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Nassau County’s budget needs a fixer

Valley Stream resident Malik Amid expresses displeasure with

Valley Stream resident Malik Amid expresses displeasure with the Nassau legislature before they approved a $2.9 billion budget Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. A proposed traffic and parking ticket fee was not included in the fiscal plan. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau Executive Edward Mangano couldn’t get the county’s books balanced a long time before his recent indictment on federal corruption charges coincided with the approval of a 2017 budget that’s nothing short of disastrous.

It’s time to rise above political calculations. The indictment of the county’s CEO might pave the way.

Mangano has failed to balance expenses and revenues for most of the past seven years. The only time his administration even came close was during the wage freeze imposed in 2011 by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. And that was a freeze he opposed.

Mangano blotted out even that momentary and tiny light at the end of the fiscal tunnel when he placed politics over governance, constantly angling to lift the pay freeze on police and other county workers without finding a way to pay for the higher wages their contracts required. Even NIFA, the state’s fiscal watchdog, was complicit in that blunder.

Now Mangano has presented a multiyear budgeting plan that NIFA says contains the potential for about $900 million in deficits over the next four years. But that didn’t stop the Nassau County Legislature from approving next year’s budget without including about $77 million of revenue from deeply unpopular fees, including hiking parking- and traffic-ticket fees by $105 each.

Even those dollars would have been a drop in the bucket. The $2.9 billion budget still would be $100 million short. But once again, petty politics prevailed. Last week, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves reversed herself on approving the gouging ticket surcharge after party leaders said they couldn’t risk a backlash just a week before an election in which her fellow Republicans in Nassau County are at risk of losing control of the State Senate.

There are only two ways to get the budget under control: big slashes in spending or big increases in taxes and fees. Mangano at least made a feeble attempt with the ticket increase. But his indictment last month eroded any of his remaining political currency.

As we said before, Mangano should resign. He wasn’t up to running an enterprise as complex as Nassau County even when he wasn’t fixated on staying out of jail. When he does leave, it will be up to the Nassau legislature and its Republican majority to pick someone to serve until the next general election in 2017. And that means Joseph Mondello, the county’s GOP chairman, most likely will make the call.

Instead of giving the interim role and the advantage of incumbency to the 2017 GOP candidate, the Republicans should find a short-term fiscal steward from the business community who can excise every bit of fat and every part-time golf attendant who is someone’s cousin. The county needs someone who, with the full backing of NIFA, can drive hard bargains with county unions and make tough decisions about taxes and fees.

It will take an expert in operations and finance, someone who doesn’t intend to run for office and who can take all the blame. Nassau County’s budget can be fixed. It’s just going to take the right person to do it. — The editorial board