Nassau Legis. Laura Curran broke with her Democratic legislative colleagues Monday, backing a $6 million bonding ordinance to replace 28 aging NICE buses that must be put out of service next year.
Curran (D-Baldwin) was the only Democrat on the GOP-controlled Finance Committee to support any capital borrowing Monday. She said she plans to provide the critical 13th vote to secure the ordinance’s passage when the full legislature meets July 11.
Other minority Democrats continued to oppose borrowing for the county’s $275 million capital plan, voting against borrowing not only for the buses but also to replace underground fuel storage tanks and asbestos abatement projects.
“I heard loud and clear from my constituents that buses are a priority,” said Curran, who is considering a run for Nassau County executive in 2017.
Democrats on the full legislature have twice blocked the bus borrowing, which includes funds for equipment and facility repairs. The county and state each provide 10 percent matching grants for the project while the federal government provides the remaining 80 percent — roughly $48 million.
NICE CEO Michael Setzer said the buses being replaced are at least 12 years old, with a minimum of 500,000 miles in service. Without the new vehicles, “there would be no choice but to curtail services.”
For months, the seven-member Democratic minority has withheld their votes for capital borrowing until the 12-member GOP majority and Republican County Executive Edward Mangano agreed to create an independent inspector general’s office for contracting. Capital borrowing requires 13 votes. Nassau’s contracting practices have drawn scrutiny since last year when former state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was indicted on federal corruption charges that included influencing the award of a county contract to a firm that employed his son, Adam. Dean and Adam Skelos were convicted in December and are appealing.
Pressured by Republicans and labor unions, Democrats last week approved $7.2 million in borrowing for new police body armor, replacement police ambulances and patrol car computers.
On Monday, Democrats returned to their opposition, voting against borrowing to buy the new buses, $722,000 in bonding for asbestos abatement of county buildings and $11.6 million to replace underground fuel storage tanks at NICE facilities in Garden City and Rockville Centre.
But only the funding for the buses is expected to pass the full legislature.
Legis. Rich Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) called the Democrats’ tactic “extortion. You are bringing government to a grinding halt for a political agenda.”
But Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said Republicans were being “obstructionists” to contracting reforms. “We are not going to put more money into a contracting process that we think is flawed,” said DeRiggi-Whitton.
Democrats plan to collect signatures to put the inspector general issue on the ballot for a referendum in November.