Spin Cycle

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Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory directed legislative staff Wednesday to look at capping nonunion employee salaries at $125,000 and eliminating key economic development programs at the heart of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s agenda.

Gregory (D-Copiague) said the county could save $40 million in interest payments by eliminating Connect Long Island, a regional transportation plan along Route 110 and Nicolls Road, and JumpStart Long Island, a fund for economic development projects.

Gregory’s comments came a day after Bellone, a Democrat, proposed salary freezes for nonunion employees and requirements that new nonunion and elected officials take 10 percent pay cuts. Bellone also wants nonunion employees and elected officials to pay a 15 percent share of health insurance costs.

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“To lay the county’s $160 million deficit at the feet of exempt employees and elected officials is missing the mark,” Gregory said. “Symbolically, it sends a statement. But we have to do something to address the county’s fiscal challenges other than attacking legislators.”

Bellone spokesman Jason Elan said, “Instead of acting out in anger at the idea that elected officials should start paying into their health care like many other county employees, the presiding officer would be better served completing the work of his deficit reduction committee.”

Bellone had released his spending cuts after lawmakers balked at raising the fee on traffic tickets. The legislature had approved the county’s budget with the $5.5 million fee.

Bellone’s cuts include:

  • Freezing all step increases for all nonunion employees, to save $1.2 million.
  • Requiring exempt employees to pay 15 percent of their health care costs, saving $1.2 million.
  • Cutting salaries of new exempt and new elected officials by 10 percent, saving $400,000.
  • Revert to a pre-2014 pay scale for new district attorney employees, saving $40,000 in 2018.

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Newsday on Sunday reported that Suffolk County exempt employees received $3.2 million in raises in 2016, an average of 6.2 percent.

Democrats control the legislature by a 12-6 margin.

“What I’m hearing from legislators is, ‘Why are exempt employees making more than county legislators?’ These are employees who don’t manage anything, don’t run anything,” Gregory said.

He said Bellone did not reach out to him to collaborate on the cuts.

“This frames the argument in the wrong direction. It makes it seem like we’re the problem,” he said.

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Bellone, at a news conference earlier Wednesday, said, “I’m looking forward to seeing their deficit reduction plan.”