Judge Arthur Spatt at federal court in Central Islip.

Judge Arthur Spatt at federal court in Central Islip. Credit: Ed Betz

A federal court judge Wednesday temporarily blocked a controversial bill that would allow Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to unilaterally cut $41 million by furloughing employees, reopening labor contracts and reducing county contributions to health benefits.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt said he would make a ruling on the bill's legality in late July or early August.

But in remarks from the bench, Spatt questioned the constitutionality of the measure -- particularly language allowing for the modification of union contracts. He called the bill "very unusual" and "potentially unconstitutional."

Officials from the five county unions that sought a temporary restraining order say the bill would cause irreparable harm to members and put collective bargaining agreements nationwide at risk.

"If the written word of a contract doesn't mean anything in Nassau County, why would it mean anything in the rest of New York State or elsewhere?" asked CSEA Local 830 president Jerry Laricchiuta."

County Attorney John Ciampoli said he was confident Spatt would rule in Nassau's favor once the case is presented, though he said the delay would "create more financial pressure on the county."

The ruling comes as Mangano is trying to cobble together a way to pay $41 million in property tax refunds. The county, which is facing a multimillion-dollar deficit if corrective actions aren't taken, wants to borrow to pay the refunds. Minority Democrats in the county legislature have refused to vote for the bonding until they are guaranteed a redistricting process "fairer" than one proposed by the GOP majority.

Mangano is lobbying the State Legislature to pass a bill to permit him to borrow $120 million for refunds without first getting approval of the county legislature or the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board in control of the county's finances. Mangano also has introduced county legislation that would allow him to use $192 million in bonding previously approved by the legislature.

In the absence of the borrowing authority, the legislature approved a bill last month allowing Mangano to cut $41 million from the budget by furloughing employees one day per week and changing provisions of union contracts. Mangano signed the bill Monday, prompting the unions to seek a temporary restraining order Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

Police Benevolent Association attorney Seth Greenberg said the bill reduces staffing, "endangering the lives of police officers and the public." The PBA is separately challenging the bill contending it violated the state's Open Meetings Law and the County Charter and that it was enacted without public notice or quorum because Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown) voted from an adjoining room out of the public's view. Marc Wenger of the Melville law firm Jackson Lewis, who represented the county in federal court, said the bill could not be enacted without an executive order by Mangano. In the absence of such an order, the union's arguments were "speculative at best," Wenger said.

Spatt ruled that if the county did not agree to voluntarily delay implementation of the bill, he would issue a temporary restraining order.

Wenger agreed to the voluntary delays and now has until July 5 to submit documents presenting his case. The unions have until July 19 to respond while the county will be able to file a rebuttal by June 26.

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