Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, with majority leader Peter Schmitt,...

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, with majority leader Peter Schmitt, reacts to NIFA's decision to take over the county's finances. (Jan. 26, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

More than three-quarters of Nassau voters want County Executive Edward Mangano to work with a state oversight board instead of suing to maintain control of the county's finances, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena Research Institute poll.

Only 15 percent approve of Mangano's decision to file a lawsuit over the takeover by the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, the poll said; 77 percent want him to work it out with the board by its deadline for a new financial plan.

"Voters are saying, 'Yes, we're in a very tough position, we recognize that we have enormous fiscal problems, but we're sick and tired of you people and political entities just yelling at each other,' " said Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute.

Two weeks after NIFA seized control of county spending, the survey also revealed the stark choices Mangano and lawmakers face to close a $176-million hole NIFA identified in the 2011 budget.

Ninety-one percent of voters say they don't want higher property taxes, 54 percent don't want reduced services, and half oppose laying off county workers, the poll said. Instead, nearly three-quarters said they want more public employee union concessions.

The poll questioned 630 registered Nassau voters on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. It has a margin of error plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

The poll shows 50 percent thought that Mangano should be allowed to solve the county's financial problem with his own budget plan and 52 percent think NIFA should have given Mangano more time to pursue his own solutions. But voters split evenly - 40-40 - on the question of whether the authority's Jan. 26 move was proper or political and punitive, as Mangano suggests.

Mangano, a Republican whose tax cuts NIFA says contributed to the budget shortfall, has largely escaped public blame for the fiscal problems, with 13 percent saying he and the GOP were the most at fault. A plurality, 30 percent, primarily blame the state's economic woes, while 23 percent mostly point to former County Executive Thomas Suozzi and 20 percent at public unions. Suozzi declined to comment.

Stanley Klein, a Suffolk GOP committeeman and professor of political science at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, said the poll results should tell Mangano "to stop the suit and start negotiating."

"Mangano has a whipping boy," Klein said of NIFA, which had a 27 percent favorability rating in the poll compared with Mangano's 45 percent. "Instead of using them that way, he decided to attack them legally, which politically, I don't think is as effective."

In a written response to Newsday, Mangano, who maintains his 2011 budget is balanced, said he would continue with the lawsuit.

"Rather than work with me, NIFA chose a path that will result in a property tax hike," Mangano said. "The lawsuit is necessary to protect homeowners and employers from higher taxes."

Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), the Nassau legislature's presiding officer, said the poll shows "the majority of the voters stand with us and understand that a NIFA takeover is a not-desirable or good thing for this county."

However, NIFA board member George Marlin, a Conservative who had supported Mangano's election, had a different take-away: "I agree with the sentiment of 70 percent plus of the people of Nassau that NIFA and Ed Mangano should work side by side to solve the fiscal woes of Nassau County."

Other NIFA officials declined to comment.

NIFA was created in 2000 to watch over Nassau's budget after the county nearly went bankrupt and needed a $100-million state bailout. The six-member board asserted its right to approve or reject the budget plan on Jan. 26 when its accountants declared Nassau was missing more than 1 percent of the revenue needed to fund its budget.

The poll found that Democrats and Suozzi voters tended to favor NIFA, while Republicans and independents sided with Mangano, though his supporters also didn't like the lawsuit.

Stella Mallios, 48, a stay-at-home mother from Wantagh, said she blamed neither Suozzi nor Mangano but a long parade of elected officials before them who mismanaged the county. She wants Mangano to work with NIFA and wanted to close any budget gap with union givebacks or layoffs.

"Some of the concessions workers have gotten from the county are ridiculous and should end," Mallios said.

Even most union households, 68 percent, preferred extracting more concessions from county workers instead of new taxes, slashing services and layoffs.

Some union leaders said there may be room to negotiate if NIFA declared a financial emergency, giving it power to freeze county worker wages. NIFA has not taken that step.

Lt. Gary Learned, president of the Nassau Superior Officers Association, representing about 400 police supervisors, said he was waiting to see if NIFA declared an emergency. "To avoid a zero [pay increase], we'd be willing to talk with NIFA about givebacks this year," he said.

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the county's largest public union, the Civil Service Employees Association, said his group had already made significant concessions. Asked about digging deeper this year, he said: "I would hope not."

Budget watchdogs have warned that concessions may not be enough. Lawrence Levy, director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said: "The numbers show the job of public officials is really hard when folks want to maintain services but don't want to pay any more for them."

Voters appeared to agree with Mangano that a NIFA takeover would hurt the county, with 43 percent fearing their property taxes would go up. NIFA has no power to raise taxes, but Mangano said, "NIFA has stated a desire for more revenue . . . Where I come from, revenue is code name for higher taxes."

Three in five voters said Nassau was on the wrong track, but voters also sounded a note of optimism. Fifty-three percent believe the county's fiscal condition will improve in the next year.With Sid Cassese

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