Curran vetoes GOP legislature’s amendments to proposed 2021 budget

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran vetoed amendments to the proposed 2021 budget submitted by the Majority Legislature. (Photo courtesy of the county executive's office)

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and members of the county’s legislative minority caucus on Thursday vetoed amendments submitted by the county’s Republican majority last week.

Curran called the amendments submitted by the majority caucus “fiscally irresponsible and illegal,” according to a news release sent out on Wednesday.

“My administration carefully crafted the proposed budget to ensure that critical County services would continue and that County workforce levels would be maintained as we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic downturn,” Curran said. “Unfortunately, the Legislature’s changes would severely threaten the County’s ability to preserve vital programs and adequate staffing in 2021.”

GOP officials said paying off the $75 million in debt the county faces this year rather than having the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which has overseen the county’s finances for the past two decades, restructure it would ultimately save Nassau $95 million, according to a news release sent last Thursday.

“The Majority has created a more fiscally conservative plan,” the news release said. “The administration seeks to generate as much cash as possible in 2021 while increasing costs in future years and deferring any attempt to deal with Nassau’s structural imbalance.”

Curran introduced the proposed budget in September. The budget is a decrease from the $3.55 billion spending plan approved for 2020.

The budget calls for the finance authority to restructure $394 million in debt from the county and the finance authority, according to a county news release.

County Legislature Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the negative impacts that the pandemic has had on sales taxes, a key component in the county’s revenues, have lessened, and Curran’s budget overestimated the drop in sales tax receipts. Nicolello said he expects the receipts to decline by just 12 percent next year, rather than 20 percent as outlined in Curran’s proposed budget.

“These commonsense amendments to the County Executive’s budget provide a more conservative framework for dealing with the county’s finances,” Nicolello said. “The amendments will reduce the cost of restructuring debt, and will create special revenue fund to attack the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax refund liability.”

Nassau’s deputy county executive for finance, Raymond Orlando, and Budget Director Andrew Persich answered questions from the Budget Committee in August, after being subpoenaed by the majority.

Other amendments featured in the majority’s release included reinstating nearly $4.4 million of the money Curran cut from funding the NICE Bus to preserve service hours, providing the Emergency Ambulance Bureau $168,000 to add four people to the staff, and giving $345,000 to the district attorney’s budget to upgrade office technology.

Another amendment proposed by the majority in the Legislature is to create a special revenue fund where a surplus of various budgeted revenues will be used to address the coronavirus pandemic. Officials said the fund will be used to fully or partly fund “principal and interest payments on debt issued in 2021 or later.”

“My number one priority as County Executive is keeping our residents safe,” Curran said. “That’s why I will veto any attempts to artificially inflate revenue projections that our County employees, including our first responders, rely on to protect critical services, health and safety. The Majority clearly doesn’t have a plan to get Nassau County through the COVID-19 pandemic. My budget protects Nassau’s future without raising property taxes.”

“At a time when we can afford it least, the Majority’s illegal and irresponsible budget amendments would jeopardize crucial funding for essential services during a pandemic,” Minority Caucus Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D-Freeport) said. “Furthermore, the Majority’s actions would expose Nassau County residents to the unacceptable risk of massive tax hikes during a recession.”

Curran’s budget agreement vetoes the sales tax revenue projections submitted by the majority caucus, increases funding for five additional police medics in the Emergency Ambulance Bureau, funds the Smart Sprinkler Program through the county’s Department of Public Works, and commits to NICE Bus funding restoration if federal aid does not arrive by next year.

Though the county’s majority leaders hold an 11-8 advantage over the minority caucus, a total of 13 supermajority votes would be required to override Curran’s veto.

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