Nassau lawmakers voted Monday to boost their pay by nearly 100 percent — assuming they’re re-elected in two years — as they brushed aside concerns over appearance in light of the county’s budget woes.
With little debate, the 19-member County Legislature, with 12 Republicans and seven Democrats, unanimously agreed to raise salaries from $39,500 a year, where they’ve stood since the body’s 1996 inception, to $75,000 effective January 2018.
Supporters of the bill, introduced by retiring Legis. Francis Becker (R-Lynbrook), cited the disparity with Suffolk lawmakers’ $100,272 pay and the need to attract candidates for what’s classified as a part-time job but is treated otherwise.
“I think it’s long overdue,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), whose leadership position also brings a $28,000 stipend, said in an interview after the vote.
She said lawmakers would not have needed to almost double the position’s pay now had the Democratic leadership in 2007 taken the recommendation of a bipartisan commission they appointed to study the issue. The commission at the time recommended a $70,000 legislator salary, but the matter stalled after two Democrats issued objections.
In 2010, the Republican majority also briefly took up the issue before dropping it following community opposition.
“The legislature has gone 20 years without raising its salary,” said John Kiernan, an attorney who served on the 1990s commission that helped establish the legislature. “You’re going to have to run on your raise, but you deserve it.”
But the move — which came just as the county’s state fiscal control board has threatened to impose spending cuts if certain revenues aren’t realized — didn’t sit well with others.
“You really honestly have nothing to be proud of, and if I could be honest, I’d fire every one of you and start from scratch,” said Melinda Camastro of East Meadow, who rattled off a number of things she said lawmakers had done little about, including the quality of roads and the departure of the New York Islanders.
She said civil servants, including New York City police officers such as her son, must endure raises of 1 percent or less.
“You’re not better than any of them,” Camastro said.
Lawmakers didn’t issue any defenses during the meeting. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who receives a $24,000 stipend, simply referred to a statement made by Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) after the raises passed committees.
“There’s never going to be a good time,” Jacobs, a former presiding officer, said after the meeting. “But we work hard and we’ve been working hard, but we’re stuck in space.”
Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works mostly with Republicans, said Nassau lawmakers had given themselves some cover by ensuring the raises, as the law dictates, wouldn’t take effect until after they next seek re-election in November 2017.
Still, Dawidziak said, “I think it’s tough, with Nassau’s financial situation, for them to be raising their own pay.”
Also Monday, the legislature passed a bill requiring county vendors and their principals to disclose political contributions they made to candidates for county elected offices.
The bill is so far the only one proposed by County Executive Edward Mangano following the recommendations of a panel he appointed.
Mangano initially said he’d seek to institute public campaign financing and limit the amount of political money that county vendors could give officials. But this month, the administration backed off, citing the cost of a public system and legislative resistance to the limits on campaign contributions.