Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
The Suffolk County Legislature is on the brink of becoming a body of six-figure lawmakers.
County lawmakers are legally entitled to make $98,260 a year in 2014, 1.75 percent more than in 2013, under a 2000 county law that provides automatic annual raises to elected officials pegged to inflation. If current trends continue, Suffolk lawmakers by next year probably will be the first county legislators in the state to make $100,000 a year.
With the rocky economy, some lawmakers have balked at taking pay hikes. This year, three of the 18 Suffolk legislators already have declined the full amount, and last year seven took less than allowed.
Freshman Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Oakdale), who campaigned on the issue last fall, wants to roll back the automatic pay raise law. He said he will ask legislative counsel to draft a bill in the next week and hopes to file a resolution next month.
He said the issue resonated strongly with voters. "In the last few years, the legislature has continued to take . . . salary increases while pay has remained flat in most of the private sector," said Lindsay, an insurance broker who said he works 40 hours or more a week as a lawmaker.
He said he has not spoken to other lawmakers but expects it will be "an easy sell" to convince them.
"Getting over the $100,000 threshold makes it appear a lot more than it currently is," said Lindsay, who has indicated he will not take a raise next year, although he accepted this year's full salary.
"I think the rollback is unnecessary," said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).
Gregory said the automatic system was meant to depoliticize the pay issue, and doing away with it could create "uncomfortable" controversy that "could potentially distract our focus" from bigger issues. He said a raise taking lawmakers' salaries to $100,000 next year would cost taxpayers only $31,000 more, and that lawmakers who are strongly against it can voluntarily reduce their own pay.
Elected Suffolk County officials receive an annual pay increase of 4 percent or a cost-of-living raise based on the New York Consumer Price Index -- whichever is lower. If the CPI rises 1.77 percent or higher next year, Suffolk legislative salaries will top $100,000.
Suffolk legislators earn far more than Nassau County lawmakers, whose salary has remained at $39,900 since 1996, when that county's legislature was created. Westchester County legislators earn $49,200 annually, plus stipends of up to $9,000 for committee and caucus posts. State lawmakers' base salary is $79,500, although they also get expenses and committee stipends. New York City Council members make $112,500, plus stipends that range from $4,000 to $28,500.
Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip), a former state assemblyman, said forcing legislators to vote on their own salary increase creates gridlock that can block raises for years. He said modest annual increases prevent erosion of officials' buying power and an exodus of good people.
Barraga also said a rollback would be unfair to members who are full-time legislators.
"If you want to do an outside job and not take the raise, so be it," said Barraga, a full-time county legislator. "But you can't impose that on 17 other people."
Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) also opposes a change, saying his background as an attorney with an MBA and as a longtime official more than justifies his pay.
"We have an intelligent and informed electorate," Kennedy said. "If they see a body of work and accomplishment, they'll support you. If you're a legislator in name only, they will throw . . . [you] out, and they should."