Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 01 January 2010 00:00
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi held a farewell party at the Garden City Hotel. He reflected on his years as county executive in front of staff members and supporters.
“Never forget you were part of something positive that made people’s lives better,” he told his staff members and supporters.
He also encouraged his supporters and staff members to stand by each other and take pride in the job they have done. “The challenge for each of us is to take this defeat and define meaning from it,” Suozzi said.
It was eight years ago at this time that Suozzi was getting ready to succeed then-Nassau County Executive Tom Gulotta and begin to fulfill his promise of turning Nassau County around.
In his eight years as county executive, Suozzi has certainly elicited strong opinions of the job he did, whether from detractors or supporters. However, to accurately judge Suozzi’s job as county executive may have to wait. In his final years in office, the nation was hit with a recession that caused revenues in the county, such as sales tax revenues, to plummet. With the county scrambling to close budget deficits, it’s maybe easy to say that the county was fiscally mismanaged.
“People are not better off today than they were eight years ago. The economy is a wreck, people are worried about their jobs, their home values are going down. But Nassau County government is much better than it was eight years ago,” said Suozzi in his concession speech earlier this month.
Suozzi’s job as county executive may have to be judged against the job the successor or successors do while the economy, although showing signs of improving, is still mired in difficult times.
Could Suozzi have done more even with the difficult circumstances of a tough economy? Suozzi blames his election defeat on citizens being angry about the property tax problem taxpayers on Long Island face. Yet, he maintains, he was leading the fight against the problem, although his critics point to a home energy tax that was imposed as a measure to raise revenues for the county budget.
“I have no regrets whatsoever about what I’ve tried to do to try and address the property tax problem, the most serious problem that we face here on Long Island,” said Suozzi during his concession speech.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with Suozzi’s handling of the county’s finances, one thing that the Glen Cove native did do was speak about property taxes. He spoke about them often. One thing that Suozzi has mentioned since he lost the race for county executive is where the property tax problem is coming from.
While all municipalities may have a hand in raising taxes because of rising expenditures and, in recent years, because of declining revenues, school taxes account for the greatest chunk of the property tax burden. According to Suozzi, school taxes make up over 65 percent of the property taxes that are paid by taxpayers.
The county executive believes he was the victim of voter anger over rising property taxes, mostly because of school taxes. “Despite the fact that I have absolutely no control whatsoever regarding school taxes, I believe many voters held me accountable for them,” Suozzi wrote in an op-ed piece found on his website www.tomsuozzi.com.
It is true that school taxes have played a large part in the property tax problem on Long Island and, in analyzing that problem, it is necessary to look at the state, which passes down mandates to school districts that are not funded.
In analyzing Suozzi’s job as county executive, the county portion of the property tax bill should be looked at as opposed to the total tax bill, since the county portion is what he was responsible for. With declining revenues and rising expenses, was the county’s recent financial troubles Suozzi’s doing or the sign of the times in government?
A true reflection of Suozzi’s legacy as county executive must be made with the idea that most financial institutions are also suffering from financial difficulties.
Whether Suozzi’s legacy as county executive is positive or negative can be thoroughly debated, but Nassau County will surely miss his personality.
Suozzi’s successor, Ed Mangano, has a big job ahead of him but seems like a competent elected official who will bring fresh ideas to the county.