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Fate of counties' borrowing plan murky

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos penned an op-ed for

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos penned an op-ed for the Albany Times Union saying public financing has been a recipe for corruption and that taxpayers’ money should instead be used for schools, roads and other traditional government expenditures. (March 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Office of the Governor

The fate of a proposal to allow Nassau and Suffolk counties to borrow up to $500 million each through the state Dormitory Authority was unclear last night as Democrats and Republicans in Albany moved toward the end of the legislative session.

Democrats who control the state Assembly said the proposal faced very long odds.

But Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said the plan wasn't dead.

"No decision has been made," Skelos said after emerging from a nearly 90-minute meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other legislative leaders on a variety of issues.

A Nassau official familiar with the joint county proposal said it has little chance. "We are not even lobbying for the bill," the official said.

A draft of the proposal says each county could borrow an amount that does "not exceed" $500 million. County officials said financial restructuring is needed to aid recovery from superstorm Sandy, although the proposal would allow them to issue bonds to cover any of debt.

Nassau Democrats accused County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, of trying to sidestep the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state panel that controls county finances.

"This end around sets a bad precedent for Albany as a means to assist distressed municipalities," Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Great Neck) said yesterday.

She spoke at a news conference in Mineola with legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Howard Weitzman, Nassau's former comptroller who is running for his old seat.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for Democratic Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone, accused Nassau Democrats of playing "partisan politics with a bipartisan plan to address the needs of Long Island's counties in the wake of superstorm Sandy."

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said that "unlike the Democrats, . . . [Mangano] refuses to hike property taxes" -- a reference to former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat.

Borrowing in Nassau typically requires the approval of a supermajority of the Nassau Legislature -- including at least three Democrats -- and NIFA. Democrats in the county Legislature have rejected requests by Mangano to borrow to pay property tax refunds.

After Democrats voted earlier this month against borrowing $183 million to pay tax refunds, Abrahams said Mangano's "only plan is to borrow more and saddle future generations with insurmountable debt. Asking for $183 million with no road map to pay it back is unacceptable, and we will not support it."

Nassau legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), said Democrats' "refusal to authorize bonding consistent with the NIFA approved financial plans has resulted in a bond rating downgrade, and forced the county executive to find other means to reimburse the taxpayers."

Abrahams said his caucus is willing to approve $40 million in borrowing for tax refunds in exchange for restoration of $7 million in cuts to youth services.


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