No sign of legislative compromise in Nassau

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. (Feb. 23, 2012)

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. (Feb. 23, 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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A months-long standoff between County Executive Edward Mangano and the legislature's Democratic minority over Nassau's frenetic pace of borrowing won't be ending soon.

That's because each side has something the other covets.

Desperately.

While Nassau is gaining national attention for its plans to sell off its sewer system to prop up sagging finances, the administration and both parties in the legislature are wailing at each other over politics.

Mangano and legislative Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority, want to borrow to pay off millions in property tax assessment refunds due county property owners.

But they need votes from Democrats -- for that and every other proposed borrowing -- to get a required supermajority.

Democrats, meanwhile, want to maintain the chance of taking over the majority in the legislature. But they need the cooperation of Republicans, who soon will set the process for determining legislative district lines that will stand for a decade.

So far, neither side is blinking.

Which means Mangano can't borrow for tax repayments or anything else he says the county needs, while Democrats can't get assurances that one or more of their districts won't be wiped away.

"Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better," Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), the legislature's minority leader, predicted Wednesday. "We are not going to move."

Mangano's office declined a request for comment.

In an earlier interview, Mangano said he's already told Abrahams there's nothing the county executive's office can do for Democrats on redistricting. "I told them, 'Go away,' they ought to be talking to Peter Schmitt ," Mangano said. "The legislature, not me, has the power on redistricting."

Next week, Republicans are slated -- again -- to try to approve borrowing to cover the cost of repaying successful property tax appeals. Some property owners are so angry over delayed payment that they've turned to the courts.

Mangano says he needs the borrowed money; Abrahams says the county has enough left over from a 2010 borrowing to pay off a significant percentage of residential refunds. Even Abrahams, however, acknowledges that Nassau needs to borrow because it does not have enough in its budget to cover the cost of residential and commercial refunds.

So why the continuing stalemate?

Abrahams said Democrats want a nonpartisan redistricting process so that Nassau has a chance at a two-party system to ensure greater transparency on issues, including borrowing. "But what we've seen under Republicans and Democrats both in Nassau is that there are problems when a single party is in charge."

And what happens when the parties go after each other, to the point where compromise doesn't seem to be an option? Stay tuned.