Court's NIFA decision should be final

Ronald Stack, center, along with the rest of

Ronald Stack, center, along with the rest of the NIFA board. (Dec. 30, 2010) (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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There should be no appeal of a judge's decision Monday to allow the Nassau Interim Finance Authority to assume control of county finances.

And County Executive Edward Mangano would do well not to push his argument that NIFA's decision to force county officials to manage the budget was "arbitrary and capricious."

Yes, NIFA let former County Executive Thomas Suozzi get away with counting borrowed money as revenue. That -- as I wrote years ago, when Suozzi began to increase borrowing to pay off property tax refunds -- was a bad move.

But one bad move hardly justifies another, especially when -- as Judge Arthur Diamond pointed out Monday -- the practice masks the fragility of Nassau's finances.

The practice also masks the magnitude of change that will be necessary for Mangano to balance a budget stripped of uncertain revenues.

Monday, Mangano went after Diamond and NIFA in an angry statement charging that the decision would derail assessment reform and raise taxes.

Nonsense.

Mangano's "reform" involved borrowing millions to cover the cost of property tax refunds. The practice would end in 2013, he said, ignoring that generations of property owners would be repaying debt and interest.

As for NIFA forcing a tax increase -- which has provided fodder enough for Mangano to use in fundraising and a television commercial -- that's a twist of the truth too.

NIFA, by statute, cannot raise property or any other kind of taxes. Mangano and the Republican-dominated legislature can, although they've wisely promised not to.

That leaves elected officials with making Nassau's expenses match NIFA's slimmed-down revenue projection.

The court fight -- which, by the way, leaves taxpayers on the hook for legal costs on both sides -- raised interesting legal issues.

But it was an unnecessary distraction, pulling time and attention away from the gaping hole in the county's budget.

An announcement from Mangano last week -- about a $17.2 million "surplus" for 2010 -- didn't help either.

The true surplus was actually $4 million; the rest came from Mangano's decision to borrow money for a portion of a backlog of 2010 property tax refunds, rather than paying for them out of operating costs.

The total borrowing for property tax refunds last year? A whopping $42.4 million, all of which must be repaid, with interest.

That borrowing, in turn, freed $42.2 million to help the cash-strapped county pay salaries and other expenses. It's a bad practice that dates back to former County Executive Thomas Gulotta.

Nassau residents deserve more than mush-mouthing about the state of county finances, or what it's going to take to fix them. Case closed; time to get to work.