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Nassau, Suffolk seek state OK on bonds

ALBANY -- Nassau and Suffolk counties have launched an 11th-hour campaign to obtain state permission to borrow money to cover lingering debts, possibly allowing Nassau to bypass a financial control board, lawmakers said Wednesday.

The counties have told state legislators assistance is needed to help cover expenses related to superstorm Sandy, although the proposal they've floated this week would allow them to issue bonds to cover any type of debt.

Importantly, the proposal would allow the counties to issue bonds through a state authority -- thereby letting Nassau County avoid asking for approval from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, officials said.

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, a Democrat, and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, have given state legislators a proposal that would allow them to borrow up to $500 million, according to a copy obtained by Newsday. The plan says that a "financially distressed municipality" would be able to use the state Dormitory Authority to "accomplish a refunding, repayment or restructuring of all or a portion of a county's outstanding indebtedness."

The counties have a short window to persuade state lawmakers to go along. The state Legislature is slated to adjourn for the year on June 20.

Officials called the plan a bipartisan approach to forge "regional solutions."

"It's no secret Nassau and Suffolk counties have financially suffered in a number of ways in the aftermath of Sandy," said Jon Schneider, spokesman for Bellone. "What we're asking for is the ability to do some debt restructuring combined with some near-term relief so we can rebuild our county finances."

Suffolk originated the plan, officials from both counties said.

"Suffolk developed this legislation. Nassau County joins with Suffolk in supporting this relief measure," Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said in an email.

"Clearly, we're stronger when we have a Democrat and a Republican coming together to speak about regional problems and regional solutions," Schneider said.

But some state legislators blasted the notion of letting Nassau end-run NIFA. Last year, they blocked a similar Mangano borrowing request.

"This is the same battle that was waged and lost by County Executive Mangano a year ago," said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove).

Asked if Sandy makes this request more palatable, Lavine said no. "Sandy makes no difference whatsoever," he said, adding that Mangano was trying a "back door" approach to get around NIFA.

Nassau and Suffolk are eyeing other types of assistance from the Legislature. They want permission to allow off-track betting corporations on Long Island to offer video slots as part of any deal to expand gambling in New York. Suffolk also wants to execute a "sale-lease back" agreement for county buildings that would give the county a cash infusion.A key Suffolk County lawmaker said the pending deadline could make it difficult to get the borrowing proposal approved. "This one is a bit of a late starter, which could be a problem," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst). "But we'll try to help the counties any way we can."

A spokesman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) made no promises. "A number of municipalities across the state have requested to be given the authority to borrow," said Scott Reif, a Skelos aide. "We are currently weighing those requests."


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