Oct 28, 2011
By FRANCIS X. BECKER
What we have been experiencing here in Nassau County is not unique to what is happening to other municipalities across the country and even around the world — i.e., Greece, Italy and so on. Governments have been living a fantasy. For too long they thought they could continue to tax the public and spend their money existing outside the reality that businesses and families abide, which is to live within their means.
Here on Long Island it is even worse. Newsday recently reported that 40 percent of all the New York $100K-plus pensions are right here on Long Island. Can you imagine someone being paid by the government (you the taxpayer) $150,000 a year for life? And that is not the whole story, because with this also comes free lifetime health benefits. Municipal benefits and pensions are far different than private sector unions’ because they have to negotiate with contracting businesses and other businesses that are subject to market conditions and can only pay what they can afford or they go bankrupt. But governments can tax and create new taxes all the time to fund such pensions and benefits and other spending. For example, former County Executive Tom Suozzi created an energy tax that was passed by the Democrat Majority at the time. The tax was levied against your electricity, gas and even firewood. We in the Republican Majority together with County Executive Mangano rescinded the tax when we took over the majority in 2009.
The problem for government is twofold: they could give generous contracts because the money did not, in essence, come out of their pockets or business. Municipal unions are permitted to contribute to the campaigns of the elected officials that must negotiate their contracts which I have always felt is a conflict of interest. So, in the end, who truly is representing the taxpayer?
Secondly, because of the Taylor Law, which forbids municipal unions from striking, if the municipality cannot come to an agreement with the union, the negotiations go to what is called “binding arbitration.” This means that some agency decides what we, the taxpayers, should pay in salary and benefits, not what we can afford. What is odd about this is that for over a decade, in the private sector, employees have been paying for part of their health insurance and in most case for all of their pensions. Not so in government.
These laws regarding “binding arbitration” and others are all created in Albany, where the unions have great power. In essence, the taxpayer is locked out again. There is also a provision in “binding arbitration” called the “ability to pay.” That means some arbitrator determines what your ability is to pay for municipal services. We are the highest taxed county in the nation; we haven’t had the ability to pay additional taxes for some time. Of course, the reality is also that school taxes account for 60 percent to 70 percent of our total tax bill. And much of which is stated above in county government also applies to our teachers.
No one is opposed to anyone earning a fair salary. Everyone wants to see their neighbor succeed and do well. However, in the end it is the taxpayer that has to pay for the salaries and benefits of their municipal union neighbors, and they are doing all that in this down economy. It seems that in many cases municipal unions have created their own fiefdoms, in a sense, and there is no one there to protect the taxpayer.
So where do we go from here? The Republican Majority here in Nassau, despite a $310 million dollar deficit, has drawn a line in the sand which our Federal Government and other governments should adhere to. We are going to fix the county finances without raising taxes. It is tough as heck to do this. If the unions won’t help us, then there will be massive layoffs, which is going to change the face of the county for years to come. However, what choice do we have? There is no money left. To fix the problem, if we were to raise taxes which we are not, would require a 36 percent tax increase.
In the end government has to start to live in the same world in which the taxpayers who foot the bill live. Despite what it may seem, this is not us versus them. In the end we have to come together and fix the problem together. We need to minimize any layoffs, because that is counterproductive in the long run. Where we go from here is to stop the spending and stop creating programs that can’t be paid for. In addition, the public must demand from their elected officials accountability in the sense of what they consider to be the entitlements they receive. If this can be accomplished our future will be bright and our best days ahead of us.
Filed Under: Francis Becker
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