In rare move, Suffolk lawmakers negotiate budget in public
More than two decades of closed-door budget wrangling among Suffolk lawmakers went public Monday.
The legislature's nine-member budget working group met in an open meeting in Hauppauge to comb through County Executive Steve Bellone's proposed 2015 capital budget and three-year plan. They hope to come with a package of amendments.
"Welcome to the new world of open budget meetings," Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said.
New Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) opened budget meetings after several years of protests from Thomas Cilmi (R-Islip) and Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) about the secretive process. Gregory called the initiative "a pilot project" but wouldn't commit to using it for the operating budget. Cilmi praised the meeting: "All the questions asked are on the record and opinions are being expressed publicly."
Backers of closed meetings maintain such discussions, dating back to 1991, made it easier for Republicans and Democrats to compromise without politicizing sometimes controversial issues like layoffs. Critics of closed-door meetings say the process could be abused and lead to backroom deals.
Schneiderman urged the committee -- made up of seven majority caucus members and two Republicans -- to hold capital spending next year to $93 million, the same level as this year, given a projected shortfall of $170.3 million facing the county next year.
Bellone's 2015 budget proposes to raise capital spending by $23.8 million, while the legislature's budget review office called for adding $12.4 million, aimed at maintaining infrastructure.