Wealthy area, money problems, puts teabagger in charge. Destruction ensues. Who cares? I do.
Despite Wealth, Nassau County Is in Fiscal Crisis
MINEOLA, N.Y. — Facing a huge budget deficit when he took office in January, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano did not impose a hiring freeze. He did not stop borrowing to subsidize some of the richest school districts in the country. He did not eliminate the Police Department’s beloved mounted unit.
Instead, Mr. Mangano, a Republican who won one of the first upsets of the Tea Party era, did what he had promised: He cut taxes, adding $40 million to the county’s deficit, which has since reached nearly $350 million.
Now, with its bonds suddenly downgraded and a state oversight agency preparing to seize its checkbook and credit cards, Nassau is on the verge of a full-fledged fiscal crisis.That things could get so dire in this wealthy county, where property taxes are the second highest in the nation, offers a lesson in what happens when anti-tax fervor meets the realities of disappearing revenues and a punch-drunk economy. At heart, though, the situation — like state budget crises in New York, New Jersey and Illinois — illuminates the troubles long-prosperous governments, with established interest groups and residents accustomed to high levels of services, face in adapting to protracted lean times.
I started this post a few weeks ago and, for some reason, never published it. Maybe it was so that I could add this: the state has now been forced to take over the county's finances:
At his January 2010 inauguration, Tea Party-backed Republican Edward Mangano marched up to the podium, pen in hand. Even before being officially declared Nassau County Executive, he signed a repeal of an unpopular home energy tax.
The move elicited chants of "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie" from supporters assembled in the auditorium of Mangano's alma mater, Bethpage High School, 30 miles east of New York City.
"This is very cool and quite an honor," Mangano said as he gave his admirers a thumbs-up.
The fiscal consequences, however, were anything but cool. The repeal set Mangano on an immediate collision course with the state-appointed fiscal overseer, the Nassau County Interim Financial Authority, or NIFA. It culminated in NIFA seizing control of the wealthy New York county's finances on Wednesday.
Nassau's ills exemplify the growing tension across the country as dozens of freshly-elected Tea Party lawmakers, many of whom promised to cut taxes, must find ways to slash record budget gaps as revenues dwindle.
"A lot of people who got elected on this type of anti-tax platform are running into the brick wall of fiscal reality," said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington.
Besides being a cautionary tale, the setback in Nassau County is a black eye for the Tea Party, the grassroots movement built around the core principles of constitutionally limited government, free-market ideology and low taxes.
But it's no big deal when it's some obscure county in New friggin' York -- right? -- because the state can just step on in. (Until it goes broke itself.) So what happens when it's our entire country? Coming to a nation near you: pre-discredited economic policy. Just add amnesia and bags of tea. Stir. Ignore.
Simple solutions: how good it feels to think easy. Real solutions, though -- those are hard, they require recognizing the need for actual sacrifice and meaningful compromise, based on reality; and they don't lend themselves well to sloganeering or disinformation campaigns. Anathema, in other words, to the current crop of congressional Rs; and shade-grown, free-trade, fresh-roasted, unground coffee beans to teabaggers.