Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano won a second term and by a resounding 18-point spread. Here are some suggestions on what should come next.
Mangano, the man.
This means Nassau's top elected official, once derided by some as an accidental county executive, can stop watching his back. His first term, too often, had the feel of an ongoing political campaign rather than a government. And no wonder: In 2009, even much of the Republican hierarchy believed Mangano would lose. In a second term, Mangano can begin thinking about Big Picture things, like Legacy. And, with the pressure off, he's now free to pick up on years-old advice from fellow GOP members to bring in more expertise to buck up his governing brain trust.
Shovel, meet ground. But while Mangano has a chance to aim high, he also has a chance to push hard to get renovations moving at the Nassau Coliseum. Under the county's agreement with Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner Cos., the firm has five years to get financing and begin work. But Nassau needs jobs, sales tax and the domino effect of the county's first significant project in decades now, not later.
Rather than fight the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, or unduly bend it to his will, Mangano would do well to do whatever it takes to free the county of the necessity of having the state monitor its finances. That will be no small task because -- campaign assertions to the contrary -- the county's finances are not well. Mangano can't be the only one tired of dealing with the extra red tape; county residents should be, too. Residents, with their votes, expressed an unusually high degree of confidence that Mangano can come up with a workable, sustained strategy to right Nassau's decades of fiscal wrong. It's a gigantic order. But, then, it was a gigantic vote point spread.
Much has been made of the help former County Executive Thomas Suozzi had from state taxpayers -- more than $100 million -- to restore Nassau's finances. It was supposed to be a bridge, one that Mangano, given the state's fiscal stresses, never could expect. But Mangano has had a bridge, too: The $231 million his administration thus far has been able to put to other uses because of a wage freeze NIFA imposed on public union employees at Mangano's request. Consider this: Had Mangano raised taxes, given the state's 2-percent cap, he would have bought in only an estimated $90 million in new revenues over the same time. With the freeze, public employees each year effectively were forced to hand over a portion of their salaries to Nassau's budget, money that they technically never will be allowed to recover. It's long past time for substantive negotiations and changes to county operations to keep what should have been temporary freeze from becoming permanent.
Assessment, a peel. It's time to peel the responsibility for assessments away from Nassau and negotiate giving that authority to its towns and cities. Yes, Mangano's decision to freeze and fix flawed assessments, in theory, saves money. But a program that ended up settling an unusually large number of appeals has hurt the fairness of the system -- maybe even leaving Nassau vulnerable to a lawsuit challenging its adherence to a consent decree that was supposed to fix system inequities. And that's just with residential appeals; the county hasn't settled commercial appeals -- which account for the lion's share of Nassau's potential liability -- in years.
It's alive! Mangano's administration, despite NIFA opposition, hasn't given up on a plan to bring in a private investor to fund the transfer of the county's sewer and wastewater system over to private management. But if he's intent on pushing the plan, Mangano should package it -- and other ambitious initiatives that follow -- with considerably more transparency than he did with, say, his transfer of the county bus system to private managers. The plan relies essentially on -- and yes, I know the administration disagrees, and vociferously, on this point -- getting a big infusion of cash now that would be paid back later. That's called borrowing. And Nassau already does too much of it.
Even with a mandate, Mangano will have to work with his old nemesis, legislative Democrats, who, for 18 months, held back the three votes necessary for Mangano to borrow. On Tuesday, Nassau voters -- despite Republican redistricting designed to give Mangano a chance of a legislative supermajority -- denied him what likely was a wish to never have to work with stubborn Democrats again. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially since the number of Democrats in Nassau is increasing. Republican voters in Nassau remain as reliable as ever in turning out to vote. But this time around, Mangano's mandate was fed by Democrats and third-party voters, too. Which means that in Nassau, where Democrats and third-party votes now outnumber Republicans, Mangano will have to keep practicing his reach across the aisle.