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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau lawmakers wasting money on mailings

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas in Mineola

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas in Mineola on Nov. 21, 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Lawmakers in Nassau appear to think so much of themselves — and so little of their constituents — that they continue to waste public money on political mailings.

It’s not just the mailings, however. It’s the money.

The county legislature’s Republican majority wants to increase its mailing budget by $400,000 — to a total of $1.1 million — even as a state financial control board is exploring the idea of imposing cuts to balance to make the county’s 2018 budget work.

And all of this comes a little more than three months before all 19 legislative seats are up for election.

For decades, the blatant use of taxpayer money for political propaganda — produced by public employees, on public time and mailed out at public expense by both major parties — has gone on unabated.

In 2015, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas recommended that the county pass legislation to clearly define the difference between political and information mailings. But the legislature has done nothing.

This time around, the brouhaha centers on a mailing sent by three Republican lawmakers that — despite GOP protestations to the contrary — appears to have more to do with politicking than governing.

“GOOD NEWS FOR NASSAU FINANCES . . . thanks in large part to the Republican majority,” the flyer screams, noting that Nassau’s finances have improved “without resorting to massive tax increases like the previous Democratic Legislative Majority.” It also touts Republican moves to eliminate taxes on fast food and cigarettes.

Let’s clarify.

Democrats haven’t had a legislative majority since 2010. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s financial control board, has projected a more than $100 million budget deficit this year. Republican-majority legislatures also have raised property taxes. And taxes in fast food and cigarettes were never imposed — although they were included as a possible way to fill future budget gaps.

But with these mailings, both sides are missing the main point — which is that money used for mailings could be put to better use in a county where services have been shrinking.

Last week, Singas — whose office is not requesting that federal prosecutors to look into the latest mailing — asked Donna Myrill, the Republican-appointed investigations commissioner, to determine whether the mailing violates the state constitution and the county code of ethics, which bans the use of government resources for political purposes.

“Existing law makes it very difficult to bring criminal charges for certain political abuses of taxpayer dollars,” Singas, a Democrat, wrote, labeling the mailings as a “wasteful and corrupt practice.”

But if the DA believes the practice to be wasteful, and corrupt, why rely on the county to start policing itself? A better path might be asking candidates running for office in November for pledges to fix, or ban, the practice.

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