Nassau's desperate bid to borrow $100M

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano unveils a debt

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano unveils a debt reduction and sewer stabilization plan in Mineola, New York. (May 3, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

bio | email

Nassau's attempted end run around the local legislature and a state control board should be seen for what it is: A desperate act from a desperate county. It would be lunacy for state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to enable this charade.

Why pass a measure allowing the executive to bypass the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county legislature and Nassau's own charter on borrowing? Why potentially open the floodgates for other stressed municipalities to reach back into the Ice Age to justify new borrowing?

Yes, former County Executive Thomas Suozzi did it; but Edward Mangano's twist on Suozzi's bad move is worse.

Suozzi reached back to borrow new money via authorizations approved but never used by county lawmakers years earlier. NIFA didn't like it, but could do nothing because it was a watchdog rather than a control board at the time.

This time around, Mangano wants to reach back to authorizations approved by the county legislature, and used by NIFA, to do $100 million in borrowing. A county spokesman declined to comment on Friday. But here's what appears to be the county's thinking on the maneuver.

Almost a decade ago, Nassau sent a declaration of need letter to NIFA asking for the borrowing; the county legislature also authorized the move.

Fast forward. The Mangano administration's pitch now is that NIFA's borrowing was based solely on the declaration of need. So the legislature's authorization of it then should be able to be used now to borrow up to $100 million in new funds.

Nassau, essentially, wants permission to take two bites out of the same apple. And, although there's yet to be a circulated copy of the proposed legislation, Nassau apparently wants to tie that bad deed to a good one.

In return for permission to borrow, Nassau wants to guarantee -- via state law -- that youth, senior, mental health and other local social services stay funded.

This is the same county, mind you, that years ago encouraged not-for-profit agencies to lobby Albany for red-light cameras to produce needed new revenue. Nassau would go on to pass a local law earmarking red-light-camera revenue for youth and other services.

But, last week, the Republican majority in the county legislature snatched the money back for the county's general fund because Democrats -- who are pressing for more leverage on redistricting -- refused to provided needed votes to authorize $41 million in borrowing.

It is a measure of Nassau's governmental intransigence that the county would now seek a state law to fund those agencies once more. Either way, those agencies and their clients are caught in the crossfire.

Why would Albany willingly embrace Nassau's dysfunction and potentially contaminate other municipalities with it? Mangano isn't the only executive who would love to jettison a troublesome legislature to do what he wants in a fiscal crunch.

If state lawmakers and Cuomo sign on to the plan, it would mark the third New York State intervention for Nassau in two decades. The first, in 1992, under former County Executive Thomas Gulotta, had New York give Nassau $60 million in state aid, along with assigning the state comptroller to monitor county efforts to control its budget.

Nassau did not change.

The second boost came beginning in 2000, again under Gulotta, when state taxpayers coughed up more than $100 million in aid to help one of the richest counties in the nation during an unprecedented economic boom. The state also created NIFA, which went on to refinance millions of dollars in county debt, too.

And yet, a Republican and a Democratic county executive later, Nassau did not change.

Now comes a third proposal, that would, again, absolve Nassau's officials -- Republican and Democrat alike -- of the responsibility for doing their jobs.

Why?