On Jan 26th, the NYTs splashed the headline… “New York State Seizes Finances of Nassau County”. Bloomberg followed suit, but went the extra mile with their headline, New York Seizing Nassau County Finances Shows Limits of Tea Party Promises, to drag the fiscally responsible grassroots movement into Nassau County’s spending failures. Always slow on the uptake came Reuters a day later, with their headline, SPECIAL REPORT: A Long Island Tax Cut Backfires on the Tea Party.
Not to be outdone, the Daily KO’s took it to their predictable guttural and suggestive level, derogatorily proclaiming “teabagger”, Edward P. Mangano, brought Nassau County “to it’s knees.”
Ugh… Nothing like a saunter thru the KO’s mindset filth to make one feel the serious need for a shower….
The escalating level of misreporting, revisionist history and finger pointing in all the wrong directions had me scratching my head. First of all, the seizure of the county financials happened when Mangano was in 11th hour negotiations with labor on contracts, so was that premature, and for political points?
Secondly, how does one of the nation’s wealthiest counties – where approximately half of the county’s home values are over $565K” – go underwater when they are ranked as the #2 county with the highest property tax in 2009? The average Nassau County resident pays a whopping $8,940 annually. To top it all off, the county’s unemployment rate of 6.6% last April was well below the state average.
At first blush, this would seem to be Obama’s dream community. Wealthy, high taxes, low unemployment, and until just 12 months ago, Democrat controlled….
…. And yet still financially underwater. Gee, what a surprise.
The second head scratcher was the tea party link. Now I realize that it’s a traditional lib/prog trait to assign all today’s woes to the Bush administration, giving Obama every pass possible. But it’s apparent that trait of politically convenient timelines isn’t a two way street when it comes to Republican leadership in Nassau County. That said, I’d call the well heeled and labor entrenched Mangano about as “tea party” as Scott Brown. Meaning, it’s more likely he was the better of the two alternatives when it came to gouging the residents with yet more taxes.
Reuter’s issue is that Mangano – who took the reins from Democrat County Exec, Thomas Suozzi in Jan 2010 – repealed a heating oil tax implemented by Suozzi in his last months of stewardship, and instead lobbied the state for a .25% increase in the county’s sales tax, up to 8.875%.
But in the opinions of Reuter’s, the Daily KO’s and Bloomberg’s, Mangano’s repeal of a 2.5% heating oil tax that would result in notion of “lost revenue” (there’s that’s weird phrase again…) to the tune of $18 mil yearly, is the catalyst for the county going under?? ($40 mil, according to Bloomberg… no citations for that figure, but likely based on the latest rising prices of oil).
Surely these folks can’t be this dumb. Wait… don’t answer that.
Mangano walked in the door with a $133 mil deficit (per Bloomberg’s numbers) 12 months ago, and promptly warned the 2011 budget was projected to be $286 million. To fix that gap, the already onerous property taxes would have to be increased by 36%.
Hummm… the more money they takes, it seems the more money they’s become short, eh?
In response, Mangano proposed $100 million in spending cuts and $60 million of increased fees and fines – and of course there’s someone whining in every political and lobbyist corner. But one thing is certain, this fall from fiscal grace by the wealthy mighty didn’t happen overnight. Nor can the current Nassau leadership be held the most liable, with just 12 months in office. Which is where the revisionist history comes into play.
Nassau County, a former GOP stronghold, started swinging left when Clinton showed up on the POTUS ballot in the early 90s. Nassau County voters were in the Democrats’ pockets for both the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2008, 53.84% of the county was in the Obama camp. If this place is a GOP bastion, it’s in registration only.
Local top positions weren’t any different with the reversing political trend thru the 90s, and the Democrats held the county’s power after the 2001 election.
But Nassau County is not new to overspending. The NYTs was reporting the same ol’, same ol’ about the county’s fiscal crisis, and a $100 million deficit back in Dec 1999. Of course, if you listen to the Wikipedia fiction, they say that Miracle Man Suozzi came in with a $428 million deficit… no citations to support that lofty number, of course. Especially since the county had a $100 million bailout from the state just a few years prior.
Something is wrong when one of the most prosperous counties in the nation goes broke in boom times. The fiscal disaster in Nassau County on Long Island provides a cautionary tale for political leaders everywhere. Last month voters revolted and put the County Legislature into the hands of the Democrats for the first time in modern history. Now the Democrats have to work with an unpopular Republican county executive to eliminate a huge budget deficit in the year beginning Jan. 1. Layoffs, service cutbacks, pay cuts, tax increases — all seem possible for the county’s 1.3 million residents.
The county executive, Thomas Gulotta, has announced cancellation of contracts and postponement of capital projects to close a $100 million deficit in a $2.2 billion budget. But since only $700 million of the budget involves discretionary spending, more austerity measures will be necessary.
Like New York City’s fiscal crisis of the 1970′s, the Nassau situation flows from the abuses of longtime one-party rule. A complacent political elite came to think it would never be punished for letting costs soar out of control and handing out patronage jobs, contracts and wage increases to party workers, campaign contributors and friendly unions. The political standoff is so poisonous right now that intervention may be required from Gov. George Pataki or State Comptroller Carl McCall and the Legislature in Albany. At the least, Mr. Pataki and Mr. McCall should order an audit of the county’s chaotic books. Taxpayers cannot be asked to pay more or accept diminished services, and county employees cannot be asked to give up wages or benefits, without an objective accounting.
Wow… all this about no one should have to ask taxpayers to pay more! Hard to believe this was the NYTs stance 12 years ago. Even more hilarious about that “abuses of longtime one-party rule”, eh? Especially when you consider that the ol Grey Lady didn’t have much problem with the “one party rule” since 2007, did they?
Needless to say, increased taxes and what cuts the Dem admins say they did didn’t work so well. So goes their march, and the futility of pinning their fiscal hopes on the Dems pulling them out of the money toilet at the turn of the century. After all, what do Democrats do when they are faced with a deficit? Why raise taxes, of course…. Which Suozzi did with property taxes. So much that one of the county’s larger bills is refunds to those who appeal their property tax assessment values…. Of which this year’s budget alone included “… $100 million to pay tax refunds, and counted on more than $20 million in new help from the state”. Humm… high taxes, lots of appeals and big refund payouts that are 50% of the deficit. Seeing any counterproductivity here?
When Suozzi saw the writing on the wall, and knew he could not afford to raise property taxes without major outcry, he sidestepped it with the heating oil tax instead. Despite all the cash flow they were absconding, they still needed more. That didn’t go over so well either. Especially when pinned to the price of oil during an POTUS administration, openly determined to make oil skyrocket to $5 per gallon at the pump.
According to Comptroller data provided (pg 15 in the PDF) in an October 2007 report – that was, oddly enough, prepared by several progressive alliances including the Long Island Progressive Coalition – Nassau County property taxes increased an average of 2.5% annually between 1995 and 2000… under the GOP leadership, if you remember. Under the Democrat leadership starting in 2001, the property taxes averaged an annual 6.5% increase. This same increased tax structure is born out when you sift thru the various years of the county’s Office of Legislative Budget reports. Hint… go back to 2003… leap to 2007-08… and then forward to the current projections to compare.
Along with the trend to the left comes the voices of protests to Mangano’s proposed spending cuts. Even last fall the demonstrators were out, including educators and teachers, denouncing the budget for shifting tax assessment costs to them, and drivers and mechanics worried about the Long Island Bus. Yes, folks… the educators are annoyed with what they call the toilet tax… the GOP/Mangano proposal that non profits, such as schools, hospitals and fire departments, yield their exemption from sewer water and also be charged a water usage fee like other counties in the state.
Oh the quips that come to mind on that one, eh?
In short, the Democrats have been collecting hand over fist for Suozzi’s terms, yet the mighty’s freefall is not cushioned. And, of course, no one wants to cut jack. And therein lies the lesson for the rest of us.
No matter how much we fork over, the elected ones are still going to spend more. Mangano’s facing a tough room here. But it’s a location we should all watch…. For where Nassau County appears to be going, we are not far behind.