Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00
After facing a hail of criticism and a possible legal action, Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt has decided to ask that the pay raises for the Nassau County Legislature’s three top legislative leaders be rescinded. Schmitt had proposed the raises.
“After much personal reflection and many conversations with residents of Nassau County, I have determined that the Legislative Leadership stipend increases introduced and passed on January 25, 2010 will be rescinded,” Schmitt said in a statement delivered last Friday.
“I’ve based my decision on three factors. First, as reported today our County Executive faces a predicted shortfall of $89 million in sales tax receipts to Nassau County for 2009. Second, I am influenced by the announcement that LIPA has rescinded its plan to give 2 percent raises to its employees this year. Lastly, the U.S. Department of Labor has reported that the average increase in compensation for U.S. workers reported in 2009 was the lowest in decades.
“My belief is that the Legislators and the leadership of the Nassau County Legislature are woefully under compensated,” Schmitt maintained. “However, now is not the time and I am not immune to the plight of my Nassau County neighbors, friends and businesses in this economy.”
In response to Schmitt’s decision, Minority Leader Diane Yatauro said, “Mr. Schmitt reversed himself on his raise because he heard loud and clear from his constituents, taxpayer organizations and our caucus that the timing for this raise was totally out of line. The public will long remember his shameful money grab attempt.”
The pay raise was approved, as noted, on Monday, Jan. 25, during the first meeting of the Nassau County Legislature. The raises went to Schmitt, Deputy Presiding Officer John Ciotti and Minority Leader Diane Yatauro. The pay raise vote went along party lines, with 11 Republicans voting for the raise, and eight Democrats in opposition. A vote on rescinding the pay raises is expected to take place the next time the legislature meets, which is on Feb. 22.
The pay raise amounted to a stipend increase. Base pay for all legislators is $39,500. That salary is set by the County Charter and must be amended for all legislators to get raises. The Presiding Officer’s current stipend is $28,000. The legislation would have increased that to $60,000, making the total salary $99,500 (the stipend added to the $39,500 base salary). The Deputy Presiding Officer’s salary would have increased from $62,500 to $84,000, by the stipend being increased to $45,000. And, with the stipend for the Minority Leader increased to $51,000, it would have made that total salary go from $63,500 to $90,500.
The day after the pay raises were approved, members of the Democratic Party caucus held a press conference, criticizing, in strong language, the pay increases. Ms. Yatauro, who earlier announced that she would not accept any pay increase, said that she would draft a letter to the Nassau County Comptroller, asking that the pay increase be stopped. Ms. Yatauro added that she would call on County Executive Ed Mangano to direct the County Attorney to find a legal way to repeal the pay increase vote. And in fact, Comptroller George Maragos did put a freeze on the pay raises until the county attorney was able to review them.
Immediately following the Democrats’ press conference, County Executive Mangano issued his own reply.
“At the request of Minority Leader Yatauro, I have referred the question of the legality of the raises to the County Attorney’s office for review,” the release said. “The Nassau County Legislature is a separate branch of government and as such abides by its own rules of procedure. My administration will continue to lead by example through reducing the cost of government, and it is our hope that our colleagues follow suit.”