The Nassau County Legislature's approval, on deadline, of a shaky 2011 budget is best viewed as a Hail Mary pass. There is little time left on the clock and County Executive Edward Mangano is given little chance of scoring.
Mangano claims he has a secret play that can win multimillion-dollar concessions from five public sector unions to help close the gaps in his $2.6-billion budget. He wants a few more weeks to execute it. If he fails to score soon, however, Nassau's fiscal control board should take the ball.
Friday's downgrading of Nassau's bond rating by Moody's, the first in 10 years, coupled with its devastating opinion that the county lacks any long-term plan, spotlights the county's worsening finances. The budget counts on millions of dollars from one-shot sources of revenue, including the sale of land and leases that are unlikely to happen in 2011. Just as risky is the county's assumption that Albany will give a green light to an expanded red-light camera program that is in the budget for $17.3 million. And Mangano zapped out of the budget any subsidy payment for Long Island Bus - the MTA is demanding $26 million - by saying the county will privatize it.
Mangano has few options to satisfy concerns that there is no fiscal strategy in place for the next few years. He is reluctant to raise taxes, the county workforce is already pretty lean and sales tax income is not expected to soar.
While Mangano is right to press ahead with a needed overhaul of the assessment system to reduce the amount of property tax refunds, he must still rely on borrowing for at least the next two years. And while he was right to stop the county's guarantee of these refunds to local school districts starting in 2013, there are likely legal challenges ahead that could thwart his plan.
So Mangano must now convince labor unions whose contracts are locked in until 2015 to make concessions. They should. But the unions ignored him last month when he threatened to take back $61 million. Mangano won't describe his last-ditch play, but it must result in substantial and demonstrable savings for the county executive to stay in the game. hN