Nassau debate over tax settlements: Theater of the absurd

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), right, said GOP Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), right, said GOP County Executive Edward Mangano's, left, "only plan is to borrow more and saddle future generations with insurmountable debt. Asking for $183 million with no road map to pay it back is unacceptable, and we will not support it." Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

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

The debate over borrowing nearly $200 million to pay tax settlements in Nassau has become ridiculous.

On Monday, Republicans had county workers cart in nearly 800 boxes of documents to show that they'd given Democrats everything they could possibly need to back the borrowing proposal.

As they have in the past, Democrats declined to provide the three votes needed to help Republicans get the supermajority necessary to borrow.

So the bonding -- along with the theatrics -- ended up going nowhere.

Nassau is racking up big interest bills because the sides can't make a deal.

They need to get together soon.

Time is not on Nassau's side.

The tax-refund debt includes tens of millions of dollars that a judge -- back in January -- ordered paid to 16,220 property owners.

Should the judge decide, at the request of even one property owner, that the county has been dragging its feet, he would have the option of freezing county accounts.

That would not be a good thing for a county that's already squeezing pennies to meet payroll and other expenses.

Then there are Nassau's other pressing priorities.

On Monday, County Executive Edward Mangano sent down a billion-dollar -- yes, billion -- request for capital borrowing.

About $722 million would be slated for sewer and stormwater fixes, including much-needed repairs to a deteriorated outflow pipe that's releasing raw sewage into Reynolds Channel.

The remainder -- $278 million -- is for what the administration called general capital expenses.

The proposal passed three legislative committees, with all but one Democrat voting against it, and is slated to go before the full legislature on June 24.

Republicans are right in asserting that the repairs to the superstorm Sandy-damaged facilities are necessary. But Democrats are right, too, in seeking more information.

That's what's supposed to happen when a legislature exercises its oversight function, especially on a proposed billion-dollar borrowing.

But on tax refunds, the conversation has gone awry.

Democrats began blocking borrowing in an attempt to win what they considered to be a fairer redistricting plan.

Republicans, who as the majority party in power, redrew legislative districts to favor Republican candidates -- as Democrats did a decade earlier. But they made revisions, which helped two Democrats.

So, what's the holdup now?

Republicans say Democrats want to borrow only $40 million, which would be too little to satisfy the tax debt. The GOP also says Democrats want them to restore some $7 million in social services funding that Republicans cut to help balance the county budget.

Democrats say Republicans want to borrow too much money for tax refunds at one time -- and that Republicans refuse to fund those expenses out of the operating budget by making personnel or other cuts.

Republicans, speaking for Mangano, say that Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) the minority leader, can't close a deal. Abrahams says he can, but that Mangano needs to try harder.

The sides need to keep at it -- before a judge, property owners, a damaged sewer and stormwater system, and other pressing concerns whittle away at their options.

You also may be interested in: