Hypocrisy, as the saying goes, is a tribute that vice pays to virtue.
An excellent example of this hypocrisy could be found at the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce annual legislative breakfast and celebration of small businesses on Oct. 27 – less than two weeks before Election Day.
The breakfast seemed at points to have turned into a GOP pep rally with County Executive Bruce Blakeman and three town supervisors – all Republicans – touting the projects they had recently approved to aid businesses, downtown districts and chambers of commerce.
In North Hempstead, Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena took a bow, citing money for much-needed sidewalks in Westbury and sewers along Plandome Road in Manhasset.
The owners of the predominantly small businesses at the breakfast, who have often been overlooked by government in extending support, expressed their appreciation enthusiastically.
The praise was very warranted. Many of the projects were for improvements long overdue and should provide benefits for many years to come.
Unsaid by the officials is where the money came from – the federal government’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021
Given the many benefits to the community cited by the officials, one might have hoped for at least some recognition of the federal government’s role in providing the money.
But that may be too great a reach given the anti-federal government rhetoric of many Republican officials.
And then there was the political affiliation of those who actually voted for the legislation.
The sweeping stimulus bill, which was intended to boost the economy in the midst of the ongoing COVID pandemic, was approved by both houses of Congress in virtually straight partly-line votes.
All but one Democrat voted for the legislation. A total of zero – yes zero – Republicans in the House and Senate voted in favor.
Republicans in Congress said the money would aid unrelated liberal policies and spur inflation.
No mention was made by congressional Republicans of the $1.9 trillion in tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy during the Trump administration, which resulted in a $7.8 trillion increase in the federal deficit.
Blakeman, DeSena, Town of Hempstead Don Clavin and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino made no mention of their party’s unanimous opposition in Congress to the legislation that made their projects and much else possible.
ARPA money must be used within four categories — to replace lost revenue, address public health issues, provide premium pay for essential workers and boost infrastructure — and municipalities have great latitude for spending within those classifications.
Long Island counties, towns, cities, villages and the Shinnecock Indian Nation were allocated more than $1 billion in assistance. This was the largest windfall for these municipalities in decades.
Included was $385 million to Nassau County, $51.4 million to the Town of Hempstead, $24 million to the Town of Oyster Bay and $10 million to the Town of North Hempstead.
Local officials have frequently said that local government is in the best position to spend money. This money will put that to the test.
Blakeman and the three Republican town supervisors, who all easily won re-election, also did not complain about the legislation’s cost to taxpayers and its impact on inflation.
Inexplicably, no Nassau Democrat pointed out that the Republican officials owed the windfall in funds to Biden and Democrats in Congress.
Or that Republicans were running for re-election on spending approved by Biden and Democrats in Congress.
This is something that a functioning county Democratic Party would do.
This failure to allow the Nassau GOP to claim credit for a program unanimously opposed by congressional Republicans is all you need to know about why Democrats have lost virtually every government position in the county over the past three years.
And we have to acknowledge the sheer chutzpah of Nassau Republicans in taking full credit for the projects. Although some credit is due. The Republicans did select worthy projects – with the approval of the federal government.
No Democrat has pointed out that Nassau has yet to allocate nearly $270 million of the $385 million the federal government sent the county over the past two years.
The purpose of ARPA funding was COVID relief and the national economy is already well along the way to recovery.
Blakeman requested the $270 million in federal pandemic money to be moved into the county’s general fund for fear of a federal government clawback.
The county needs to get U.S. Treasury Department approval for projects paid for by ARPA money by the end of 2024 and must actually spend it by 2026.
“If we don’t obligate the funds, we could lose it. Why would we do that?” Nassau County Budget Director Andrew Persich said in June “We haven’t decided how we will spend the money yet.”
This raises the question of why not? It has been more than two years since the legislation was signed into law and Nassau still doesn’t have a plan.
Blakeman spokesman Christopher Boyle said in June the Blakeman administration has “documented over $300 million in lost revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“This money will be used for the purposes for which it was intended, to promote economic development, stabilize taxes and maintain fiscal integrity,” Boyle said.
In May, Blakeman announced that $10 million in COVID funding would be used for small businesses and nonprofits.
This sounds reasonable but the devil is in the detail.
We hope both Republicans and Democrats in the county Legislature are diligent in deciding what should be funded and making sure the money goes where it will help the most.
“If your family gets a cash windfall, you use it to fix the leaky roof before you buy a bigger TV,” Ken Girardin, an Empire Center fellow, told Newsday in May.
Similar scrutiny is needed for the towns and villages to ensure that they spend their windfall wisely, although many municipalities such as North Hempstead have already done so.
Municipal budget experts said the top priorities should be to backfill temporary revenue losses to preserve existing services and then to make one-time investments that aid in recovery.
Perhaps Nassau Republican officials will then say thank you to Biden and congressional Democrats for the money to fund so many worthwhile projects – or even the role of the federal government in making it happen.
But don’t count on it.