Jun 17, 2011
By Francis Becker
Something happened in county government this past year which is unique and profound in its impact on the taxpayer and county politics. Usually, when a new administration comes into office as with Ed Mangano over a year ago, the following is what normally happens: Whatever the past sins of the prior administration, they would be fleshed out and criticized in the media. The fiscal mess they left behind would be broadly publicized. The new administration would then say, that he or she was left with such a mess they were forced to raise taxes. And, of course, the increase in taxes would be pinned on the prior administration and the taxpayer should take its anger out on that prior administration not the new. Then the new administration wouldn’t raise taxes after that and they would be heroes when they ran for re-election.
This is exactly what former County Executive Tom Suozzi did when first elected to office. He raised taxes by 25 percent and also imposed an energy tax, claiming he was forced to do so because of the fiscal mess Tom Gulotta left him. Tom Suozzi is not the only one to use this format when first elected, it has been a common practice throughout the political landscape at all levels of government for decades. Rarely would anyone deal squarely with the systemic problems within government such as the high cost of personnel salaries and wages, waste, incompetence and so on.
However, after County Executive Ed Mangano defeated Tom Suozzi and took over the reins of county government — and with the support of the new Republican Legislative Majority — Mangano pledged he would not raise taxes no matter the size of the fiscal mess left by his predecessor. It was then that a new paradigm was born in Nassau County government and politics. The days of doing business the way it was done in the past, were over. Mangano pledged not to raise taxes during the campaign and he is keeping that promise. In addition to not raising taxes, he also killed the energy tax. My colleagues, including Howard Kopel, and I proudly voted in favor of ending this regressive tax. Can you imagine how this tax would have hurt Nassau families especially during the most recent dramatic rise in energy prices?
True, the prior County Executive and the Democrat Majority left this county in a fiscal mess the likes of which it has never known before. They had spent down the surplus, agreed to generous municipal contracts and did nothing to fix the assessment mess despite having spent $60 million to overhaul it. Then to add insult to injury, as has been mentioned in past columns, NIFA takes over and changes the rules. In doing so it refuses to acknowledge past budget practices that for eight years it permitted under Tom Suozzi, further creating an almost insurmountable $176 million deficit.
However, this County Executive has remained steadfast and determined to right the county’s finances without reaching into the taxpayer’s pocket. He is not playing games and is dealing with the issue of the deficit head on — without raising taxes. He is making the tough choices. He has done his best to work with the unions to gain important concessions that will help the county and taxpayer. If layoffs are necessary because he cannot get the concessions he needs, while as last resort, he will do it. There are many tough days ahead. I hope residents get to meet Ed Mangano and get to know him as I do. Ed Mangano is a man of character. He is a man of his word. He remains remarkably positive and never lets any problem or crises get him down. He believes in the county and believes in its people. He continues to make the hard choices over and over again. He believes we will get through this crisis and better days lie ahead.
Mangano has taken on the challenge head-on in fixing the assessment system and in short time has made tremendous strides. The first thing he did was stop the annual reassessment that year after year compounded the problem and caused a dramatic increase in challenges and left taxpayers unsure of how to budget their taxes. He implemented an early retirement plan and did not “back fill” the positions. The Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, like him or not, has stood by the County Executive as we all have in the Majority in fighting for the taxpayer.
Now if we could only get our schools to do the same. The disparity between school taxes and other municipal taxes remains dramatic. The county were it to raise taxes, which it is not, if a household pays $1,200 in county taxes a year, a 5 percent increase is $60. We believe any tax increase, especially during these tough economic times, can push a person trying to stay in their home into foreclosure. But if you pay $6,000 in school taxes, a 5 percent increase is $300. Families who send their children to Yeshiva or private school are doubly impacted by school tax increases. (A voucher system of some sort must one day be implemented, but that is for another column). We all need tax relief. We need to come to the point where taxes, at the very least, remain flat. Whatever it takes to accomplish this must be done. Otherwise this county is not going to have anyone to teach or protect, everyone will have all left. Incomes are not rising and many have lost their jobs. It is time for a new way of thinking — a new paradigm. Ed Mangano and my colleagues on the legislature have embraced this new paradigm. Our county’s future depends on it.
Filed Under: Francis Becker
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