All three candidates for county executive this week essentially told a state panel overseeing Nassau finances to take its consultant’s report recommending significant and politically sensitive cuts in expenses and stick it.
Jack Martins, the Republican candidate, in a statement suggested that the Nassau Interim Finance Authority get back the money it spent on the document — which suggests ways that the county could cut $87 million in expenses.
George Maragos, the county’s Republican-turned-Democrat comptroller, called the report “a waste of money,” while Laura Curran — who faces Maragos in a primary Sept. 12 — echoed Martin’s declaration by saying that she would not make “draconian” cuts either.
But let’s peer beyond the predictable backlash — after all, what candidate in her or his right mind would attract voters by pledging, as the report recommends, to eliminate school crossing guards or senior services?
That’s political suicide.
And to be clear: NIFA, which is an unelected board, is neither mandating nor accepting the consultant’s recommended cuts either.
Still, the document, which will cost NIFA up to $150,000, has value, for both Nassau and Suffolk, where Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory filed a resolution calling on County Executive Steve Bellone to help develop “a long-term Visioning Plan to address the county’s needs in the most efficient and effective manner possible” — which is a really long-winded way of screaming the budget is falling, the budget is falling and somebody, please, somebody has got to do something about it.
For one, some of the sacred cows that the report — from Great Neck-based Capital Markets Advisors, or CMA — suggests queuing up for slaughter merit change, or serious scrutiny. The Office of Minority Affairs, the Coordinated Agency for Spanish Americans (CASA) and similar offices, on the face of it, for example, should be commendable county endeavors. But they — like the county board of elections — have been notable over the years as much for being patronage mills as for being effective.
And then there’s the staffing for the county legislature — over which the county executive has no control since it is a separately elected body. Why do part-time lawmakers, during a fiscal pinch, need so much staff?
The report also suggests consolidating departments, which can reduce expenses — especially if accompanied by moves such as consolidating space, supplies and contracts.
The report also recommends shedding services, such as parks and senior citizens programs and Veterans Affairs, which would shift the expenses down to towns, villages, cities and, for those crossing guards, school districts.
No politician wants to do that — but the process of considering what services can be shared among municipalities creates an opportunity for discussion, debate and bargaining (because, to be blunt, no other taxing entity is going to take on anything that increases its costs without some method of compensation).
NIFA has said that it expects the county to find more revenue or reduce its expenses to make the 2018 budget — which will be County Executive Edward Mangano’s last — solid.
But the consultant’s recommendations aren’t really aimed at Mangano, or for that matter Nassau lawmakers — who reliably can be expected to “fix” Mangano’s plan in a way that will aid their own re-election efforts.
It’s aimed at candidates vying to be Nassau’s next top elected official.
Which means for now, as they said, nothing’s on the table — until after the election, when, by necessity, everything will be.