Nassau County, NY, is a place where a lot of people have a lot of money. It’s one of the wealthiest counties in the United States. Nassau County government spends a lot of money, so much, that it has gotten in financial trouble in the past. This resulted in creation of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Last week, the NIFA board voted 6-0 to take control of Nassau County’s finances, as required by state law if its budget deficit exceeds one percent.
A budget is out of balance if revenues exceed expenses or if expenses exceed revenues. In the first case, the people who created the budget are happy. They have money left over at the end of the year. In the later case, they have year left over at the end of the money, and to quote Rocket J. Squirrel, “That trick never works!”
NIFA says Nassau’s new budget is a case of the second case. The people who serve on NIFA’s board have pretty strong financial credentials. You are qualified to render an opinion on the budget: It’s a free country, and we have freedom of speech here. The NIFA people are qualified to render an opinion too, and unlike most people, they know what they’re talking about.
I know what I’m talking about too. My first exposure to municipal budgets came when a radio news director who was about to hire me gave me a municipal budget the size of the Manhattan telephone book, and asked me to write a 40-second story about it. The test was designed to find out if I knew that a 40-second story was about ten lines of copy, that a budget has a summary page, and a budget message. That’s where you look first to find out how much taxes are going to go up. Do they ever go down?
Later, I made municipal budgets for a while, and analyzed them for a bigger while. I once interviewed for the position of Nassau County Budget Director, but didn’t get the job. I’ve never created a budget as big as Nassau County’s, but any budget input I’ve ever seen from an elected official wanted to pump up revenue projections, and minimize predictions of expenditures. The website thinkgeek.com sells a t-shirt that says, “2+2=5 for extremely large values of 2.” That seems to be the mantra of many elected officials who direct preparation of municipal budgets.
NIFA has given Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano until February 15th to come up with a plan to handle the deficit. Mangano has said he’ll sue to keep NIFA from controlling the County. The Long Island newspaper Newsday has reported that Mangano might need NIFA approval to hire a lawyer to do that.
So, is Nassau County’s budget out of balance? NIFA says it is; Mangano says it isn’t. Each has a vested interest, no doubt about that. Let me be clear that I have not reviewed Nassau’s current budget. Still, my educated, but uninformed opinion is that it’s much more likely to be unbalanced than balanced. Who’s responsible, the current Republican administration, the previous Democratic administration, or the Republicans who were in power before that? The answer is a simple yes. Elected officials of both parties in Nassau County have been giving away the store for so long, I can’t imagine there’s any store left.