Hundreds of union workers poured into the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building in Mineola on Tuesday to tell lawmakers one thing: We’re ready for work.
Legislators held a public hearing on a proposal to hold a referendum asking taxpayer approval for $400 million in county borrowing to replace the aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and build a new minor league baseball park in Uniondale. Proponents said the project would keep New York Islanders on Long Island and create thousands of jobs, although critics questioned the wisdom of the plan and asked for more details.
“I think it’s really important for all of Long Island, to recognize the need to keep the New York Islanders here on Long Island,” Peter Zarcone, of the General Builders Laborers Local 66, said of the proposal. “There’s going to be hundreds if not thousands of jobs,” he said. “It’s very important.”
Lawmakers will vote next week on whether to green light the referendum in which Nassau voters would have the opportunity to cast their ballots Aug. 1. Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano proposed May 11 that the county ask taxpayers’ permission to float bonds to pay for the project—$350 million for the new hockey arena and $50 million for the baseball field.
He said a revenue-sharing agreement is being negotiated with Islanders owner Charles Wang that would ensure taxpayers are paid back for the loan. If the referendum passes, construction would begin in 2012, and the new arena would open in 2015.
But even if it did pass, the borrowing must also be approved by the county legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state fiscal watchdog panel that recently declared a fiscal emergency and took over the county’s finances due to excess county debt, among other issues. NIFA board members have decried the lack of details in the plan while some questioned how realistic the plan is.
“Independent analysis after independent analysis published in the last 15 years has concluded that no sports facility had reached its stated goals or yelied a reasonable return on investment,” George Marlin, a NIFA board member, wrote in a Newsday op-ed Tuesday. “In every case, assumptions have overstated the economic and financial benefits.”
But Mangano is eager to get the deal done to spur economic development in the Nassau Hub. His proposal comes while he is racing against a July deadline for completion of deep cuts in the county budget, including layoffs, furloughs and eliminating some services, to close a $176 million deficit in his budget.
“The clock is ticking,” Mangano told the 19-member legislature during the hearing.
If the Islanders do not have a new arena when their lease is up in 2015, Wang has said he would move the Islanders. If the new arena is built, he said the team would commit to staying through 2045.
“How could it be a bad thing?” asked Danny Keelan, 25, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 28.
“We keep being promised hopes and dreams,” he said. “If you want to stimulate this economy, you [have] to get us back to work.”
Zarcone said his union members are facing 35 percent unemployment, and need the jobs now.
“That’s not good for anybody,” he said. “We’re the taxpayers of Long Island. We need to be able to get these jobs; we need to be able to pay our taxes.”
Some of the Democrats in the GOP-led legislature voiced concern over the timing of the vote, with the issue of voter turnout on top of their minds.
Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Rosyln) proposed an amendment that would push the vote to Election Day.
He said a Nov. 8 vote would “ensure that taxpayers are behind this, and firmly behind it.” He added that “it maximizes the number of people who will come out and vote.”
Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) suggested holding the vote during the September primaries instead of in August, when many people are on vacation.
Chief Deputy County Executive Robert Walker said building the hub is a 30-36 month process that “has to start now,” sentiment echoed by supporters’ chants of “Build it now!”
“The excitement that’s out there is because people are not working,” he said. “They want to be working, and should be working.”
Keelan, the sheet metal worker from Selden, is engaged and has twins. He said without the jobs he might have to move because it has become too expensive to live on Long Island.
“This is going to be a retirement land,” he said.
And for Daniel Mahoney, 23, of Bethpage, who has been an Islanders fan all his life, said he wants to see the arena built because he would “love to see all the jobs be created.”
“If this doesn’t get approved, the Islanders are either going to move to Queens or Brooklyn, or maybe even out of state,” he said. “And I don’t want to see that happen, it would be devastating for Long Island.”