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Nassau County Exec Curran vetoes GOP-controlled legislature's budget changes

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is shown in

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is shown in at the Nassau County Department of Public Safety garage in Westbury in September. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Thursday vetoed the GOP-controlled legislature's amendments to her $3.3 billion budget proposal, saying their changes would "severely threaten the County’s ability to preserve vital programs and adequate staffing in 2021."

Her move took place hours after county legislators split down party lines in a 10-8 vote approving the amendments. Majority Republicans opposed her plan to push off payment of $75 million in county debt until 2021, saying better-than-expected sales tax projections should enable the county to pay the money this year. Their amendments did not change the overall size of Curran's budget.

"What the county executive's budget does is gather as much cash as possible while taking no action on the structural problems that have plagued the county for years," said the Legislature's Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "Once the county burns through the cash savings from restructuring, we are still going to be faced with the structural problems — tax refund liability, backloaded contracts."

Curran, a Democrat, and legislators in the Democratic minority have said Republican lawmakers overestimate revenue projections and the pace of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused steep declines in sales tax receipts.

Her administration projects a 20% decline in sales tax revenue in 2021; the Republican amendments assume a 12% drop. County Comptroller Jack Schnirman, a Democrat, projects 16.6%. Sales tax revenue is about 40 % of the county's total revenue.

Curran, however, has the support of all eight members of the Democratic minority caucus, which has vowed to block an attempt by Republicans to override her veto. Republicans hold an 11-8 majority on the Nassau Legislature; Legis. Laura Schaeffer (R-Westbury) recused herself from the budget amendment vote. A supermajority of 13 votes would be needed to override Curran's veto.

Curran's budget plan also relies on a debt refinancing agreement that she said would save taxpayers $285 million next year by taking advantage of historically low interest rates. About $240 million in NIFA debt and $120 million in county debt is eligible for refinancing, Curran said. Republicans balked at the refinancing and any additional borrowing through NIFA, the state-appointed panel that oversees the county's finances.

"These are unprecedented times, but by restructuring NIFA and County debt with historically low interest rates, Nassau will be able to keep essential services fully funded throughout this pandemic," Curran said.

Nicolello has called the refinancing of debt "kicking the can down the road." He and other Republicans said the county ultimately would save $95 million in debt service by paying off the $75 million in 2020. They have not yet made public their opinion on other county and NIFA debt restructuring. He said he was "hopeful" members of the minority caucus would join them in overriding Curran's veto.

As of late Thursday, legislators had not yet set a date to vote on overriding the veto.

Minority Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D-Freeport) said he believed his caucus reached a "responsible agreement" with Curran that adds five new police medics, takes steps to support more NICE Bus service if federal funding falls short, and provides resources for the Smart Sprinkler Reimbursement Program, which promotes water conservation

"That is why we unanimously voted against the Majority's budget amendments and will unanimously oppose any attempt to override the County Executive's veto," Abrahams said.

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