Suffolk leaders: Albany politics blocked sale-leaseback

Suffolk legislative leaders such as legislative Presiding Officer Suffolk legislative leaders such as legislative Presiding Officer William Lindsay blamed "political gamesmanship" in Albany for keeping the county's $70 million plan to sell and lease back its buildings out of the state budget, saying they now may need to resort to new layoffs to make up the money. (Sept. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Suffolk legislative leaders Monday blamed "political gamesmanship" in Albany for keeping the county's $70 million plan to sell and lease back its buildings out of the state budget, saying they now may need to resort to new layoffs to make up the money.

Republican state senators sought to tie the request by Suffolk, which is controlled by Democrats, to a bid by GOP-run Nassau to issue $192 million in bonds without going through a state board that monitors Nassau's finances. State Assembly Democrats balked, and neither county's proposal made it into budget bills that will be voted on this week.

While approval of Suffolk's "sale-leaseback" remains possible during the state's remaining legislative session, its absence from the budget means the county must consider that it won't materialize. In that case, officials -- who included the $70 million in 2013 cash flow projections -- would need to make severe year-end cuts.

"It's kind of typical Albany," said legislative Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). "The sad thing is if we don't get some help, we may not have any place to go but to lay off more people -- and nobody wants to do that."

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) faulted Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone for budgeting sale-leaseback revenue before state authorization.

"You can't budget based on hope," Cilmi said. "Now we have potentially a $70 million hole in our budget in addition to all of the other ones."

Suffolk put $70 million in "one-shot" revenue into the 2013 budget, stemming from a plan to have the county Judicial Facilities Agency borrow to buy the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. The county would lease back the building to cover borrowing costs. If the state doesn't approve the plan, it would create a budget hole and add to a projected $250 million shortfall through 2014.

Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) noted that Bellone's budget received bipartisan support. He said state lawmakers shouldn't have tied it to a move to borrow in Nassau, where minority Democrats have declined to provide the votes needed for bonding.

"We had a clear majority, where they haven't had that in Nassau County for several years, and yet we're being linked to them and held back by political gamesmanship?" Gregory said. "Literally, we may have to lay people off because Albany decided to go this route and it's not right."

The Bellone administration, to address the $250 million hole, already is discussing reducing county health department staff by 350 as a result of clinic privatization and the county nursing home closure.

"We're asking for state assistance simply to give us the ability to right the ship by ourselves," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, noting that the money isn't actually coming from the state. "We're doing everything we can to bring us into structural balance, but at the same time, we do need one-shot revenues."

State Senate leaders have said they'll consider the item later in the session.

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