The following appears in the February 28-March 6, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:
Since the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority declared a “financial control period” on Jan. 26, 2011, county officials have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money on “Hail Mary” lawsuits, all of which have been lost.
In February 2011, for instance, instead of coming to grips with the county’s fiscal problems, Nassau filed a suit claiming NIFA didn’t have the power to impose a control period. One month later, on March 11, 2011, the state Supreme Court ruled against the county, stating “the petitioners have failed to meet their heavy burden of showing the unconstitutionality of the control period statute.”
The court also ruled that NIFA was correct in disallowing borrowed funds as operating revenue when calculating a projected deficit. Despite the ruling, the county continues to erroneously declare at the end of every fiscal year that its budget is “balanced” by counting borrowed money and deferring the payment of outstanding liabilities until the next year.
This is akin to deferring your December mortgage payment to January, paying your bills with a credit card and boasting your checking account was balanced at year’s end.
Last week, Nassau suffered another major loss when the state’s highest judicial body, the New York Court of Appeals, ruled 7-0 against a tax refund case.
Instead of making every effort to fix the county’s broken property tax assessment system, the county Legislature – at the urging of County Executive Ed Mangano – passed a law in 2010 that repealed the provision of a 1948 state law that obligated the county, rather than local taxing districts like school districts, to pay any refunds “from the county’s erroneous assessment of real property taxes.” Gov. Thomas Dewey signed the legislation into law after the Nassau County Board of Supervisors sent to Albany a home rule message urging approval.
I can only conclude that county officials enacted this ridiculous repeal legislation because they failed high school civics courses, which teach that the local municipality is a creation of the sovereign state and subject to its laws.
Apparently, Mangano and his cohorts didn’t know they only have the power to amend local laws, not state laws. And while the county executive, in my judgment, is correct in arguing that it’s unfair that Nassau is the only county in the state required to pay its municipal subdivisions’ tax refunds, he must petition the state Legislature to abolish the 1948 guaranty law.
The court reminded the county that the state constitution establishes the state government as “the pre-eminent sovereign of New York” and the lawmaking power of a county or other political subdivision “can be exercised only to the extent it has been delegated by the state.”
The court also stated the New York constitution “expressly imbues the state government, rather than any locality, with the power of taxation.”
Concluding that the county superseded a special state tax law, the Court of Appeals unanimously declared that the repeal of the county guaranty is “unconstitutional, invalid, unenforceable and void.”
What an embarrassment! Arrogant county officials who have dithered with this case for almost three years have proven not only to be incompetent, but delusional.
Thanks to the character flaws of Nassau’s political class, overburdened taxpayers and their children and grandchildren will now be stuck paying off, for decades to come, the bonded debt the county will have to incur to pay off some $500 million in current property tax refunds.