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Nassau Dems refuse to OK $41M loan

Legislator Kevan Abrahams looks on during the Nassau

Legislator Kevan Abrahams looks on during the Nassau County Legislature meeting in Mineola. (June 25, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Nassau Democratic lawmakers on Monday blocked $41 million in borrowing needed to close a 2011 budget deficit and pay overdue property tax refunds.

Aides to County Executive Edward Mangano have warned that the legislature's failure to authorize the borrowing before outside auditors this week close the books on 2011 could trigger a downgrade of Nassau's credit rating.

Mangano already has told youth service agencies that he will cut $4 million in funding by July 5 if the legislature doesn't approve the borrowing.

The vote was 10-9 along party lines. Because borrowing requires 13 votes, three Democrats would have had to join the 10-member Republican majority to pass it.

Democrats blamed Republicans and Mangano for trying to pressure them by rescinding a 2009 county law that funneled money collected from red-light-camera fines to youth groups.

"When my colleagues decided to remove that [youth funding], they threw you back into the fray," Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) told the dozens of youth group supporters who attended Monday's legislative meeting.

Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury) said Mangano made the choice to defund youth agencies while, according to county budget reports, increasing his own spending on mailings and constituent services by $1 million. Mangano aides denied spending increased, saying the budgets had yet to reflect staff transfers made out of constituent services.

But Republicans warned that tax attorneys could place a lien on county accounts and seize property if Nassau does not pay the court-ordered judgments. Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) accused Democrats of "political blackmail," by refusing to borrow unless they got their way on a legislative redistricting plan.

"The judgments will be paid one way or another," Schmitt said. "Scraping together all the available money to pay these judgments has to be done."

At least one representative from a youth organization broke down in tears after the vote.

The administration already has transferred $43 million from this year's $92-million rainy-day fund to cover the 2011 deficit. But Mangano aides warned that the transfer leaves too little in reserve.

"We'd be blowing through about half the fund balance," said Deputy County Executive Tim Sullivan. "I would expect rating agencies to view that negatively."

Mangano said in a statement that he talked Monday with the chairman of the county's financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, about further cuts in spending.

Mangano said Democrats "put politics ahead of our residents' best interests. Working together, NIFA and I will do all in our power to address today's actions in a responsible manner while protecting taxpayers."

NIFA had agreed to allow Nassau to borrow to pay tax refunds over four years in return for the county cutting $150 million in labor costs by Feb. 1. Mangano has cut about $90 million to date.

NIFA chairman Ronald Stack said in a statement Monday: "NIFA is solely concerned with the $150 million in recurring labor savings as required by the budget."

Stack added, "The other issues are County issues and are the responsibility of the appropriate elected officials."

Meanwhile on Monday, Jackson Chin, speaking for three groups -- Latino Justice, Common Cause and La Fuente-Long Island Civic Participation Project -- decried what he called "a shameful political hostage taking where politicians put their personal and partisan interest in the [county legislature's] redistricting outcome far ahead of the welfare of Nassau County residents."

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, New York, later said she had been asked by the Nassau County League of Women Voters and a few Nassau members of her group to get involved with the redistricting plan, which has an advisory group. "I plan to be there with others Thursday for one of its first redistricting meetings," she said.

With Sid Cassese

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