Nassau County Legislators are set to hear testimony on County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposed 2015 budget at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, October 1, at the County Legislature in Mineola. Most of the attention surrounding the release of the $2.98 billion budget earlier this month has been centered on the County Executive’s proposed property tax hike. But another issue seems to have gone unmentioned: it appears the County Executive is reneging on his commitment to increase funding for Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE).
In order to help fill a 2014 NICE funding deficit of $3.3 million, Nassau County agreed last spring to increase its funding for the bus system by $1.8 million. This 70 percent increase in funding would bring the County’s total contribution to NICE up to roughly $4.4 million. According to the recently released budget proposal, however, the County’s contribution remains stagnant at $2.5 million a year. Instead, the budget estimates that the system will generate $51.4 million in farebox revenue — a nearly 13 percent increase over NICE’s 2014 farebox revenue estimate of $45.6 million.
How this revenue jump will occur is not outlined in the budget, and seems far-fetched given that NICE annual ridership in 2013 was at a 15 year low, according to the National Transit Database. And through July, ridership is only slightly higher than that of 2013.
What is clear is that the County Executive seems to be trying to get out of his commitment by relying on a 4 percent fare hike anticipated in 2015. A 4 percent fare hike would, according to a Tri-State estimate, raise $1.8 million: the exact amount of revenue that Nassau County committed to providing to NICE.
It wouldn’t be the first time the County Executive relied upon fare hikes as a way to balance NICE’s shoestring budget. Cash-paying riders saw their fares increase by 25 cents and MetroCard using riders were hit with a similar fare hike in 2013 as well.
It’s time for Nassau County to stop balancing the budget on the backs of bus riders and do more to support a system that accounts for almost $200 million in economic output a year and supports nearly 1,500 jobs.