Andrew Cuomo, Jon Kaiman face test with Nassau unions vote

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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

A state control board's vote on contracts for four Nassau employee unions will be a test for Jon Kaiman, its head, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who appointed a majority of its members.

For Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a board vote later this month will determine whether his new way of dealing with county officials can yield positive results.

For Cuomo, who appointed Kaiman, it will be a test of whether the governor's penchant for micromanaging will end up helping, or hurting, Nassau residents.

Kaiman is unpaid for his NIFA post but draws a state salary as Cuomo's special adviser on Long Island superstorm Sandy recovery. As NIFA chairman, Kaiman and NIFA staff helped broker deals with county police, detectives, superior officers and civil service employee unions.

That's a departure from how the authority acted under other chairmen, from the first, Frank Zarb, to Kaiman's predecessor, Ronald Stack. Mangano and Stack tangled because Stack refused Mangano's overtures to preapprove measures before they went to the full NIFA board.

In 2011, the year NIFA took control of Nassau's finances, Mangano and Stack met separately with a top Cuomo aide. The goal, a source told my colleague Dan Janison at the time, was "to advocate for a resolution that protects Nassau County taxpayers."

That ended up with NIFA, in a turnaround, allowing Mangano's office to borrow up to $450 million over four years.

Is the governor's office, as critics charge, attempting this time around to make NIFA a controlled, rather than a control, board? The governor's office did not respond to the question.

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The governor's office did, however, release a statement that, in part, said the agreements appeared to be "fair and balanced."

As for Kaiman, he's said in the past that while he keeps Cuomo's office informed, he acts independently.

When Kaiman took the post last September, he said he would use his experience as a former judge and North Hempstead Town supervisor to bring Nassau and its unions together.

And so -- to the consternation of former board member George Marlin and others who have expressed concern about NIFA's independence -- he has.

Marlin, whose term expired in December, cried foul when Kaiman went to Mangano's offices for a work session -- although one union official later called it a negotiation -- with Nassau and union officials.

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Kaiman's strategy helped persuade NIFA's board to lift a three-year-old wage freeze on union employees, if Nassau met certain conditions, including finding new revenue.

NIFA acted absent a full financial analysis of the proposed agreements. That seemed odd for a board that's supposed to be overseeing county's finances.

Later, Kaiman would ask Mangano to slow Nassau's approval so a labor consultant hired by NIFA could review the agreements.

NIFA began to find problems, including what appear to be conflicts with state law on pensions and on Nassau and unions -- rather than the state authority -- barring new wage freezes through 2017.

Then came more complications: A budget passed by Cuomo and state lawmakers did not include speed cameras for Nassau that were supposed to help fund raises.

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Nassau and Kaiman are counting on speed camera legislation passing before the NIFA board meets later this month -- although a push by Earlene Hooper, the assembly's deputy speaker, to give Hempstead and Freeport a share of the fines would further reduce Nassau's revenue.

And then came Friday, when the county, for the first time since 2008-09, reported a big dip in sales tax revenue.

Nassau and Kaiman had expected growing sales tax revenue to help fund the raises, too.

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