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Deadlines doomed NUMC, Nassau bills

An exterior view of Nassau University Medical Center

An exterior view of Nassau University Medical Center located at 2201 Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow. (Nov. 14, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Moves by Nassau County and Long Island's only public hospital for state financial rescues failed because they didn't solicit support in advance and introduced the measures too late in the legislative session, political observers said.

A bill to allow the county to skirt its legislature and a state control board to borrow millions of dollars for tax refunds failed Thursday and another to authorize Nassau University Medical Center to refinance $300 million in debt failed to secure support in the Democratic-led Assembly.

George Marlin, a member of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board that controls the county's finances, said County Executive Edward Mangano tried to slip the bill in at the end of the legislative session so it would gain little attention and could be used as a bargaining chip between the GOP and Democrats.

"But we shined a light on the bill and it could not withstand the scrutiny," said Marlin, who argued the legislation would damage the integrity of current and future control boards.

Political strategist Michael Dawidziak, who works primarily for Republicans, said it's now time for Mangano, an anti-tax advocate, to consider a property tax hike.

"I don't know what other choice he has," he said.

Mangano went to Albany "to break the political deadlock that has consumed our county legislature," county spokesman Brian Nevin said in a statement. "While we are disappointed that the State Assembly refused to consider Nassau's bill, the county legislature still has time to come together . . . " to support a plan that "ends the county's 40-year reliance on borrowing to pay for tax refunds."

Democrats are refusing to allow Mangano to borrow $41 million for tax refunds. Mangano announced last month that he would seek state legislation allowing him to bond without the approval of county lawmakers or NIFA.

The bill, introduced two weeks before the end of the legislative session, "would help the county move forward" and avoid significant cuts to social service agencies, said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Assembly Democrats united against the bill.

"It's hard to find anyone on either side of the aisle who thought this was good, sound fiscal policy," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies.

The county legislature will vote for the second time Monday on the bill allowing Mangano to borrow $41 million for tax refunds. Minority leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his caucus will not budge until it is guaranteed a redistricting process that is "fairer" than the one proposed by the GOP.

"Absent bipartisan cooperation by county legislature, the administration will move forward with painful cuts that are necessary to keep the county fiscally stable," Nevin countered. "Republicans legislators have provided 10 votes and we need three Democrats to step up to avoid cutting important services." In addition to the state bill, Mangano has proposed a local bill that would allow him to use $192 million in bonding previously approved by the legislature in 2004 and 2005.

The legislature also passed a bill, currently on hold by the courts, that would allow Mangano to save $41 million by furloughing employees one day a week, opening union contracts and reducing county contributions to health benefits.The bill aimed at helping NUMC emerged unexpectedly with just one week left in the session. Sponsored by Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) and state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), the measure capped borrowing at $300 million and limited the funds to the hospital.

NIFA officials said lawmakers never came to them with the refinancing proposal and there was no guarantee the board would have approved it.

Lavine said there was not enough time to secure NIFA's support. Hannon said he will reintroduce the bill in the Senate.

NUMC declined to comment on the bill or the path forward for the hospital, which is struggling with rising pension costs and declining Medicaid payments. The East Meadow medical center has laid off more than 300 workers in the past year.

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