News: State Takeover in Nassau County
(Long Island, N.Y.)On Wednesday, Jan. 26th, the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority voted on County Executive Edward Mangano’s 2011 budget. The result was a six-member vote, a unanimous decision, for the state agency to take over the county’s finances. This type of action amidst a financial crisis has only happened in New York State once before – in Erie County from 2006-09.
What was required for a state takeover was a single percentage increase in the deficit for Mangano’s $2.6 billion budget. According to NIFA authorities, that limit was exceeded over seven times, and the estimated deficit for this year was calculated by auditors at $176 million. Part of it was due to risky budget projections that were dependent on sales and agreements which required further approval and were never finalized.
NIFA is a state agency designed to step in during financial calamities, and was founded over ten years ago. It is comprised of seven unpaid director positions appointed by the state governor, each serving for four year periods. Though one of the positions is vacant and two positions can be replaced or reappointed by the governor, the board is currently composed of three Democrats, one Republican, one Conservative, and one non-partisan.
Ronald Stack (Dem.) is the chairman who has been serving since 2000. Leonard Steinman (Dem.) and Robert Wild have been members since June of 2010. Christopher Wright (Dem.) has been a member since 2007. Thomas Stokes (Rep.) has also served since June of 2010 and was once appointed to a position by the previous county executive, Thomas Suozzi. Conservative member, George Marlin, has served since June of 2010 and was once appointed to a position by former governor George Pataki. Marlin supported Mangano in the county executive election before siding against him in regards to the budget.
In regards to the takeover, the state has the authority to control the county within two different periods. The first period is called the “control” period, and is the current status of the county. The second period is labeled the “fiscal emergency” period; while declared, this period gives NIFA the authority to freeze union wages and salaries.
Such a pending threat for county workers will perhaps inspire union leaders to be more cooperative with the state and county officials. The county government, under a variety of executive administrations, seems to have little or no success in negotiating more favorable contracts with unions when attempting to improve the budget. Union power can be demonstrated by a local of the Nassau County’s Civil Services Employees Association. The seven thousand employees protected are guaranteed no layoffs in 2011, no increase in health coverage, and a 3.25% increase in wages.
Mangano’s efforts seem too little, too late in comparison to the direct efficiency of the unions he’s had to deal with. He proposed an end to the half-day given to county workers after donating blood, doing something that many considered a weak attempt at boosting revenue. He claims that his budget is balanced and is prepared to have an oversight board fight the NIFA takeover. He believes that Nassau County elected officials have already proven themselves by turning the deficit of 2010 into a surplus.
Nonetheless, many see these steps as a detour from the solution and an irresponsible way of settling the score with NIFA. It makes constituents wonder if Mangano can politically survive the scandal that the NIFA takeover has created. A lawsuit would be time consuming and costly, and a distraction from possible opportunities for cooperation between NIFA and county officials. On the positive side, a NIFA takeover may help bond traders by increasing credit and making it easier to borrow money.
Whatever the solution may be, it doesn’t seem likely to come from taking a minimal incentive away from blood donations, turning a cold shoulder to the American Red Cross and people dependent on those services. Even as a small step, it doesn’t seem to contribute anything more than the accumulating feeling of desperation for the fate of the county.
Perhaps a better solution would be to tackle the issue locally. Voters need to come out during district budget elections, rather than complain that county workers are overpaid without voting against pay increases. Without a proactive mentality among the younger generations and with so much emphasis placed on maintaining youth rather than protecting the current dividends of seniority, it’s no wonder counties are bleeding dry and social security seems like one of many dwindling institutions.