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Nassau GOP's $100 million question

With the Republican wins in the county, Richard

With the Republican wins in the county, Richard Nicolello, the Nassau Legislature's presiding officer has the votes to eradicate the fees, as he repeatedly tried to do this year. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Daily Point

Nassau GOP, NIFA ponder promised fee cuts

When a political party lacks the pull to deliver on its promises, it can freely promote all kinds of initiatives. The trouble starts when that party garners enough power and has to deliver.

Nassau Republicans will be in that spot very soon.

For years the Democrats controlling the New York State Assembly pushed for single-payer health care in the state, and in 2015, 2016 and 2017 they passed the New York Health Act as a one-house bill.

The Republicans running the State Senate never took it up.

But once the Democrats took the Senate in 2018, the conversation around single-state single-payer for New York mostly died down, because such a change would be difficult if not impossible to enact, and Democrats didn’t want to be forced to vote against what they’d claimed for years to support.

Now, with total Republican control in Nassau County, Richard Nicolello, the legislature's presiding officer, and County Executive-elect Bruce Blakeman are facing a similar situation. They called for eradicating huge fees when County Executive Laura Curran could likely stop the cuts, and Blakeman was unlikely to be the one managing the budget if they went through.

With County Executive Laura Curran heading out and Blakeman coming in, Nicolello has the votes to eradicate the $55 public safety fee for traffic tickets and the $355 property tax map verification fee, and to reduce the mortgage recording fee from $300 to $50, as he repeatedly tried to do this year.

But the situation is further complicated. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s fiscal overseer, isn’t cheerful about the county giving up more than $100 million in annual income. However, legal challenges to such fees as excessive have been successful so far in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Last month NIFA was so concerned that the county would kill the fees after Blakeman won that it canceled the scheduled Nov. 9 meeting where it would have voted on the county’s 2022 budget.

Now NIFA board members say that vote will happen Tuesday, and the budget will be approved, even without assurances that the fees will stand. Part of the rationale is that there is so much federal stimulus and local sales tax revenue coming in that finances won’t challenge Nassau in 2022 regardless.

But NIFA’s willingness to approve the budget is also fueled by acknowledgement that the courts may kill or cut the fees even if the GOP doesn’t, and a reassuring lack of urgency from Republicans on eliminating them. Board chairman Adam Barsky told The Point Friday that the board understands the courts can kill the fees as easily as the GOP can, and that either way, it would still be on the county to balance revenue and expenses.

Blakeman has told The Point repeatedly that now that he has won, he’s taking it slow when it comes to the fees and revenues, gathering experts and thinking hard before he makes a move.

Nicolello said Friday he hopes and believes there may be a middle ground that satisfies NIFA’s financial worries and eliminates or least reduces the fees.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Trimmed back better

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Final Point

High-speed dreaming

Those dreaming of building high-speed rail between New York City and Boston are still trying to push forward – though their expectations have shifted a bit since the signing of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill.

For now, supporters of the North Atlantic Rail initiative are hoping to tap into some of the infrastructure funds for initial environmental reviews and planning, along with smaller-scale "demonstration projects" that could help specific regions within the corridor, according to advocate Dave Kapell. He’s working through the Right Track for Long Island Coalition that was first formed to advocate for the Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track project.

"You’ve got to start somewhere," Kapell told The Point. "If we can get it funded initially, then it’s on track."

But before even that can happen, Congress has to authorize the North Atlantic Rail project to become its own entity – one able to seek and receive such funding. With so much uncertainty in Washington, it’s unclear if or when that will happen.

"Our sights have been lowered substantially from our original hopes… but now we’re focused on trying to get it jump-started through a planning process and with stakeholder engagement," Kapell said.

Advocates also are hoping to attempt to move forward with specific, smaller efforts, including a high-speed connection between Providence and Boston and the electrification of the LIRR between Ronkonkoma and Riverhead.

Greenport resident Kapell noted the LIRR project is particularly important to the region.

"I feel very strongly about [it] as critical to unlocking the potential of the East End," he said.

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

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