Nassau County has had a fiscal watchdog for 17 years, but Jack Martins wants to make it go away in two.
If elected, Martins would aim to balance Nassau’s budget and have the county’s financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, dissolved within 24 months of taking office, the Republican candidate for county executive said Thursday.
Martins, a former state senator from Old Westbury, lamented the fact that Nassau remains under the thumb of an “undemocratic,” unelected board after nearly two decades. A lack of control over its own budgets and borrowing is holding the county back, he said.
“We are one of the wealthiest, best-educated counties in the country with resources that other counties can only dream of, and we’re allowing other people to make decisions for us, and that’s not right,” he told a crowd of about 30 Thursday night at a town hall event in Massapequa.
The state Legislature created NIFA in 2000 as part of a bailout that saved Nassau from bankruptcy. It acted as an oversight and monitoring body until 2011, when the county’s budget deficit grew so large that NIFA took control of its finances. It now approves all budgets, borrowing and multi-year financial plans.
NIFA has pushed the county to reduce its borrowing for operating expenses, rejecting budgets threatening in recent years to impose drastic cuts if officials did not address long-term problems. The authority’s board with directors has butted heads with Republican County Executive Edward Mangano over borrowing and certain budget strategies.
It would take an act of the state Legislature, signed by the governor, to dissolve NIFA once the county is judged to be on stable fiscal footing.
NIFA says the county ran a $73 million deficit in 2016 by its accounting standards, which do not count borrowing and other funding sources as revenue.
That standard is derived from the NIFA Act, the state law that created the authority. The law says the county’s finances should be judged according to generally accepted accounting principles.
But Comptroller George Maragos — now a Democratic county executive candidate — reported a $38 million surplus according to what he calls generally accepted accounting principles, which he says allow governments to count borrowing as revenue.
Martins offered few specifics on how he would proceed toward meeting NIFA’s demands. But he said it will be key to find consensus on which accounting standard should be used to judge the county’s fiscal health.
“We are going to meet whatever the requirements are,” Martins said. “And they’ll set the standard, but we are going to, once and for all, take our county back.”
Steve Labriola, the Republican candidate for county comptroller who appeared with Martins on Thursday, said NIFA has “served its purpose,” as the county is far from the state of crisis that prompted the authority’s creation.
“We don’t need big brother anymore,” Labriola said.
NIFA is on track to end its control over Nassau’s finances in 2018 if progress continues toward bringing the county’s deficit — according to NIFA standards — below 1 percent of its roughly $3 billion budget.
“Regardless of who is the county executive we are committed to being valued resource to guide the county towards fiscal health and balance,” NIFA spokesman David Chauvin said in a statement.
Maragos, who is running a Democratic primary against county Legislator Laura Curran, said Martins’ statements about NIFA are “uninformed and wrong in every regard.”
“NIFA has not held the County back but has helped in bringing the County Labor Costs and borrowing under control as well as stressing fiscal responsibility,” Maragos said in a statement.
A spokesman for Curran, Philip Shulman, said Nassau clearly still has a budget deficit and condemned Martins for “throwing stones” at NIFA.
“As County Executive, Laura Curran will make NIFA unnecessary by using her leadership and know-how to get Nassau’s finances under control instead of using the gimmicks and outright denial of reality of Ed Mangano and Jack Martins,” Shulman said.