Edward Mangano Nassau 'surplus' is questionable

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano looks over his Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano looks over his proposed 2013 county budget in his office in Mineola. (Sept. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Enough with the anticipated surplus in Nassau County already.

Yes, it's an election year and officials are going to make the most of whatever looks like good news.

But be clear: A single-year budget surplus isn't significant in a county that still spends significantly more than it collects in revenue.

Last week, County Executive Edward Mangano said Nassau expected to close the books on 2012 with a $25 million surplus. But much of it is borrowed money left over from completed capital projects and funds Nassau freed by not paying tax refunds due to thousands of property owners.

It's like Peter exhausting himself finding coins to pay Paul -- except if Paul were due a property tax refund.

This is not good; in fact, it's scary.

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Then there is the size of the anticipated surplus.

Mangano -- who is up for re-election -- offered his estimate first.

County Comptroller George Maragos -- also up for re-election -- followed by pronouncing Mangano's finding "miraculous, in a way."

Maragos is expected to issue his final report on the 2012 budget next month.

But based on preliminary results, his office Wednesday was estimating a more modest surplus of $14 million to $15 million and maybe up to $20 million.

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Instead of ogling an anticipated surplus for the year past, the candidates ought to be telling residents how they intend to manage Nassau in order to build a real surplus.

The last time that happened -- as Maragos' office points out -- was in 2003 and 2004. That's when state taxpayers bailed Nassau out after Democrats who ran the county legislature passed a -- gasp! -- tax increase.

The combined new revenue streams helped refill Nassau's rainy day fund, which again has become anemic. For the first time in decades, Nassau also was able to balance recurring expenses and revenues under statutory accounting standards.

That trend was supposed to continue as Nassau sought firmer fiscal footing. But it didn't under Mangano or his predecessor, Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi, whom some top Democrats are wooing to challenge Mangano, a Republican.

Howard Weitzman, the former county comptroller who was ousted by Maragos, criticized Maragos Wednesday for using the word "miraculous" to describe the anticipated surplus.

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"Accountants don't deal in miracles; they deal in numbers," said Weitzman, a Democrat who has announced that he will run against Maragos, a Republican.

There are also other candidates, including Adam Haber, a Democrat and retired Wall Street trader who is running against Mangano.

There will -- and should -- be plentiful time during the campaign to talk about Nassau's finances. The county's continuing fiscal problems won't be solved by shifting capital monies or pushing tax refunds into the future.

So let's hear ideas on what should come next. And may the best plan win.

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