NIFA inks Nassau’s death warrant – By George J. Marlin
The following appears in the May 9-15, 2014 issue of the Long Island Business News:
At 2 a.m. Saturday, May 3, 2014, the board of directors of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority voted 6-1 to approve deals with four municipal unions based on financials everyone knows are delusional.
With that, NIFA sanctioned the fiscal demise of Nassau County and forfeited its reputation as an above-the-fray oversight board.
As for the deal, it’s not cost-neutral and will cost the county as much as $290 million in expenses over its present multiyear plan.
Worse yet, the deal doesn’t factor in the 15 percent decline in sales tax revenues in the first quarter of 2014, the decline in mortgage recording tax revenues and the $85 million misstatement of Nassau’s pension obligations.
Nassau’s budget for fiscal 2014 is so out of whack that even hapless Comptroller George Maragos warned the county must prepare to deal with shortfalls by either making significant spending cuts or by raising taxes to the tune of $70 million.
NIFA’s lone dissenting voice was Director Chris Wright, a topnotch certified public accountant who has a razor-sharp mind and an articulate debating style. Wright correctly argued that the agreements cost nearly $300 million more than they’ll save over the four years of the county’s current multiyear plan.
“Every objective, competent analyst concerned with the county’s finances understands that,” Wright says. “So does our staff. And so do we.”
To give themselves a fig-leaf cover, the NIFA board passed a resolution ordering the county executive to provide a modified financial plan within 60 days “detailing how Nassau County will cover the costs of new labor agreements, with the understanding that NIFA thereafter shall exercise its own power to modify the financial plan as needed.”
Unless the NIFA board actually plans to follow through this time, this resolution is merely bad theater. Time and again, such NIFA orders have been defied; as recently as January, NIFA’s order that Nassau revise its multiyear plan and overturn raises to non-union employees in 30 days was ignored by the county.
Who is to blame for this NIFA mess? Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo doesn’t like control boards. One reason might be that oversight boards are the legacy of one of New York’s greatest governors: Hugh Carey, a man both Cuomos, Mario and Andrew, have despised. Another reason: Cuomo is a control freak who doesn’t want independent-minded financial experts governing public agencies.
To emasculate control boards, he has been appointing political knaves as directors. This has been most evident in his recent NIFA appointments. NIFA Chairman Jon Kaiman is known as one of Nassau’s leading political hacks; this vulgar, intemperate man is also on Cuomo’s payroll earning $150,000 a year for a job with no real description.
Another political lightweight Cuomo put on the board was Paul Annunziato. This Republican, a crony of Deputy County Executive Rob Walker, made this inane statement when he voted in favor of the bogus union deals: “We can’t deny the county’s union labor raises because we have a deficit anymore than we can stop plowing streets because it snowed a lot.”
The comparison of wages and deficits to plowing and snow is idiotic. Needless to say, if the county runs out of money because of its massive deficits, exacerbated by these deals, the raises won’t be the issue; making payroll will be the issue.
To secure the endorsement of Republican lobbyist Al D’Amato, and to ensure that Nassau’s rusty GOP machine sits on its hands this fall, Gov. Cuomo has destroyed New York’s greatest contribution to the cause of saving ailing municipalities from becoming Detroit – the financial control board.
Thanks to Gov. Cuomo and his NIFA hacks, expect Nassau County to have a cash crisis; expect the credit agencies to drop Nassau’s ratings; and expect boomers and young people to continue the mass exodus to tax- and job-friendlier regions.