Nassau and Suffolk counties can borrow money, and they don't need the approval of the State Legislature, nor the help of the state dormitory authority, to do it.
They do need the approval of a supermajority of their county legislatures, lenders willing to extend them credit at reasonable rates, and in Nassau's case, the approval of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. All of this is as it should be, which makes a plea by both counties for Albany's help to circumvent these requirements way off base.
Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau Executive Edward Mangano went to Albany this week to pitch a bill that would allow each county to borrow up to $500 million under the bonding capacity of the dormitory authority, but it's an odd pairing. The plan is Bellone's brainchild; Suffolk sees borrowing under the state authority as a way to cut payments by as much as $60 million per year for the next four years by restructuring debt to move principal payments out into future years. Bellone, a Democrat, has no problem getting a supermajority of legislators to approve borrowing, nor is he constrained by a financial oversight board, so he doesn't need to circumvent those hurdles. But to win bi-county backing in Albany -- in particular that of Senate majority co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) -- Bellone does need to structure the bill in a way that also helps Nassau County.
So Republican Mangano came on board, but Nassau's needs changed the bill significantly. The attempt marks the third time in three years Nassau has looked to state lawmakers to circumvent NIFA and the lack of a legislative supermajority to support most borrowing.
Approving this bill would be a mistake. Hundreds of municipalities would line up for the same sort of help. A plan that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is pushing to help distressed municipalities overcome their economic realities would be marginalized. Rights of taxpayers for debt to pass the muster of a legislative supermajority would be usurped. And too little would be done to address the fact that these two counties, year after year, spend more than they bring in.