In a rare move, Suffolk’s Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone has vetoed a measure to allow Republican Comptroller John Kennedy to negotiate a private sale of Suffolk bonds without approval of the county waiver committee.
In issuing the veto, Bellone said such a change would eliminate one of the checks and balances of the current procurement system adopted in 2009 and should only be done as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the existing law. The veto is only Bellone’s second in the past two years and his eighth since taking office in 2012.
Kennedy said he will seek an override at the Feb. 6 legislature meeting, saying the bill is needed to give him flexibility to react quickly to changing financial market conditions. He noted his office had been able to refinance more than $650 million in county debt saving $35 million over the next decade.
Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), head of the GOP caucus, called the measure “a smart government initiative” from a “comptroller who has demonstrated an ability to save the county millions of dollars.” He labeled Bellone’s veto “an act of pure partisan politics.” Kennedy is up for re-election for a second term this fall.
Currently, the comptroller must seek approval of a three-member waiver committee — made up of two representatives of the county executive and one from the legislature — to authorize such private sales.
The vetoed measure requires the comptroller to disclose details of the solicitation for any proposed private bond sale to both the county executive and legislators. It also requires the comptroller to detail his evaluation and assessment of all proposals that are made.
The bill was approved last month on a veto-proof 12-6 vote, with six Democrats joining the six-member GOP bloc. That GOP bloc is now seven and Cilmi expects it to remain fully supportive. However, two Democrats who voted for Kennedy’s bill and a third who opposed it left office at year’s end.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), who originally voted for the measure, called it “good reform” but will review Bellone’s veto message and speak with Kennedy before making a final decision on the override. Newly elected Legis. Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills), said she is reviewing the bill and has made no decision on an override, but freshman Legis. Tom Donnelly (D-Deer Park), said he will vote to override the veto.
Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who originally voted for the measure, said he was having second thoughts about removing the review in light of Bellone’s veto, though he has not made a final decision. Should the county have a future comptroller in whom “we don’t have as much confidence, it could lead to corruption,” he said.
Kennedy expressed confidence an override will succeed and said he intends to “have an earnest discussion with every [legislator] even those who opposed it.”