, as he reached out to Washington, Albany and the county's labor unions for help in plugging the huge budget gap they face this year. "There is no question that Nassau County has been severely affected by this national economic crisis, and it would be impossible to over-estimate the trouble we face. This year, sales tax revenues are the lowest they have been in 20 years, the state has made huge cuts in our share of aid, and requests for public assistance have increased significantly. We are in the midst of the 'perfect storm' of economic turmoil and I'm asking each and every county employee to help us to avoid taking drastic action."
Suozzi pointed to a national economy in crisis and said "Nassau County's budget took a body blow; a stake to the heart," because of the stock market crash, national credit crisis and interest rates.
"We've seen the largest drop in consumer spending since World War II. Housing starts have sunk to their lowest level in history and on Friday, we learned that the national economy shrank to another historic low," said Suozzi.
"It was a loss of over $40 million in sales tax revenue that really wreaked havoc on the county budget. For the first time in almost 20 years, 2008 year-over-year sales tax growth will be in negative numbers," explained Suozzi as he noted that more of the county budget is funded by sales tax than the property taxes residents pay.
"I do not want to lay off workers in the middle of a recession; I do not like the idea of closing senior centers and parks, or imposing a tax on home heating oil. But this is the reality that we face if we don't get the help we need from Nassau County's employee unions."
According to the plan, 320 civil service employees, 250 police officers, 100 corrections officers and hundreds of other union and non-union employees will be terminated beginning April 1.
In addition to layoffs and a county-wide salary reduction, Suozzi's deficit mitigation plan requires an increase in federal Medicaid assistance and millions of dollars in state legislative items through a tax on cigarette purchases, revenue from red light cameras, and an increase in surcharge on traffic and other vehicular violations.
A home heating fuel tax and $12 million in program cuts will have to be imposed if the state does not authorize the county to install red light cameras, increase fees on traffic tickets and impose a tax on cigarettes, Suozzi said.
Local politicians, including County Legislator Wayne Wink (D -Roslyn), responded to Suozzi's speech.
"As a nation, we are facing a dire economic crisis that we have not seen since the Great Depression," said Wink. "With a projected budget deficit upwards of 130 million dollars, due mostly to a shortfall in sales tax, extreme measures must be taken to close the anticipated gap. We hope to receive help from both the federal and state governments but there will still have to be sacrifices at the local level. The crisis we face is complex, as is the solution, and will require some very tough decisions. If the county workforce agrees to take a pay cut of 7 percent, layoffs and closures of county facilities can be avoided. I and my colleagues in the majority are seeking to lead by example by cutting our own salaries by 7 percent. We ask all our colleagues in government to join us, union and non-union, elected and appointed alike. Without these cuts, layoffs and closures of county facilities are necessary. All of us, officials, county workers and taxpayers are in this together and need to work collectively toward a solution."