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NIFA right to make Nassau County pay

Members of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority

Members of the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority gather for a meeting in Uniondale on March 22, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority has added $7 million in tax refunds to the list of things it’s no longer willing to let Nassau County pay for on credit, and rightfully so.

The state’s fiscal baby-sitter for Nassau recently gave County Executive Edward Mangano and the legislature an ultimatum. The county wants to refund 44,000 senior citizens an average of $166 after letting lapse a tax abatement they were granted in 2002 to set off a big tax hike to bail out the county. But NIFA says officials have to find the money elsewhere.

Nassau officials let the abatement — for those aged 65 and older with annual incomes under $86,000 — expire. Then, when blistered with criticism, the officials first said seniors didn’t need it any more, then claimed the State Legislature was at fault, then sheepishly agreed to reinstate the break on next year’s tax bills and refund it for this year. But Nassau can’t recoup the $7 million from other taxpayers because their tax bills have gone out for this year.

So Mangano and legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves figured they’d just take it out of what is essentially an overdraft account, the $140 million in reserves that’s built up because deficit-riddled Nassau somehow managed to borrow money faster than it could use it.

NIFA is right. Seniors should not have lost the abatement, but Mangano and Gonsalves don’t have to repay it. Doing so is a political obligation, not a legal one. And the county is headed to another $100 million annual deficit, regardless of how much borrowed money sits in the bank.

Nassau needs to cut some fat to send these checks. In a $3 billion budget dripping with patronage and inefficiency, that shouldn’t be such a tall order. — The editorial board