Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (Dec. 20, 2011)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (Dec. 20, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Don't blame me, the last guy did it.

Even without uttering those words, elected officials and their appointees often send that very message.

Criminal lawyers sometimes call it the "dead-guy-did-it" defense. A finger is pointed at someone who's no longer around to put up a fight.

Since anyone elected to anything in the last couple of years probably has fiscal woes, this "last guy" defense echoes everywhere.

A task force formed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat who took office Jan. 1, is expected to tell lawmakers Tuesday how deep the county's financial troubles run after the two terms of Democrat-turned-Republican Steve Levy.

Bellone's recent statements suggest he inherited a crisis. "There's no silver bullet to solving these financial problems," he said in Albany Feb. 14. "It's going to take cobbling together a number of different things over several years."

Two years in office have given Nassau GOP Executive Edward Mangano many more turns to play the "last guy" card.

He's reminded everyone that his election led to removal of a home heating fuel tax imposed by Democratic predecessor Tom Suozzi. He's complained that a state monitoring board held him to a higher standard than his predecessor. He noted how fat labor deals were signed long before his term -- and, of course, how taxes were high before.

Last year, citing expenses, Mangano replaced the MTA with Veolia Transportation as operator of local bus service. Veolia took over Jan. 1 and last month announced "adjustments" and "investments," including plans to cut service on 30 routes to help fill a $7.3 million deficit.

As reported by Newsday's Alfonso Castillo, company executive Michael Setzer pointed to when MTA ran the bus lines. "There are a lot of bad habits here that have been going on for years and years," he said.

Sometimes the proverbial "last guy" responds. This time, MTA officials defended their decisions. Board member Mitchell Pally said: "We were not going to make maintenance improvements to a system we were no longer going to have."

The first-term governors of New York and New Jersey, Andrew M. Cuomo and Chris Christie, now jointly control the bi-state Port Authority, which recently raised its bridge and tunnel tolls. Last month, a consultant's report called the PA "a challenged and dysfunctional organization," citing, in part, big project cost overruns. Patrick Foye, the new executive director, embraced the findings.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer's abortive tenure offers an instructive example too. Even before taking the oath, Spitzer blasted his predecessors-to-be for all that was bad. "Day One, everything changes," he said. Two "last guys" later, Cuomo is working to put the Spitzer-Paterson follies in the rearview mirror.

Cuomo caustically joked the other night before the Citizens Budget Commission that progress can be relative. "It has been 14 months since the governor of the state was indicted or admitted committing major felonies," he said, as quoted by the publication City & State. "That is progress," he continued. "We have now gone . . . three months without a conviction of a sitting legislator. Three months. Deserves a round of applause."

This was a comedy riff. It is inaccurate to say that Paterson, who was found by ethics investigators to have lied under oath, was indicted. But the last-guy tradition was preserved.