The Tea Party and Local Fiscal Responsibility

Yevgeny Shrago 

The wave of Tea Party victories in the last election cycle means renewed promises of closing the deficit with vague promises of future spending cuts. The inability of Tea Party governments on the state and local levels to fund deficits with cheap money means that it should be possible to observe what sorts of “unnecessary” government services the newly elected Tea Party candidates and other conservative “deficit hawks” would cut on the national level if (when?) the cheap credit to the federal government runs out. Republicans have schemes for privatization, deregulation and general dismantling of many sectors of government and the Tea Party mandate seems like the perfect opportunity to try out school vouchers or maybe privatizing municipal sewers.

 The answer in (once again) Republican Nassau County in New York State, which faces a huge budget deficit? Cut taxes, of course. Because of a previous Republican administration’s fiscal crisis, the state has the authority to take over Nassau’s finances if it judges that it is running too large of a deficit. The state doesn’t want to do this: it has a huge budget deficit of its own to deal with. If ever there were a time for a leader to calmly explain to voters that tax cuts will have to wait or that major spending cuts are necessary because his hands are tied by the law, this is it. Instead, County Executive Edward P. Mangano, who came to power on a Tea Party backed platform of tax cuts has developed a budget full of wishful givebacks by government unions.  Moody’s and the state agency that oversees Nassau’s finances estimate that somewhere between $158M and $248M of Nassau’s budget consists of dreams and magic ponies. The higher figure is almost 10% of the proposed budget. Mangano has shown no signs of backing down, insisting that his budget is fine. Moody’s disagrees, cutting Nassau’s budget outlook from stable to negative. Fiscal responsibility uber alles, right?

This dire picture of a county in crisis should be a warning going forward. When a candidate runs on the platform of tax cuts, they will deliver regardless of the fiscal wisdom of their decision or any laws to the contrary. If the state takes over Nassau County’s finances again after their January 20, Mangano will have given up every other piece of the Republican agenda (if anything else really exists) in the service of one month of lower taxes. If the Tea Party doesn’t cool off in the next few years, watch as the federal government walks down the same path.


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