The Nassau Interim Finance Authority broke with custom this week, warning Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano not to submit a 2016 budget and a multiyear plan based on hope and fiction. Normally, the state control board waits until after Mangano presents his budget and four-year-plan, due Sept. 15, to chide him for laughable estimates of revenue, expenses and deficits.
The county's finances are a disaster. NIFA imposed its control period in 2011, but unfortunately, had little actual control over county finances. That started to change late last year when NIFA began to reject county borrowing, one of the authority's most effective powers, but one it has sometimes been too timid to use. It can be a nuclear option: If the county won't balance spending and revenue and NIFA rejects borrowing, at some point the cash runs out. By issuing its warning this week, and nixing borrowing, the control board is telling Nassau officials it is willing to impose its own budget changes, which it can do by law, and to then let the county run out of cash if Nassau won't comply.
The annual gap between Nassau's revenue and expenses is projected to be $174 million in 2015 and $311 million by 2018. Projections of big money coming from speed cameras, higher sales tax revenue and cash from video-lottery machines haven't materialized. Nor has the recurring $150 million in expense cuts Mangano promised in 2011 in return for NIFA's permission to borrow $450 million to keep the county afloat.
The county legislature deserves much of the blame of late. It outlawed speed cameras and fought a 3.2 percent property tax increase, a fight Mangano won with NIFA's help. And county legislators have been quick to lead the fight against specific video-lottery parlor sites.
Mangano and the legislature have to balance the books. And NIFA needs to stiffen its resolve to make them do so.