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Dean Hart, Nassau candidate, seeks state probe of legislative mailings

Dean Hart, Democratic candidate for the Nassau County

Dean Hart, Democratic candidate for the Nassau County Legislature's 18th District, at his home in Glen Head on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. Credit: James Escher

Nassau Democratic legislative candidate Dean Hart Friday asked the state comptroller and the attorney general to investigate "the blatant misuse of taxpayer money" by county Republican legislators, who say in taxpayer-funded mailers that they held the line on taxes despite a 3.4 percent property tax hike this year.

Hart, who is challenging first-term Republican Legis. Donald MacKenzie for the 18th District seat, filed an official complaint with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office and also sent him a letter, with a copy to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, asking for a review of the county spending.

"I'm tired of waiting for the legislature to regulate itself," Hart said, noting that the state constitution bars the use of government resources for political purposes. "Every year Nassau taxpayers increasingly suffer from some of the most burdensome property taxes in the country and sadly our leaders find it's easier to funnel away more taxpayer money on lies than to actually fix it."

Mark Johnson, a DiNapoli spokesman, acknowledged receipt of Hart's request. "It is under review," he said.

Newsday reported Friday that at least three Republican legislators, including MacKenzie, had sent the postcards headlined "Holding the Line on Property Taxes!" and claiming a "0%" property tax increase for every year from 2011 through 2015. However, Nassau property taxes rose 3.4 percent this year and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano is proposing a 1.2 percent hike next year.

Republicans contend that a state tax rebate negates the property tax hike for homeowners who earn less than $500,000 a year. But homeowners would have received the rebate even if taxes hadn't increased. Businesses are not entitled to the rebate while co-op owners are entitled to 60 percent.

MacKenzie said Hart's request "is nothing more than a campaign tactic to distract voters from the real issues. We will continue our legitimate communications with our constituents about our achievements."

MacKenzie noted he had never voted for a tax increase.

Nassau legislators initially eliminated the 3.4 percent tax increase from the 2015 budget. But when Mangano vetoed the removal, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) never called a meeting to override his veto.

Neither Republican nor Democratic legislative staff would estimate the cost of the mailings. But a Gonsalves spokeswoman in July said mailing a postcard within a Republican legislative district cost about $7,025. It was unclear if all 12 Republican lawmakers sent the mailer.

Former Democratic Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice had urged the county ethics board to develop rules about government mailings, but it took no action. Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas twice urged county lawmakers to institute restrictions but none were implemented.

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