Minority Democrats in the Nassau Legislature on Thursday called County Executive Edward Mangano’s proposed $105 “public safety” fee on all traffic and parking tickets an “illegal” tax that could be overturned by the courts.
At a news conference in Mineola, Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the ticket surcharge — a central component of Mangano’s 2017 budget that would be used to hire 150 police officers and 81 civilian law enforcement officials — was an unjust “money grab.”
The fee is expected to generate $66 million in new annual revenues. The Republican legislative majority is expected to approve the fee and the budget on Oct. 31.
Democrats cited a 1992 opinion by the State Comptroller’s Office that says a fee “not directly related to the cost of administering the program or which is imposed for the purpose of generating revenue to offset the cost of governmental functions generally is a tax.”
Abrahams said that since Nassau does not have authority from the state to impose a “public safety tax,” Nassau is “vulnerable” to a lawsuit that would jeopardize the revenue stream.
“This is nothing more than a tax,” said Abrahams. “The administration and the majority can call it what they please but at the end of the day it’s an illegal taxing fee.”
County Attorney Carnell Foskey said Democrats were wrong on the law. Foskey argued in a letter to Abrahams Thursday that a tax is involuntary while motorists could “avoid the fee completely by the simple expediency of not breaking the law.”
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter testified at budget hearings that without the revenues from the fee, the department would have to cut community policing and investigative units, impairing public safety.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment on the legality of the fee but criticized Democrats for not proposing alternative revenue sources.
“If the Democrats want to be a partner in solving the county’s fiscal challenges, they must do more than criticize what’s in the budget,” Gonsalves said in a statement. “They must present fiscally sound alternatives.”
Alec Slatky, legislative analyst with AAA Northeast, a nonpartisan group that advocates for motorists, said the fee will disproportionately harm low-income residents. He said the fee is “vastly out of proportion with the severity of the offense” and with policies of neighboring counties.
The AAA said a ticket for an expired parking meter would now cost Nassau residents $220, compared with $35 in Queens. An expired registration sticker would result in a $285 fine in Nassau, while in Queens motorists would pay $65.
Legis. Delia De Riggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said the fee would hurt small businesses if residents avoid shopping locally to avoid expensive parking tickets. “This is not going to help small businesses,” she said.