Last week the county executive vetoed significant amendments that the County Legislature had made to the 2001 budget and four-year plan, thus corrupting the only credible and balanced budget plan created to date. Subsequently, after the inclusion of several "one-shots" and risky initiatives, the county executive has refashioned the 2001 budget to resemble something from our failed past and brought the county one step closer to a control board.
For this reason I would like to revisit the merits and securities of the Democratic majority's 2001 budget and four-year plan, which would have returned fiscal stability to the county through the elimination of government waste, consolidation of departments, and a 15.4 percent tax increase that would establish a recurring revenue stream of $65 million annually to support basic county services.
The 2001 Legislative Budget, which contained more than $234 million in deficit reduction initiatives, included the consolidation of several departments and the elimination of over 800 employee positions. At the same time it also provided funding for critical county services that were excluded from the county executive's original proposed budget, such as the Long Island Bus, and parks and roads maintenance.
The legislative budget plan included a 15.4 percent county tax increase, or approximately 3-percent of a homeowner's total tax bill. The increase for the average homeowner would be approximately $155 per year. The increase was necessary because of the damage caused by years of mismanagement in which costs exceeded revenues on a yearly basis. The county executive vetoed this measure.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which received a copy of the proposed budget two weeks prior to the Legislative vote, had mandated that the budgeted years for 2001 and 2002 be "bulletproof." The Democratic majority was able to accomplish this after the state oversight board had rejected many initiatives outlined in the county executive's budget, which they cited as "risky." The exclusion of his "risky" items created an $81.7 million deficit in 2001. That deficit compounded in years 2002, 2003, 2004 with a projected deficit of $340 million in 2004.
Interestingly, after making his vetoes and presenting his "revamped" 2001 budget, the county executive failed to present budget plans for 2002-2004 as mandated by NIFA.
In a historic move, the legislative 2001 budget had provided for a "rainy day fund," or contingency fund, which could be drawn upon only with legislative approval in the case of unforeseen costs in the fiscal year. Such a measure would guard against a budget becoming unbalanced in mid-year. The county executive vetoed this measure.
The legislative 2001 budget contained increased funding in two key departments that would have reduced costs in the long term: the County Attorney's Office and the Department of Assessment. The bolstering of the staff at the Attorney's Office, would have reduced the reliance on costly outside counsel. The adequate funding of the Department of Assessment would have enabled the County to expedite its settlement of expensive tax grievance cases. The county executive vetoed these measures.
The legislative plan effectively addressed NIFA's concerns while ensuring that an acceptable level of services would continue to be provided. The legislative 2001 budget included a 15 percent employee backfill in the Department of Public Works. More cuts could have been made, but parks would have been closed, lawns uncut, snow-covered roads unplowed, and residents stranded without transportation to and from work. The county executive vetoed this measure.
The legislative budget and four-year plan represented a break from the irresponsible budgetary practices of past years and would have ended Nassau County's fiscal crisis. The legislative 2001 budget and four-year plan were praised by the State Comptroller Carl McCall, Nassau County Comptroller Fred Parola, the Nassau County Independent Budget Review Office and Wall Street.
For the sake of the county, I hope that the merits of these documents are not lost in the political games that for too long have ruled our county.