The Nassau Interim Finance Authority on Wednesday threatened county lawmakers with the financial version of a bomb if the Republican majority goes through with plans to fund the county budget with what NIFA contends is shaky revenue.
The move is unusual, because NIFA in the past directed its wrath over budgeting shortfalls at the county’s executive, Edward Mangano.
But Mangano gets to sit this one out because the county legislature already has approved his 2017 budget — albeit with holes lawmakers said they would address administratively by passing amendments before the end of the year.
Passing a budget that NIFA already considered subpar, and blowing a hole in it was not a good idea.
But relying on administrative amendments to bridge the gap could turn out to have been a nightmare move for lawmakers, all of whom are up for re-election next year.
In a letter to the legislature, NIFA said that if lawmakers went through with amendments that included uncertain revenue — including an amnesty plan for commercial property owners who face penalties because they didn’t file paperwork for assessment appeals in a timely manner — the authority would reject the 2017 budget and send it back for revision.
If lawmakers amend it again, and NIFA determines the revenue to be uncertain, the authority — as it has threatened but never done before — said it would impose at least $36 million in cuts.
Here’s where things get interesting.
NIFA, for the first time, also lobbed a grenade by threatening to reject contracts and borrowing requests for fiscal 2017 if “any of our directives are not immediately implemented.”
NIFA-imposed cuts or else no borrowing, and no contract approval? When was the last time Nassau got through a year with no borrowing, and no contracts?
Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), the legislature’s presiding officer, in a statement Wednesday called NIFA’s threat “outrageous.”
Which shows how potent, and how wily a threat it is.
Still, would NIFA — after years of playing footsie with county officials, who for years have been playing footsie with the budget — really pull the trigger?
In some respects, the authority’s intent does not matter.
That’s because it would be dangerous politically for Nassau’s elected officials to dare the authority to follow through.
But where does Mangano, who is under federal indictment on corruption-related charges, fit in?
An administration spokesman said Wednesday that Mangano would wait to see what lawmakers do on Monday, when the amendments come up for a vote.
Meanwhile, the administration has sent contingency plans to NIFA that Mangano has said would result in “catastrophic” cuts.
At some point, Mangano, could use his administrative authority to put cuts in place rather than relying on NIFA to impose them. That could be good news for lawmakers, who would skirt the political liability attached to such a move.
Except, of course, that Mangano could blame their flawed amendments for making such steep cuts necessary.
It’s one more strange twist in the NIFA-Nassau saga.