Balancing politics and good governance is a challenge most elected officials contend with endlessly. The decisions demanded of competent, responsive government are often unpopular with voters. And the moves residents are most likely to approve of come Election Day are often financially dubious or overly self-interested.
In Nassau County, among both Democrats and Republicans, the balance is out of whack. Political considerations, in the run-up to next month's election, are too often the motivating factor.
County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, is seeking reelection on the heels of a pandemic that has, in surprising ways, bolstered Nassau’s finances but worsened its divisions. Curran had already made significant progress toward structural balance in the county’s beleaguered budget; then the federal response to COVID-19 brought hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus.
The COVID crisis also convinced the Nassau Interim Finance Authority to restructure county debt, reducing interest rates and freeing up cash now, but kicking repayment down the road. And a stronger-than-expected recovery from shutdowns, fed by a booming real estate and renovation market and consumers eager to spend, has the county’s finances in, at this moment, surprisingly good shape.
But there are reasons to fear the good times won’t last. And that's why some of Curran’s recent moves seem political, like:
- Proposing $375 checks for most county households that will cost $100 million and go in many cases to people who suffered no financial loss from COVID while not doing much for those who did.
- Opposing a Republican plan to cut unfair, and what courts have ruled are improper, fees on traffic tickets and real estate transaction paperwork.
- Pitching a four-year property tax cut totaling $150 million that, in the middle of her stalled multiyear reassessment phase-in, will cut average bills less than $100 per year.
- Refusing to require that county cops and other employees be vaccinated.
- Pushing for $45 million in new public safety spending for a generously funded police department.
But the Republicans in the county legislative majority are guilty, too, of:
- Waiting until two days before the annual budget was due to spring the fee cuts on Curran, who says they'll cost $140 million annually.
- Approving Curran’s misguided $375 checks to residents, to avoid voter wrath.
- Doing too little to lead on requiring vaccines.
Meanwhile, Curran’s Republican opponent, Bruce Blakeman, makes promises to voters of bigger tax cuts and larger rebate checks than Curran’s that lack specificity, and his accusations that Curran hiked school taxes lack any factual basis.
It would be naive to say elected officials should ignore politics, and nowhere is less politically naive than Nassau. In a democracy, consistently displeasing voters isn't a workable strategy, nor should it be.
But solid governance has to be valued above pretty promises, by both the candidates and the voters.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.