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Editorial: No answers for Nassau's grim finances

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano delivers the 2013

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano delivers the 2013 State of the County at the Morelli Homeland Security Center in Bethpage. (March 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Listeners hoping to hear County Executive Edward Mangano's plan to overcome Nassau's daunting fiscal challenges in his State of the County speech Wednesday night likely came away disappointed. Mangano's message, eight months before he stands for re-election, was more of a campaign speech than a road map to prosperity. It gave few hints as to how he plans to surmount a debt growing past $3 billion, persistent operating deficits, expensive union contracts, a Democratic legislative minority that won't give him the supermajority he needs to borrow money, and a broken property tax assessment system. And Mangano exhibited a fairly hypocritical strategy in assailing the way Democrat Thomas Suozzi -- who preceded him as executive and is seeking the seat again -- borrowed to run the county. Then in the exact same speech, Mangano assailed legislative Democrats for not letting him borrow to run the county.

Mangano, a Republican, has cut the head count of county employees, eradicated the energy tax and held the line on property taxes. He has not, however, brought Nassau's finances to heel, and now his three-legged stool of a solution is tottering. The county is still under a state control board, which yesterday voted a wage freeze for the third year. Although the freeze is under court challenge, without the lid it puts on county contracts, Mangano would be in even more trouble. Also, the county law Mangano championed to shift responsibility for property tax refunds to municipalities and school districts lost its first contest in the courts. And the hope that $750 million could be raised through a leasing of the county's sewer system got grit in its gears when superstorm Sandy battered the sewage treatment plants.

The fact that Mangano held the line on, and even lowered taxes, may play well as a campaign platform. But it won't stop Nassau County's downward spiral.