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Tax hike or layoffs? Martins, Curran trade barbs

Nassau County executive candidates Republican Jack Martins and

Nassau County executive candidates Republican Jack Martins and Democrat Laura Curran at a debate hosted by the Long Island Association at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Small tax hike or layoffs?

Nassau County executive candidates Jack Martins and Laura Curran were presented with the either-or choice by Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta during a candidate endorsement meeting last month.

According to an audio recording, Martins, a Republican, told union leaders that, if those were the only two choices, he would raise taxes. His Democratic opponent, Legis. Laura Curran, presented with the same options, dismissed the prospect of a tax increase and indicated she would go for layoffs.

In the recording, Laricchiuta recalled the candidates’ answers during a meeting with union members earlier this week.

CSEA members had their wages frozen from 2011 to 2014 by a state oversight board and membership ranks have dwindled in recent years due to layoffs and buyouts.

“You have to answer the question,” Laricchiuta says in the recording. “Small tax increase, or layoffs?”

Laricchiuta tells members that Martin replied: ‘Layoffs? We can’t even — we gotta rebuild this workforce. I’ve been around this county, I’ve seen all of these departments. Every department is understaffed. We can’t provide the services for the residents anymore. We can never lay anybody off. So if that’s my only two options, I have to raise taxes a little bit, in order to keep the budget going.’”

Laricchiuta then explains how Curran answered the question.

“She said, ‘If you’re giving me no options, and I have to answer the question. I’m not raising taxes,’” Laricchiuta says.

“That meant a lot to us,” Laricchiuta tells members. “That meant more than just taxes. That meant to us, in her mind, there is still room, yet, for the workforce to give up.”

The union decided to endorse Martins, a former state senator from Old Westbury, but said it was unrelated to the question about layoffs or taxes. Laricchiuta said the union preferred Martins’ plan to end a financial control period imposed by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority within two years.

In an interview, Laricchiuta said Curran refused three requests to answer the question directly, but made it clear that layoffs were her preferred choice. “She refused to say that she wouldn’t do layoffs,” he said.

Curran, a second-term legislator from Baldwin, cited the recording as evidence that Martins, who has pledged no tax increases if elected county executive, is being disingenuous with voters.

The audio “shows that Martins is simply paying lip service to Nassau voters when he swears up and down that he won’t raise taxes,” Curran said at a news conference in Baldwin Thursday.

For the record, Martins and Curran, who face each other in the Nov. 7 election, said last week they won’t raise taxes or lay off union employees if elected.

“As I have made very clear, there is no way we’re raising taxes in this Nassau County,” Martins said in a statement. “This county has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. We have an opportunity to balance the budget without raising a single tax or fee and without laying off a single person.”

Said Curran: “I truly believe we can balance our budget and fix our finances without raises taxes or laying off county workers.”

Laricchiuta said Martins castigated him after the September meeting, arguing that the hypothetical question was unfair and that there were other options to balance the budget. “And he was right,” Laricchiuta said. “It wasn’t a fair question.”

With Paul LaRocco

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