A state fiscal watchdog fired a warning shot over the new administration of County Executive Edward Mangano on his second business day in office, asking the Bethpage Republican to explain how he is going to balance Nassau's books.
In a letter hand-delivered Tuesday, Ronald Stack, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, congratulates Mangano on his election and then asks him to report in 60 days on "specific actions" he will take to fill a budget gap created by eliminating the county's home energy tax.
As soon as Mangano was sworn in on Jan. 1, he fulfilled a campaign promise by signing a bill that repealed the 2.5 percent tax on home heating fuel.
Stack, on behalf of NIFA, also expressed concern about Nassau's chances of winning state approval for a new cigarette tax, which had been budgeted by Mangano's predecessor, Democrat Thomas Suozzi. And it notes that Mangano projects a near-$400-million deficit next year - higher than Suozzi had forecast.
Given that Mangano pledged to present a plan for filling the energy tax gap within 60 days, the NIFA letter asks Mangano for "specific actions how the county will handle the loss of the energy tax, the loss of the cigarette tax and your basis for estimating a $400 million gap in 2011 and the specific actions you plan to alleviate that deficit."
NIFA had concluded last fall that Nassau's $2.6-billion budget was balanced, even while noting the cigarette tax was a risk.
Mangano spokesman Michael Martino responded, "We were disappointed with NIFA's attempt on the second day of our new administration to put unprecedented time constraints on the county, and note that setting the time frame for release of the plan remains the prerogative of the administration."
He added, however, "We look forward to subsequent meetings and working with NIFA to restore fiscal health to Nassau County."
While some county insiders considered the letter political, Stack said yesterday the bipartisan NIFA board unanimously agreed to send it.
"Partisan charges are factually incorrect," said Stack, a Democrat first appointed by Republican Gov. George Pataki and reappointed by Democrat Gov. David A. Paterson.
Stack said when Mangano signed the tax repeal, "at that moment, (Nassau's) multiyear financial plan was out of balance." NIFA has legal authority to take control of Nassau's finances if there is an operating deficit of 1 percent or more.