Friday, March 23, 2012

Smart Move: Suffolk County Declares Fiscal Emergency

One of the first acts of the incoming Suffolk County Democratic leadership under County Executive Steve Bellone was to assemble an impressive seven-member commission headed by Dr. Richard Halverson to review the county's fiscal outlook.

The commission concluded in a report to Bellone and the Legislature on March 6 that a $530 million shortfall of income below revenues was looming over three years. The problem is not so much with 2011, which has a small gap remaining, as in the following two years.

Bellone responded by saying he would take immediate action to close the gaps. 

This was a smart move for Bellone. He and the Suffolk legislature have their eye on Nassau County to the west, which has been subject to state controls for more than a year. Showing that they are aware of the county's fiscal problems should be reassuring for the State Comptroller.

Suffolk County has been one of the hardest-hit counties in the tri-state area. Its pension fund shortfall is also one of the most serious. 

If the U.S. economy continues to recover, the worst scenario for Suffolk County could be averted, but county officials can't assume this will happen. Tax revenues are hard to predict with any certainty, whereas much local spending is under the control of local officials.