Editorial: Nassau maps a road to ruin

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks at the Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano speaks at the second annual Recruit NY weekend in Garden City to help increase the number of volunteer firefighters. (April 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Now that Albany failed to give County Executive Edward Mangano a "get out of jail free card" releasing him from the political game monopolizing the fiscal future of Nassau County, he may be left watching other players move the pieces around his board.

The only way Mangano can pass Go and collect money will be if the local party bosses allow him back in the game. For now, Republican leader Joseph Mondello and his Democratic counterpart, Jay Jacobs, are in a showdown over who gets the best shot at controlling Nassau for the next decade -- all as the county slides closer to the fiscal abyss.

Mangano's attempt to evade the borrowing restrictions of the county's charter and the state fiscal control board was misguided. It was a desperate acknowledgment that the county's running out of money, and the luck Mangano needs to stay in the game. He wanted Albany's permission to borrow $120 million, some of which to pay refunds to property owners who successfully challenged their tax assessments. He fears those who've won court repayment orders will put liens on the county's dwindling bank accounts if checks aren't cut soon.

Mangano has few moves. He can cut personnel, but his clumsy attempt to abrogate union contracts was temporarily blocked last week by a federal judge. And he'd risk political suicide to recommend even a small tax increase, since he came into office on the pledge to rescind his predecessor's energy tax. By doing so, Mangano threw away about $90 million over the first two years of his term, revenue that would have prevented this crisis.

The cash flow is so dicey that the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, the state control board, will permit Mangano's borrowing if he makes promised cuts and gets the required approval of a supermajority of the legislature. To do that he needs to add at least three Democrats' votes to those of the Republican majority.

But the Democrats won't budge until they get a better shake from the new electoral lines being drawn for 2013 and the decade beyond. Mondello wants the GOP to reap the fruits of winning back the majority last year, so he drafted ridiculously partisan electoral maps designed to give his party the best odds of staying in power. Those maps, which have four Democratic incumbents fighting each other in two districts, were blocked by the courts. Against that poisonous backdrop, Mondello has told Jacobs he must provide the votes for $41 million in borrowing before they can even discuss tweaking the new maps.

Jacobs, as would be expected, refused the deal. While the Democrats are wrong to take government hostage for their own advantage, it is hard for the Republicans to shame them because this same tactic was used by State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to win approval for wildly partisan maps designed to keep that chamber in GOP hands for another decade.

The real and surreal will come together in Mineola on Thursday. That's when a nonpartisan commission, with no authority, will hold another hearing on how to draw the county legislature's new election districts. Redistricting has always been a political plum, but now, for Nassau, it's becoming a poisoned apple.

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