Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano used his State of the County address Tuesday night to press state lawmakers to enact public financing of political campaigns, calling it the best way to remove political influence from the county’s contracting system.
Mangano told a crowd of more than 400 at the Museum of American Armor at the Old Bethpage that the best way to avoid “the appearance of influence in the contracting process” is through publicly funded campaigns. The proposal is a reaction to a series of controversies involving county contracts.
Mangano, a Republican, last year pledged to create a public financing system in Nassau. But he reversed course in December after officials cited concerns about the cost and the potential for pre-empting state election laws.
Mangano cited new local laws requiring lobbyists to disclose the identity of their clients, for contractors to divulge their political donations and lowering the threshold for legislative review of contracts.
“Under my administration there is now a procurement system that has historic levels of transparency, oversight, and checks and balances,” Mangano said.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the measures are “not strong enough.” Democrats, who want an independent inspector general to oversee contracts, are blocking $275 million in borrowing for capital projects until the GOP creates the role.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the legislature “has done everything we are supposed to do” on contracts and she called on Democrats to approve the borrowing.
Mangano says an IG is not needed because the county Commissioner of Investigations already performs the work.
Mangano in his speech — his seventh since taking office in 2009 — also highlighted county efforts to transform 51 acres of blacktop around the Nassau Coliseum into a bio-tech park.
He said he wants $225 million — half the $450 million set aside by the state in the 2016 budget for Long Island projects — to build an economic center around the arena to attract research and development companies.
Mangano would use the funds to build a 2,700-spot parking garage two floors of office space on top; a new 8.5-mile rapid bus transit route in central Nassau; three pedestrian bridges and an outdoor plaza.
Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner is spending $260.5 million to renovate the Coliseum and build an adjacent retail and entertainment district.
Separately, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will spend $140 million to build an outpatient treatment center and the state will help fund a $350 million Center for Bioelectronic Medicine at the Hub.
Mangano’s speech also hit on the county’s statewide low unemployment rate, efforts to combat heroin abuse and attract businesses.
And while Mangano cited six consecutive budgets without a property tax increase for residents earning less than $500,000, his 2015 and 2016 plans included hikes that were covered by a state rebate. The legislature kept the 2015 hike but removed the 2016 increase.