Nassau County Faces Financial Troubles, Again

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Geoffrey Walter, editor of the Mineola Patch, and Newsday columnist Joye Brown report on the possibility that Nassau County's finances will be taken over by the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority.

This isn't the first time Nassau County has faced financial woes. Back in the mid-1990's, after a long spending spree and no tax hikes, the county was on the verge of financial collapse. This time, the story is similar. 

According to Newsday, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will announce on Thursday that the county legislature will hold hearings on the controversial "Taxpayer Relief Act." This local bill seeks millions of dollars in union savings and the unions aren't going for it.

If the county — one of the wealthiest in the nation — can't close the budget deficit for 2011, they may face a takeover from an outside control board. Newsday columnist, Joye Brown calls the state of Nassau County's finances "fragile at best."

The problem has always been the same which is that the county spends more money than it takes in and what we have now is more than a decade of a lack of sustained tension to fixing that structural gap... Tax cuts are a way of life here.

Geoffrey Walter of the Mineola Patch thinks the situation might be worse this time.

I've just never seen it this politically charged before as it has been in past administrations.

Walter says there's a fundamental tension in what Nassau County residents want.

We all want local control and we all want that sort of intimacy that we get with our own local government. We don't want to be lumped in with a bigger town, and if you look at it at least on the local level...sometimes the village governments and the smaller governments are the most fiscally responsible. It's when you start getting up to the larger entities in the county and the state where you start to find a lot of waste and inabilty to cut everything. What I'm saying is, where is that balance...

Joye Brown says there's also the little detail that over and over again, the county has made tax cuts without finding another source of revenue to pay for them.

Part of what happened here is that what sounded politically good was in fact fiscally bad and now the big fight in Nassau County is as much about who is going to politically govern down the line, whether the Republicans are going to be tossed out a second time... because of an inability or unwillingness to deal with the deep seeded decades-long fiscal problem that we have here.

Now County Executive Mangano has a big problem in a county that, despite it's wealth, still has real needs in these tough financial times.

What Mangano is faced with is, is he...going to be the guy or the girl or whomever to come in there and sit down and to bring that kind of negotiating into the reality of the fact that while Nassau is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, people are struggling in Nassau. It's not all F. Scott Fitzgerald, east egg, west egg.