Fifteen days into this local election year, just about every public official on the county and state level in Nassau fell into a finger-pointing match. The goal was to escape even the appearance of culpability for letting a tax break for county seniors lapse with no warning.
County lawmakers said it wasn’t us, according to a Jan. 15 Newsday story.. Edward Mangano, the county executive, said he didn’t do it. Mangano and GOP county legislators initially took the denial a step further, saying the abatement no longer was needed because they had largely frozen property taxes since taking control of government in 2010.
Some of the county’s state representatives — any one of whom, like local elected officials, might have raised an alarm before the break expired — ran for the hills, too. But not before stopping long enough to say it wasn’t them either, because the state could have done nothing about an extension unless local officials asked them to, via a home rule message from county lawmakers.
Not so, local officials fired back, in an attempt to argue — wrongly, by the way — that a home rule message was not necessary.
By Tuesday, however, everyone was singing a far different tune.
That’s when Nassau County legislators — all of whom are up for re-election in November — voted to approve a home rule message to reinstate the tax break. A measure to do the same also passed the State Senate in Albany.
And, because tax bills already have been sent out, both state and local lawmakers also want to take the unusual step of making the break retroactive.
The tax abatement was set by state and county laws passed in 2002 after Mangano’s predecessor, Thomas Suozzi, and a Democrat-majority legislature approved a 19.3 percent property tax increase in the midst of a financial crisis.
It’s hard to believe that — despite assertions by some elected officials to the contrary — no one in state or local government noticed that the abatement was to expire after completion of the 2015 tax role last year. But it did. And seniors, a strong, reliable — and vocal — voting bloc in Nassau, made quick work of complaining to elected officials after noting that abatement line had disappeared from tax bills.
Hence officials’ denial of responsibility.
And, almost as quickly, their acceptance of the need to put it back.
Among the most adamant were Democrats, on the state and county level, vying for their party’s nod to run against Mangano for county executive.
Meanwhile, Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, came out swinging to reinstate the break, too. It was an indication that, despite reports that Republican leaders don’t plan to back him for a third term, Mangano very much considers himself to still be in the race.
Ah, but there’s an unexpected a wrinkle in the move to restore the abatement — and it has to do with officials’ desire to refund money to some 44,000 seniors by making reinstatement retroactive. Where is what the county estimates will be $7 million to $8 million in refund money going to come from?
“It would likely come from fund balance,” Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Mangano, said Wednesday. He said the county’s surplus was $40 million higher than its recommended level. And that Nassau anticipates “another $30 million once the 2016 budget is audited and closed out.”
Would the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state board overseeing county finances, have to approve?
Yes, Nevin said.
The authority — which, by the way, is appointed and thus isolated from the rigors of campaigning — has yet to receive the proposal.