It’s virtually incomprehensible that one of the nation’s 20 wealthiest counties cannot balance its budget. Yes, we’re talking about Nassau, which is 13th on the list of richest counties.
Year after year, Nassau’s administration –– now headed by the embattled County Executive Ed Mangano –– has failed to produce a spending plan in which revenues and expenses align. The county has depended on a series of one-shot deals to fix its finances, while also borrowing heavily.
Last week, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state-appointed financial-control panel, rejected the county’s $2.9 billion-plus budget because it failed to produce enough savings to close a $36 million spending gap.
The shortfall came after county officials nixed a plan –– a really bad plan –– to add a $105 surcharge to traffic and parking tickets. People protested, and rightly so. Such a fee could have had a devastating effect on downtown shopping districts, which are already hurting. The mere possibility of being slapped with a $180 ticket just because you forgot to put a quarter in the parking meter would have been enough to scare most folks away from our downtowns and straight to the malls or internet retailers.
Instead, the county agreed to reduce the fee to $55, for traffic tickets only. Of course, that reduced the county’s revenue projections –– hence, the multi-million-dollar shortfall.
The Mangano administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature told us they have a plan: raise the tax-map verification fee from $225 to $355, which would bring in $15 million, and slash $21 million in youth services and bus subsidies from the budget. Ugh! Once again, we saw the county attempting to fix its budget troubles on the backs of Nassau’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
An 11th-hour spending plan released by the county on Dec. 5 would no longer cut youth services, but instead would rely more heavily on reductions to public transportation. Leaders in the social-service sector expressed cautious optimism. The plan was not definite, however, because NIFA still had not yet examined it and had to approve it.
County officials’ proposal to cut subsidies to the Nassau Inter-County Express, or NICE, bus system would inevitably mean that public transportation would be reduced, with entire bus lines nixed.
Who would suffer? The county’s poorest residents, who can’t afford cars.
That could have dire consequences. This county isn’t designed for walking or biking. Motorized transportation is a necessity. Most people have cars, but many who are at or below the poverty line do not. Often they are the working poor, just eking by.
They are the nannies and gardeners who work long hours for low wages –– and who are vital to our local economy. They need and deserve our respect.
In the future, Nassau must stop seeking simple solutions to complex problems. Officials should consider targeted cuts across all sectors of the budget before first reflexively turning to youth services and bus subsidies to find savings.