Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano unveils a debt reduction and...

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano unveils a debt reduction and sewer stabilization plan in Mineola, New York. (May 3, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The best thing that can be said about Nassau Executive Edward Mangano's attempt to bypass the Nassau legislature and a state control board to borrow millions of dollars is that it doesn't stand a chance.

Mangano had a bill introduced in the State Senate last week that would let Nassau tap up to $192 million in bonding approved by the county legislature in 2004 and 2005 that Mangano says was never used. The $192 million was borrowed, but by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority rather than the county. It's based on this technicality that Mangano wishes to upend decades of law and oversight.

The county executive also lacks the supermajority of 13 votes required in the county legislature to borrow the $100 million needed to pay property tax refunds and scrape up enough cash to get through the year. Mangano's answer to that is, again, an attempt to pass legislation, this time at the county level, saying he can borrow on that old authorization without a supermajority's support.

NIFA is refusing Mangano permission to borrow because he has produced only $90 million of the $150 million in spending cuts he agreed to produce by Feb. 1. NIFA is right to hold him to this. Mangano can't get permission from Democrats in the county legislature to borrow because they are angry about an electoral redistricting process that could leave them out in the cold. They're right to be angry about the redistricting, and right to nix the borrowing, but wrong to entangle electoral issues with the county's operational problems.

If Mangano got what he wanted, the result would be worse than the current situation, and the repercussions broader. Once it was clear to the financial markets that NIFA had no control over the county, Nassau's debt rating would plummet and its borrowing costs would skyrocket. Once it was obvious that the state were willing to stymie control boards, the useful framework and powers of the boards themselves would crumble, at a time when plenty of municipalities may need them. Worst of all, Mangano would have continued Nassau's multi-decade trend of borrowing to cover up for too much spending and too little revenue, kicking the can down another stretch of road.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who would have to sign the state legislation, has signaled this is not the right approach. Mangano says if he can't get the money, he'll cut off the revenue from red-light cameras dedicated to county social services and use it to pay tax refunds. That would break his own promises, which would be unwise and unjust.

Mangano faces the same, difficult way out of the fiscal wilderness he always has: Find another $60 million in spending cuts and help Democrats get a touch of fairness in redistricting. It is an undeniably ugly solution, but ugly solutions are preferable to make-believe ones.


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