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A Zarb moment
When an expert like Frank Zarb gets tapped to tell people what they already know, it’s a safe bet that it’s not necessarily new ideas he’ll be asked to supply: It’s credibility and gravitas.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Thursday that Zarb, the former chief executive of Nasdaq and the original chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, will lead a task force to address persistent deficits in the county’s $3 billion annual budget. The goal is to end the control period that gives NIFA some power over spending and borrowing. The control period would end when annual deficits sink below 1 percent of Nassau’s annual budget.
To understand how to balance Nassau’s budget, go to the exhaustive report consulting firm Grant Thornton created for the county in 2011. Or revisit the comments of NIFA members themselves.
The deficit could exceed $100 million this year, and such consistent shortfalls have taken county debt to more than $3.5 billion. Possible remedies include bringing in more revenue via higher taxes, lower spending or some combination of the two. Greatly reducing the $70 million to $100 million in tax refunds the county pays after owners appeal property taxes each year would help, since most of the refunds the county pays out are on payments sitting in the bank accounts of school districts and other municipalities, which do not have to repay the money.
All of this is hard, and none of it is mysterious. But raising taxes is unpopular. Cutting services is unpopular. And reining in the pay and benefits of county workers, and police officers in particular, would be political suicide even were it not made stunningly difficult by state laws that give public-sector unions strong protections.
All five of the county’s major labor-union contracts have expired. Curran has to negotiate new ones, and she has said tax hikes would be a last resort.
So Zarb and other panel members like former State Sen. Charles Fuschillo are being brought in not only to supply new ideas to balance the budget, but also to take one more stab at convincing everyone that old ideas also must come to fruition.
Blackjack in Bayville?
But when will I be able to play poker in Poughkeepsie, bet on blackjack in Bayville or shoot craps in Canarsie?
The U.S. Supreme Court decision this week striking down a 1992 federal law that banned gambling on sports played by humans in most states will almost certainly lead to changes in the gambling landscape in New York.
Lawmakers in Albany are crafting bills to set up legal bookmaking, and it appears such betting will be available in person statewide and online as well. But the state constitution’s take on gambling remains confusing, and many gamblers can’t enjoy their favorite flavor of wager locally.
Gambling used to be illegal in New York. Then exceptions were carved out of the state constitution for horse tracks. Then the lottery. Then off-track betting on horses. Then slot machines masquerading as “video lottery terminals,” at horse tracks. Several Indian tribes also got casinos along the way that the state was powerless to stop.
Then in 2013 came the constitutional change that allowed the licensing of four non-Indian casinos upstate and three more to be licensed downstate starting in 2020. This change also foresaw the end of the federal ban on sports betting, and allowed for it in New York. What’s being crafted now is the detailed legislation to go with that broad permission.
So what is still banned at the moment on Long Island, and will it stay that way?
There are no live poker games or poker tournaments here or in New York City, nor are there any casino games like craps, baccarat, roulette or Pai gow dealt by humans. There will be wherever the three downstate casinos are located, but not anywhere else.
Until the next time lawmakers and voters change the constitution, that is.
Hub equation changes
It sounds like Groundhog Day.
But there are two factors that make a new potential request for developers at the Nassau Hub different from all that have preceded it.
One is the arena itself.
Five years ago, Nassau County received just four bids for redevelopment at the Hub — mostly because an arena renovation had to be part of the deal. Now Nassau Coliseum is renovated and reopened, and the New York Islanders are planning their own new home at Belmont. Any new developer will have to work with the Coliseum’s operators, but he or she won’t have to pay for a renovated arena, and won’t have to worry about the needs of a major league hockey team in the long term.
The other perhaps more important factor is the potential for $85 million in state money for parking garages at the site.
When you talk to developers and planners, including those who pitched the Lighthouse Project more than a decade ago, and others who have looked at the property since, parking garages are often the key. They’re expensive to build — often costing up to $20,000 per parking space — and they don’t generate revenue. One of the reasons why the Lighthouse proposal included such extensive and dense development — including thousands of housing units and 1 million square feet of office space — was so that the developers could have enough money to pay for parking garages.
“Now that those two things are not on the table, and nobody has to pay for them,” Long Island Builders Institute chief executive Mitch Pally told The Point Friday, “that hopefully will open up more options.”
Randi F. Marshall