New York Post | November 4, 2017 | Editorial Board
Nassau lawmakers may have gotten the message behind a lawsuit over high county fees, but they forgot the rules of sound budgeting in the process.
On Monday, Nassau’s legislature OK’d a spending plan that stripped $60 million in hikes to traffic-ticket surcharges and real-estate-transaction fees from what outgoing County Executive Ed Mangano proposed.
No doubt, a recent lawsuit against Suffolk County filed by the Government Justice Center on behalf of five residents got Nassau lawmakers’ attention. The suit claims Suffolk’s real-estate filing fees amount to “unauthorized taxes” because they far exceed the actual cost of the services provided, making them illegal.
The fees are set to gin up $66 million in revenue for Suffolk, when the actual paperwork will cost only $1.2 million. That’s a nearly $65 million “profit.”
Nassau does something similar, imposing real-estate transaction fees far in excess of costs. This year, Mangano (who faces unrelated corruption charges and isn’t running for re-election) hoped to raise those fees another $25 million. But lawmakers (perhaps with an eye on the Suffolk suit) opted to scrap the hike. Good for them.
Trouble is, they left $65 million in “unauthorized tax from real-estate filing fees” in place, notes the GJC, even though “officials know these fees are illegal.”
Plus, to plug the $60 million hole created by scrapping the hikes, they resorted to gimmicks: borrowing funds, one-time cash infusions, higher revenue estimates. That led the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (which oversees county finances precisely because it has gotten itself in trouble in the past via such schemes) to nix the plan.
“By removing vital revenue increases and relying on projections that are too aggressive, the budget is no longer responsibly balanced,” says NIFA head Adam Barsky.
Maybe residents’ only hope is for all-new lawmakers who’ll clean up the county’s fiscal mess without outrageous fee hikes and budget tricks. The good news? Election Day’s just three days away.