In recent days there has been much speculation that the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), a so-called watchdog agency that sat idle for much of the past decade, will attempt to take control of Nassau's finances. Yet this watchdog, appointed by Albany politicians, slept silent for the past eight years as the former county executive mismanaged finances, spent recklessly and gave away indefensible union contracts, which run until 2016, that taxpayers simply cannot afford.
Miraculously NIFA awoke when I, a Republican, became county executive. I inherited a $286-million deficit - the equivalent of a 43 percent property tax hike - worsened by these labor contracts that promise wage increases that exceed the cost-of-living standards by hundreds of millions of dollars, guarantee no layoffs and ensure that employees continue to make no contribution toward health insurance.
Despite inheriting this deficit, the county will end 2010 with a surplus because of my strong financial management practices. In October, the county legislature adopted my 2011 budget that closes a $343-million deficit without increasing property taxes.
While the problems facing Nassau cannot be addressed in a single year, my budget reforms the way Nassau County does business by cutting $148 million in spending. It also implements structural reforms to the assessment and sewer systems that have bled $100 million in taxpayer dollars annually while filling the pockets of special interests. The budget also saves $55 million by eliminating 400 positions and implementing a nonessential-employee hiring freeze.
Many have said our unions would refuse to provide concessions, yet I have been successful in bringing them to the table. An agreement will not happen overnight, so my budget contains contingencies to ensure it remains balanced. Any labor savings achieved through these negotiations will mitigate the need for contingencies and assist in future years.
Under the law, NIFA cannot enact a control period unless there is a 1 percent deficit or imminent threat thereof. I and the county legislature ensure this is not the case.
While I respect the role NIFA is supposed to play, it appears it does not respect the choice residents made in who should run their government. While much remains to be done, significant steps have been taken in the short time we have run Nassau County. I demand that NIFA allow us to finish the job. It is what the people elected us to do.
Editor's Note: The writer is Nassau County executive.