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Pay raises become political issue in Suffolk legislative race

It took a little more than a week for the first political challenger to seize on Newsday’s report revealing that seven Suffolk County legislators who voted last year to create a voluntary wage freeze program ended up taking their raises anyway.

Christopher Nuzzi, a Republican Southampton Town councilman, on Monday called out his opponent in the 2nd legislative district, Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) for being one of the seven.

“In spite of looming deficits, mass layoffs and closures of county facilities, Jay saw fit to reward himself with another pay increase,” Nuzzi said.

Newsday had reported that 12 lawmakers voted in June 2012 to allow county elected officials to decline their annual cost-of-living raises this year - a largely symbolic measure because they already had that power. The vote came as Suffolk faced a projected $530 million deficit and layoffs of 300 rank-and-file workers.

But of the 12, only five turned down the automatic 2.8 percent increase due them in January, according to the comptroller's and legislative clerk's offices. The seven who took the raises saw their salaries increase from $93,958 to $96,570.

Schneiderman, like several of the other lawmakers who took the raises, said the issue was not as black-and-white as some make it out to be. He had been a leading advocate earlier of a voluntary “lag payroll” measure for elected officials, which deferred a higher percentage (more than 4 percent) of his pay over two years until he leaves county employment.

He also noted that the gesture of creating a wage freeze program last year was meant to set the tone for unionized county workers to accept a pay freeze, but that ultimately did not happen. Thirdly, he noted that he has never voted to raise his base salary, and has never voted to raise county general fund property taxes for East End municipalities.

In all, he criticized Nuzzi for running a campaign that he called “negative from the start.”

“He came out of the gate negative. He’s been in office for eight years. Obviously, he’s not coming out on his record or anything he’s done,” said Schneiderman.

Nuzzi spent $23,391 during the first six months of the year, with almost half of that total coming from a large fundraiser. Schneiderman spent about $10,000, and has nearly $20,000 on hand.

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