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County Executive’s Column - January 20, 2011

‘Restoring Fiscal Responsibility in Nassau County’

I knew Nassau County’s finances were bad but I never knew how bad until I became County Executive in January 2010.

I soon learned I had inherited from Tom Suozzi a 2010 budget with a $133 million deficit, that spending was wasteful and out of control, that Suozzi had given the public employee unions extravagant labor contracts, that these contracts prevented the county from laying off employees – even in difficult economic times, that borrowing was commonplace – driving the county further and further into debt each year, and that – while the 2010 budget was bad – Suozzi’s spending and union giveaways would drive future budgets even deeper into debt.

To make matters worse, Nassau residents were already paying among the highest taxes in the country and were at the breaking point.

To address these issues we cut spending, trimmed the workforce to the lowest level since the 1950s, restructured and consolidated departments, cut the structural budget gap 30 percent, stopped the growth in spending, and reduced borrowing to a fraction of what it had been.

To protect taxpayers, we eliminated the tax on heat and home energy use, cancelled the property tax hikes that were scheduled for each of the next three years, and froze assessments so the county could get them right.

The result: we eliminated the budget deficit and finished 2010 with a surplus… as well as with a $65 million unreserved fund balance.

Together with the Legislature, we also enacted a 2011 budget that is balanced… and did it without the fiscal gimmicks used in the past.

While the 2011 budget is balanced, the budgets for 2012 and beyond will not be balanced unless we can reign in the costly, no-layoffs labor contracts Tom Suozzi negotiated and curb skyrocketing entitlement costs.

This is why I have introduced and sent to the County Legislature the Taxpayer Relief Act.

Currently no one has the authority to reopen the labor contracts with the unions. Even the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) does not have the authority to reopen these collective bargaining agreements. The lack of this authority means NIFA would be helpless to enforce the single most important reform that needs to be done to protect future budgets… and taxpayers.

These contracts can only be opened through mutual agreements with the unions or through the authority that would be granted to me by the Taxpayer Relief Act.

Nassau County employees are competent, hard-working people who provide important services to the county and to Nassau residents. At a time when private-sector unemployment is high and over 7,100 homes in Nassau are under foreclosure, it is not fair for Nassau’s public-sector employees to be immune from layoffs or for private sector individuals and families to be the ones making all the sacrifices. It is also not fair to ask Nassau taxpayers to pay even higher taxes than they are now.

The only reasonable and responsible solution is to restructure the county labor contracts that are currently threatening Nassau’s future fiscal stability.

Hopefully Nassau’s public employee unions will do the right thing and agree to renegotiate their contracts without my having to use the authority I’m seeking in the Taxpayer Relief Act. In fact, I have no doubt that some of them are willing to do so.

For those unions, however, who are unwilling to do the right thing for the county – and for the families and taxpayers in the county – I am fully prepared to enforce the concessions the county needs. That is why I urge the Legislature to pass this critical legislation.

In addition, I am pursuing every vehicle for curbing Nassau’s out-of-control entitlement costs. This includes partnering with Governor Andrew Cuomo as he works to cut Medicaid spending and requiring workfare for welfare recipients.

While we have made major strides to fix Nassau’s finances and protect taxpayers, there is still more to do and I won’t stop until the work is done. Please join my fight at www.nassaucountyny.gov/petition