Mangano can't avoid making cuts in Nassau

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano unveils a debt

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano unveils a debt reduction and sewer stabilization plan in Mineola, New York. (May 3, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

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Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano was sent back to a familiar place when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rightly short-circuited his attempts to get county borrowing approved in Albany instead of Mineola. No matter how much Nassau's leader dodges, twists and scrambles, he always ends up back at square one.

Unless Mangano and the legislature raise taxes, a very unlikely scenario, or sell off some Nassau assets, the only way they will balance the county's books is by cutting more spending. Tightening the belt even more, though it will hurt a lot, will slow the bleeding, and make a stronger case for Democrats to let the county have the supermajority to borrow the $100 million it needs to get through the year. A bit more transparency on the true state of the county's finances, if they are as bad as believed, should help persuade Democratic legislators, as will a public outcry when services are really cut to the bone. After that, a backlash against politicians cutting services might give Mangano leverage to force the county's public employee unions to negotiate new contracts.

Nassau County could run out of cash by year's end. In addition, Mangano would still be $60 million short of the spending cuts he promised the Nassau Interim Finance Authority by Feb. 1 in exchange for its approval to borrow more than $100 million. Unfortunately, he refuses to get back to basics and manage. Instead, he asked state leaders to support a bill to let the county borrow without the approval of NIFA and the county legislature. Luckily, leaders in Albany realized NIFA is providing the only whisper of sanity in Nassau's financial picture right now. Those state leaders may also have a better understanding of how unwise it is to neuter a control board, one they created, when other municipalities and counties could soon be relying on their own boards to get plummeting finances in order and improve credit ratings.

One of Mangano's other long-shot fixes -- a law he recently got Republicans in the county legislature to pass, allowing him to break contracts to find $41 million in savings -- simply has no legal power. And his dream of raising $750 million by letting a private company run the sewers is also stalled, both by NIFA's refusal to approve the county's contract with adviser Morgan Stanley, and by the fact that no one believes a private company, United Water, can hold sewer rates steady, invest $400 million in the system and repay an investor that $750 million, plus interest.

So, square one. Mangano and fellow Republicans in the legislature must cut spending to convince Democrats they mean business and to persuade NIFA to allow borrowing. The impact of the cuts might force the municipal unions back to the table. Everything else Mangano is trying, every highflying fantasy and pain-free cure, leads nowhere.

Sure, NIFA should take a more active role in helping Mangano find and implement those cuts. Sure, Nassau's Democratic legislators should support the executive if he takes the right path, and not hold up county operations for a political maneuver on electoral redistricting. But Mangano has to lead the charge, and make tough cuts in tough times. It's called governing.

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