Swift GOP vote on measure a low maneuver

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. (May

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. (May 11, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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Republican lawmakers -- after publicly signaling that they would delay a vote -- turned around and approved a measure giving Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano likely illegal powers to, among other things, unilaterally amend existing union contracts.

The vote took place after a break, when the legislative hearing room was almost empty. The measure was called and approved in what had to be record time.

Blink and you probably would have missed it.

This is the kind of maneuver that ought to make voters angry, the kind of governmental arrogance that supposes that Nassau residents aren't worthy enough to learn exactly what is happening -- a la the Long Island bus contract, the police precinct reorganization and Mangano's wastewater management plan -- and why.

Earlier in the afternoon, even the legislature knew that.

Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), the body's presiding officer, was justifiably angry when no one from Mangano's top staff came to answer questions about the proposal before a scheduled vote.

Instead, John Ciampoli, the county attorney, showed up. He said Mangano's top staff was in Albany.

Schmitt said he would delay the vote after Ciampoli couldn't answer questions.

OK, so Schmitt didn't specify whether it would be a day, a week or a few hours. But to turn around some 90 minutes later and approve the measure -- without a public airing of lawmakers' questions and the administration's answers -- was low.

The measure allows Mangano to shutter what he determines to be nonessential operations and to curtail county operating hours.

It also allows him -- and this is where things get sticky -- to unilaterally furlough workers and, absent union concessions, impose other cuts that impact Nassau's agreements with its labor unions.

Why lawmakers would willingly give up power is puzzling. The last time Mangano made such a move, under a so-called Taxpayers' Relief Act, the Republican majority rightfully shelved it.

Besides, all of this is pretty much show.

The unions are to go to court Tuesday. They successfully sued when then-county Executive Thomas Gulotta tried the furlough route. The unions won then; it's likely they will win now.

And as for other measures approved by party line votes Monday, they're pretty much show, too.

The Republican-controlled legislature approved a measure to divert revenue to the county's cash-starved general fund. The money, from red-light cameras, had been earmarked for senior, youth, mental health and addiction services. Those proceeds amount to less than a dab of water in the county's more than $2 billion budget.

And then there was the high drama of a vote on borrowing $41 million to pay a fraction of home and business owners still waiting for property tax appeal refunds.

It went down because -- despite threats -- Democrats would not give Republicans three votes to make the supermajority necessary to approve the measure.

But even if Democrats had folded, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the control board overseeing county finances, would not have approved the measure. They've been waiting -- since a Feb. 1 deadline -- for Mangano to find $150 million in savings. He's done some work, but remains $60 million short.

That didn't change significantly with the legislature's actions Monday.