Declaring that "Ed is over his head and we're in the red," Tom Suozzi, the Democrat seeking to regain the office of Nassau County Executive, blasted rival, Republican Ed Mangano as fiscally irresponsible because of runaway borrowing and a chaotic assessment system, and laid out his own plan to cut spending by $100 million and bring the county's finances back under control.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Oct. 10, he attacked Mangano's claim to have held the line on taxes, pointing to the increases in school taxes far beyond the 2 and 3% caps on school budgets because of the chaos of the assessment system.
He accused Mangano of handing out tax reductions - 87% of the claims for refunds were granted - which means that the rest of the taxpayers pick up the tab.
Instead of 2-3% increases in school taxes - which account for 60-65% of the county tax bill - property tax bills are up an average of 19%.
Indeed, borrowing to pay off billions in tax certiorari refunds costs the county millions of dollars in debt service each year.
Suozzi laid out a solution to the assessment problem: don't pay back refunds in cash, but rather provide a refund on the following year's tax bill, and have commercial tax payers pick up the difference for the commercial tax refunds, and residential tax payers pick up the slack caused by the reductions in homeowners' tax liability.
Instead of all taxpayers being held responsible to cover the shortfall in tax revenue, the amount would be paid for by the class. "85% of the reductions are made to commercial properties but 74% of this expense is picked up by residential homeowners."
And he would drop the County's appeal of the court ruling that barred the county from shifting the liability to repay tax certioraris onto school districts.
He reminded that his administration won the right to hire a professional Tax Assessor, which had been an elected office, and that he would restore professional management to the office, which Mangano has decimated by some 100 fewer employees.
"Now a terrible system has been made worse by the Mangano administration, done for political purpose to give unwarranted reductions and curry favor."
Suozzi called the press availability to highlight the report from NIFA that Nassau County's finances - $100 million in deficit for 2013 and 2014 - are in shambles and that the county is unlikely to come out from its control until 2015.
"Everything I've been saying about the financial condition of NC has been confirmed by independent sources," Suozzi said, noting that "in every campaign, candidates go back and forth: 'I did a great job, he did a terrible job.' It's hard to know the truth."
But, he said, "NIFA, a responsible, independent body put into place to oversee the county's finances, said yesterday that Nassau County has serious deficit of ?$100 million for 2013 and 2014.
"The NIFA report issued yesterday, Suozzi said, "confirms what i've been saying: that Mangano is a fiscal phony, he's over his head and we're in the red. We're in a major problem - his only solution is to borrow, borrow, borrow."
Suozzi contrasted his record with Mangano's. Suozzi came to office in 2002, just months after 9/11. And though the country had had a booming economy, "I inherited the worst-run county in America - massive debt," the county's credit rating was just above junk status and the county headed to bankruptcy.
He drew the comparison between the prior Suozzi Administration and Mangano: "I had 13 bond upgrades, he had 3 downgrades; i had 8 surpluses, he had 2 deficits. i worked to get out from under NIFA, he has come under NIFA."
"The county's finances are in deep disarray, facing financial ruin, and this Administration has no plan to get us out."
Suozzi challenged Mangano's claim that he hasn't increased taxes: "He has dramatically increased taxes of taxpayers. It was reported over the past week and today that people's average tax bill for school taxes have gone up 19% over the past 2 years - taxes on Mangano's own home up $2800, or 24% over the past 2 years.
The increase is not related to the school districts' budgets which for most part have stayed within the property tax cap,:" he said, noting "I fought hard for that, wrote the report for that, supported Governor Cuomo's efforts to create the property tax cap. Most school districts abided by it and limited increases in revenue raised from property tax to 2-3%. But because of Mangano's policy of freezing assessments and giving artificially high and inappropriate reductions to one-third of taxpayers - the other two-thirds had dramatic increases, and everyone had a 19% increase in tax rates."
That's because tax refunds are not free. Whatever the reduction is in tax revenue for schools or the municipality because of the lowered assessments are picked up by everyone else.
Noting that Suozzi raised taxes when he first came office to bring the county back from the fiscal abyss, he pledged that he would not raise taxes beyond the cap as a solution to the current crisis.
"I raised taxes the first year [of my administration] but that was 20% of the overall solution of what was needed to be done." He noted that he reduced the county workforce by 1200, but not by laying off low-wage workers across the board, but reviewing what the jobs were and not replacing people who retired.
"I reduced borrowing which dramatically reduced debt service; consolidated departments and made them more efficient, applied Smart Government initiatives, 500 of them. Some saved thousands other saved tens of millions of dollars, like a Medicaid cap. We balanced the budget partially by increasing taxes by 19% (and then I didn't increase taxes for six years in row, the only county in New York State that didn't raise taxes for six years in row, but cut spending by 65% of the rate of inflation.
"Mangano increased spending by 145% of the rate of inflation. And while he claims he didn't raise taxes, he has increased spending by borrowing and dramatically increasing fees equivalent to a 20% tax increase."
Asked whether he would again come into office with a tax increase to stem the decline in the county's fiscal condition, Suozzi said, "I can't raise the property taxes more than 2% and I'm not going to. I fought along with many others to get a property tax cap."
Instead, he laid out a comprehensive solution, starting with addressing the problems with assessment system which is a complete political mismanagement nightmare by the Mangano Administration to give political reductions and curry favor (see the website for details).
He also pointed to other programs which Mangano put forth that were supposed to reduce spending, but have contributed to the budget deficit.
For example, the restructuring and reduction in the size of the police force, Suozzi said, has resulted in an increase in overtime spending to $65 million, from $30 million when he left office.
"Reducing the headcount to ridiculous levels decreased safety and dramatically increased overtime spending, outweighing any savings."
Also, Suozzi blasted Mangano (as the Democratic legislators have done) for outsourcing work, particularly in the Nassau County's Attorney's office, to politically connected attorneys.
"I would revoke the politically connected contracts, particularly for the Nassau County Attorney's office - a political stable. When I was in office, I got rid of the outside contracts and brought the work in-house.
These two initiatives, he said, would save $50 million in overtime spending and outside contracts; reducing borrowing would save $10 million "at least" in debt service; and improving collections from traffic and violations would also add revenue, while facilitating more sharing of services among local municipalities like school districts and towns would save $5 million in spending.
Suozzi said he would do more to maximize opportunities from federal and state revenues, whereas Mangano had shut programs in order to layoff workers which had drawn grants and aid. "That hurt morale and damaged revenue."
Altogether, he said, these savings and new initiatives would erase the $100 million shortfall in the county budget
Asked how voter anger over the federal government shutdown would affect the county race, Suozzi pointedly stressed that Mangano has declared himself to be proud to be supported by the Tea Party.
"It will have a dramatic effect on the race. People are frustrated, fed up with being held hostage. Mangano has held himself up as being a proud Tea Party Conservative. He said he was happy to have Tea Party support. In 2012, he said he stands by Tea Party principles.
"If I were member of the Tea Party I wouldn't be happy with Mangano because he's so fiscally irresponsible, but he stands proudly and I think there will be a backlash. People don't like the Tea Party locally - it is bad for the country, irresponsible."
He noted that George Marlin, the former chairman of Conservatives for Mangano in 2009, who worked to defeat Suozzi in that election and now a member of the NIFA board, said in July 2013 that he had very little faith in the county's ability or willingness to achieve these goals, county has no credibility - disingenuous, deceptive, delusional, this administration is counting on everybody getting too confused on the numbers, the he-said-she-said."
He cited Marlin's statement in February 2013, "Let’s face it, the County has forfeited its credibility when it comes to fiscal matters."
"The purpose of this press availability," Suozzi said, "is that every outside independent source, NIFA, independent Office of Budget Review, Moodys, Fitch Standard & Poor, and every editorial page in the region from Newsday to the New York Times, Daily News and New York Post, and even Conservatives for Mangano's former chairman all agree that MJangano has completely mismanaged this budget. He is a fiscal phony. Ed is over his head and we are in the red.
"Mangano claims he inherited a tough situation.Everybody in America and the world had a tough situation in 2009, as I did in 2002, when I inherited government destroyed by Republicians and just months after 9/11. Mangano made it worse. He made poor decisions, hired people not capable of addressing these problems."
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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