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Nassau Democrats sue Mangano over tax hike

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Democrats in the Nassau Legislature Tuesday sued Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, challenging his reinstatement of a tax hike in the 2015 budget, after lawmakers had removed it.

The lawsuit argues that the 3.4 percent property tax levy increase is invalid because the county charter only authorizes executive vetoes on spending.

"The County Executive has dramatically abused and overstepped the limits of his authority and blatantly attempted to circumvent the people's democratically elected representatives in the County Legislature," the lawsuit states. "As a result, the already overburdened taxpayers of Nassau County are threatened with an invalid tax hike that by rights they should not have to pay."

Mangano in September proposed the tax hike to raise $31 million to offset a steep drop in sales tax revenue. He said the average homeowner's bill would rise by $41, but those making less than $500,000 would receive a state rebate to cover the entire increase.

Lawmakers amended Mangano's $2.98 billion budget to remove the tax hike, replacing the revenue through measures to restructure debt and use bond premiums. Nassau receives premiums when it issues bonds for road repair or construction, and requests more money from the market than it needs for the projects.

Mangano and the county's state fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, called the legislative amendments risky. Mangano last month vetoed the amendments, saying they "violated sound budget practices."

The legislature's GOP majority ultimately declined to override Mangano's vetoes, citing the threat of deep new program expense cuts if they did.

The Democrats' complaint alleges that Mangano only has veto power over legislative budget "additions and increases," not tax levy cuts. It argues his veto is "a purely negative power to delete. It does not confer any affirmative right to add or restore line items."

Mangano's office responded Tuesday by noting tax hikes approved by a Democratic majority from 2002 to 2009.

"The Democrats raised taxes by 42 percent when they controlled the county legislature and are wasting taxpayer money with this frivolous lawsuit," said County Attorney Carnell Foskey, citing a figure that encompasses several property tax hikes and a home energy tax that was later repealed.

NIFA board member Chris Wright responded to the suit by citing board projections that Nassau already faces a $150 million deficit, counting borrowings: "The administration and the legislature should understand that reducing revenues in any amount. . . probably isn't a good idea."Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), who is also named as a defendant, declined to comment, saying she had yet to see the suit.

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