Bruce Blakeman, the Republican challenging Nassau County Executive Laura Curran for reelection, says in a new online ad that her plan to send $375 payments to homeowners in the high-tax county amounts to giving them "peanuts."
In response, Curran's camp released a new ad recalling the county's fiscal troubles in the 1990s when Blakeman, now a Hempstead Town Councilman, was presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature.
In a 30-second video published on Blakeman's Facebook page on Aug. 16, the Republican sharply criticized Curran's cash assistance program.
In May, Curran first proposed sending $375 checks to some 300,000 Nassau households with incomes of up to $500,000.
Curran, a Democrat, revised her plan in July to cap the total household income at $168,900 annually.
Under Curran's revised plan, the county could send cash to households making up to $500,000 if applicants show proof of economic loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blakeman has called the initiative a "political stunt to buy votes," and in his new ad attempts to tie it to Curran's property reassessment program.
"Laura Curran hiked your property taxes, and her flawed reassessment caused school taxes to soar," Blakeman says in the ad.
"Now, after taking thousands, she's offering peanuts … Tell Laura Curran to keep the peanuts, it's time to cut taxes."
At one point, peanuts fall from the sky in front of a large home.
In 2018, Curran ordered the county assessment roll updated for the first time in a nearly a decade.
Her predecessor, Republican Edward Mangano, had frozen the roll in 2011 and implemented a policy of providing mass assessment settlements.
The effect was that many homes became significantly undervalued and owners who won tax challenges shifted property tax burden onto those who did not grieve their assessments, or who failed to win reductions.
The County Assessment Department determines a home's assessed value, which is used to calculate homeowners' tax obligation. School districts determine tax levies and budgets.
In an interview with Newsday, Blakeman said the "peanuts" idea came from conversations with Nassau voters.
"It’s the result of people calling me and contacting me, and basically saying my taxes went up thousands of dollars, and she's offering me $375 dollars," Blakeman said. "That’s an insult. It’s peanuts — that’s what people have said to me, and they're right."
Blakeman says he favors using $120 million in surplus funds to cut property taxes.
The Curran campaign's new Facebook spot highlights Nassau's fiscal troubles in the late 1990s.
As legislative presiding officer in 1999, Blakeman and majority Republicans voted to cut spending from the budget of GOP County Executive Thomas Gulotta, and approved a tax hike as the county struggled with budget deficits.
Shelby Wiltz, Curran's campaign manager, said in a statement:
"When Bruce Blakeman led the Nassau County legislature, he raised taxes … and created a deficit of $300 million. While County Executive Curran earned Nassau the title of ‘safest community in America,’ Bruce Blakeman turned Nassau into the ‘most fiscally irresponsible County in America,’ leaving Nassau one step above junk bond status."
In 1999, Newsday reported county lawmakers approved a 9.4% tax hike a week before legislative elections.
Blakeman, who lost his seat a week later to Democrat Jeffrey Toback, said at the time: "We believe that 26 cents a day is a small price to pay for solving our deficit."
Democrats won control of the legislature in the election.
Curran has accused majority Republicans of delaying a vote on her bill to authorize the $375 payments, which would be funded using $100 million in federal pandemic aid.
Asked when a vote would occur, Chris Boyle, a spokesman for majority Republicans, said in a statement: "The County Executive first announced a plan to deliver relief months ago without first getting the appropriate legal guidance. The Majority will do it's due diligence to make sure that our taxpayers are protected, and aren't subjected to another broken promise by this administration."
Republican legislators had questioned whether Curran was certain the original proposal to send $375 payments to homeowners who receive a STAR exemption, was allowed under U.S. Treasury Department guidance.
Curran administration officials did not directly answer lawmakers' questions during legislative hearings, but introduced a more limited proposal on July 31.