Exec hopefuls fail to talk fiscal solutions
Three candidates for Nassau County's top elected position had an opportunity last week to tell voters how they'd address the county's rapidly deteriorating financial position.
None of them said much.
In the wake of a state appellate court decision that could cost the county $80 million per year, Democrat and former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi called his first news conference of the campaign. He criticized Republican County Executive Edward Mangano's handling of property tax refunds.
In response, Mangano's office -- as it has since Suozzi declared his candidacy -- pushed blame back on Suozzi, criticizing him for how he ran Nassau for eight years.
Adam Haber, a Roslyn school board member seeking the Democratic nomination, blamed Mangano and Suozzi for Nassau's serious fiscal problems.
A potential fourth candidate, North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman -- a Democrat who has launched an exploratory committee to determine whether he will actually place his hat in the ring -- talked about how the appellate decision helped the town, but didn't take an opportunity to go further and offer ideas on how the county could fix the assessment system.
Make no mistake. Nassau's fiscal fortunes are sinking fast. And the county is running out of options.
The last thing residents need is a return to 1999 -- when Nassau's bond rating was close to junk, borrowing was out of control and the extraordinary expense of dealing with a broken property tax assessment system savaged county finances.
It's 2013. And the county is sliding backward to the precarious state it was in the late '90s when Thomas Gulotta, a Republican, was county executive.
For two weeks now, the county has had to contend with bad budget-related news.
A federal court ruled that a state control board's power to freeze wages had expired in 2008. Unless an appeal by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority is successful, that could cost Nassau at least $80 million.
Nassau lost another decision last week, when a state appellate court determined that the county could not shift the multimillion-dollar expense of property tax refunds to towns, villages and school districts.
That one -- unless overturned by the state's highest court -- could add another $80 million cost.
What should Nassau do now? That's what the county executive candidates ought to be discussing, especially since two of them -- Suozzi and Mangano -- have had experience running the county.
For residents, the back-to-back court decisions are about more than frozen wages or shifting the cost of property tax appeal refunds -- of which the county now has a backlog totaling some $300 million.
Finger-pointing and attempts to push immediate problems into the future have not done Nassau well, through Republican or Democratic administrations.
With the two recent court decisions, the county is close to looking at a wall. Do more services have to be gutted? Where's additional revenue going to come from? Is raising the county portion of the property tax an option?
And what's the plan for fixing an assessment system so tangled that even Mangano has said he doubts its accuracy? Should the county assessor go back to being elected, rather than appointed, for instance?
Nassau has had a control board since 1999, yet too often since then officials have ignored its advice on matters from handing union contracts to more significantly trimming Nassau's workforce. How would the candidates work with NIFA?
During this campaign season, Nassau residents deserve answers to those questions, and more. The winner of the county executive's race, after all, will run Nassau County for the next four years.