Sep 28, 2011
By Francis Becker
For decades municipalities at every level of government, and especially the federal government, have consistently made promises it could not keep. Look at Social Security and Medicare as an example. It simply took a recession to expose the frail underbelly of all these programs when the money stopped flowing into the government coffers the way it did in the “good times.”
In Nassau County, it is no different. The county largely depends for its revenue on the slightly under $1 billion or so it receives every year in sales tax to fund its $2.4 billion budget. Believe it or not, property taxes fund a smaller portion of the budget. So if sales taxes are down $100 million and then you compound the poor budget practices of the prior administration, kicking many of the county’s problems down the road, you have a fiscal disaster beyond measure on your hands.
When Ed Mangano was elected County Executive and the Republicans took over the majority in the Legislature, immediately we were left with a $120 million deficit. Through hard work and aggressive budget cutting practices we were able to turn that around and end the year with a small surplus. Now, this year, we are faced with a $340 million deficit. As has been stated in one of my prior columns, the NIFA board took over as watchdog over the county’s finances, changed the rules on County Executive Ed Mangano disallowing budget practices they allowed Tom Suozzi and the Democrats during their 10 year rule. This has further exacerbated the ability of the county executive to balance the county’s budget.
Some of the items that are blowing this huge hole in the county’s finances include $115 million in increased pension and health costs for county employees, $22 million in additional social services costs — unfunded mandates by the state, and a loss of department revenues of $68 million.
County employees pay nothing towards their health costs and little towards their pensions. They suggest that the pain should be shared by everyone — they make concessions and we raise taxes. I believe county taxpayers are already suffering under the burden of being one of the highest taxed counties in the nation. In addition, it is insane to raise taxes during these terrible economic times. Also, now that a tax cap has been passed, raising taxes even modestly goes nowhere near resolving the problem. In fact, to solve the problem if we were going to raise taxes—which we have no intention of doing—it would require a 36 percent increase.
We desperately need the labor unions to come to the table so that all those who have a vested interest in the county can resolve its problems together. I never expected, in my tenure as a Legislator, ever to have to lay off people in the county to solve its budgets woes. It is devastating to do so, as we were forced to do so a few months ago when we laid off 120 people. I have had many sleepless nights feeling the anxiety of families knowing they were going to lose their jobs and wondering how there were going to be able to put food on their tables and pay their mortgages. The county executive’s new budget now calls for layoffs of almost 1,000 people.
At the federal level they can print money as President Obama has for the last three years, adding $4 trillion to the national deficit. It is not just that the economy has gone bad, but that we have become an entitlement nation and spend beyond our means. For political expediency, government has made promises it cannot keep, I believe, to win elections. Anytime a politician makes a promise to provide a benefit for the public, the electorate should ask, “Okay, where is the money coming from?” Certainly it is not coming out of their pockets. And now we have no money. To save Nassau, we too must live within our means. The county has pledged not to raise taxes. The Town of Hempstead has pledged not to raise taxes. We need our schools, who in most cases are 70 percent or our tax bill, to do the same.
Across the country and even around the world, the day of reckoning is here. Everyone remembers the famous Beatles song, “Come Together.” We need our labor unions to come to the table — they comprise about 50 percent of the county’s budget —and we need them all to “Come together, right now.”
Filed Under: Francis Becker
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