Error nullifies Long Beach borrowing bill

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013 (Credit: Tara Conry)

ALBANY -- A fatal flaw has nullified a bill to allow Long Beach to borrow up to $12 million to get out of a financial hole partially dug by superstorm Sandy, officials acknowledged Wednesday.

And the error can't be fixed until lawmakers return to Albany, officials said.

The measure, approved in the waning days of the 2013 state legislative session, permitted the city to issue bonds to help cover lingering debts. City leaders hailed it as good news for Long Beach's "fiscal and physical recovery."

Trouble was, the bill stated that Long Beach had to issue bonds by June 30, the end of the city's fiscal year. But the bill wasn't approved until June 17, and given the short time frame, the city missed the deadline.

That means the bill is now meaningless, officials said, and Long Beach, one of the communities hit hardest by the storm, must wait even longer for its bailout. Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said he's not even lobbying Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign the bill because it would be an empty gesture.

"He can't sign it," said a frustrated Weisenberg, the measure's sponsor. "The bill is not effective any more."

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said the mistake won't "have an immediate impact on the city's finances" because its 2013-14 budget didn't count on the borrowing. But he added that the sooner the city can borrow, the quicker it can eliminate a roughly $183-per-household surcharge that residents are paying to help balance the budget.

"We've been working with [the State Assembly and Senate] through this process and will continue to do so to make sure that technical corrections to the bill are done as soon as possible," Schnirman said.

And, in fact, after Newsday inquiries, legislative officials said late Wednesday that the Senate and Assembly will introduce a new bill Thursday to give Long Beach until June 30, 2015, to issue bonds. Lawmakers would have to return to Albany for a special session to act on the measure or wait until the next session in January.

Officials Wednesday didn't seem eager to rehash how the slip-up occurred or point fingers, but agreed they needed a redo.

Weisenberg and Senate officials said Long Beach, as per state law, supplied a "home rule message" requesting permission to borrow and setting a deadline for June 30. Weisenberg said that's why he got the Democrat-led Assembly to pass the proposal in April.

"We all knew the effective date," Weisenberg said. He said he urged Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who sponsored the bill in that chamber and who also represents Long Beach, to get the Senate to follow suit quickly.

"I was talking to the sponsor; he said he was going to take care of it," Weisenberg said. "But the Senate didn't pass it till June 17. There was no way you're going to get the governor to sign this bill and get [the borrowing] done by" June 30.

A Skelos spokesman didn't address Weisenberg's comments, but said the Senate was talking with local officials, the Assembly and Cuomo's office to address the situation. "We are working with all the parties to achieve a positive resolution," Skelos spokesman Scott Reif said.

Even if the State Legislature acted in April, it's not clear if that would have been enough time for Long Beach to meet the June 30 deadline. It's not uncommon for local borrowing proposals to have a longer lead time to prepare the bond offering for market. Asked if anyone advised Long Beach to pick a later date as a cushion, Weisenberg said no.

"The format is we get a home-rule message requesting what they want," the assemblyman said. "We put in the legislation as proposed in their home-rule message."

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