Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the 2015 budget...

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works on the 2015 budget in his office on Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano appears to have decided, better late than never, to attend to the governing of the county, and not just the politics. County legislators from both parties need to do the same.

After five years of no property tax hikes and ever-increasing county debt, Mangano proposed a 3.4 percent tax hike in 2015 that would raise $31 million annually and cost the average homeowner $41. Legislators unanimously changed his $2.9 billion budget, axing the increase and identifying about $31 million in largely fictitious spending cuts and revenue that they claimed would make the increase unnecessary. They also recklessly tacked on another $1 million in spending for mental health and substance addiction programs.

Mangano says he'll veto the changes, and at least some legislators say they'll try to override him. That's irresponsible behavior by the legislators, and it shows they're more worried about their 2015 re-election campaigns than the good of the county. Assuming Mangano is entirely behind the tax increase and isn't sending a different message in private, the legislators' actions also highlight a power struggle among Nassau Republicans that could easily hold good governance hostage.

The real hole in the county budget is a lot more than $31 million. Problems include borrowing to pay tax refunds and termination pay, the potential that school speed cameras will go away in the face of a revolt, plummeting sales tax revenue and new union contracts the county never could afford.

The county also lacks credibility with voters when it asks for more money. Newsday has reported that there are part-time jobs with inaccurate titles that pay county employees to do political work. Getting rid of this spending wouldn't free up nearly enough money to balance the budget, but continuing it poisons taxpayers against giving Nassau more revenue.

We're not saying taxes should go up. If legislators can find creative new ways to raise money that don't include hidden cameras, let the public in on the secret. Otherwise, explain to residents that there are likely to be spending cuts, and that mostly means cuts in services, because of their override vote. But what legislators, especially the GOP majority, can't responsibly do is block attempts to increase revenue, block attempts to control spending and then pretend that they care about doing their jobs, when all they care about is keeping them.

If Mangano's veto is overridden and the legislature's budget goes into effect, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority is required to cut county spending to make up the $31 million. What NIFA should not do is pick between programs -- cutting, say, health services while fully funding the Department of Public Works. Prioritizing spending is a job for elected officials, not appointed members of a state control board. If NIFA has to act to balance the budget, it should shut down all nonessential county services until the savings are realized.

Let Mangano and the legislators explain that to voters before Election Day 2015.


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