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Quixotic attempt in Suffolk to rein in lawmaker raises

Suffolk Legis. William Lindsay (D-Bohemia) is seeking a

Suffolk Legis. William Lindsay (D-Bohemia) is seeking a five-year moratorium on automatic pay hikes for lawmakers as the county deals with fiscal woes. Above, Lindsay in a photo taken on May 20, 2015. Credit: James Escher

When Suffolk Legis. William Lindsay, two years ago, first tried to do away with the law that gives elected officials automatic cost-of-living raises, he couldn’t even get a second to bring the issue up for a vote in legislative committee.

It died without any of the 18 county legislators having to vote on whether they are worth the money.

Now, with Suffolk County facing a $186 million budget hole, the Bohemia Democrat is trying again. But instead of ending the automatic raises forever, he is only seeking a five-year freeze on pay hikes.

Lindsay’s new effort comes as county lawmakers this year for the first time began making six-figure salaries — $100,272 annually to be precise.

“I think there’s a greater sense of urgency this year,” Lindsay said. “It would send a strong message that we’re willing to freeze our own salaries at a time when very painful cuts may have to take place.”

He conceded it will be an uphill battle.

“By limiting the number of years, I think it has a better chance,” Lindsay said. “Whether it will pass, I don’t know.”

The current county law, passed in 1999, initially raised lawmakers’ salaries 34 percent, from $49,680 a year to $67,500. Thereafter, the law provided all county elected officials with automatic raises of either 4 percent or the cost of living based on the Consumer Price Index in the metropolitan area for the previous year.

To be fair, the pay hike included in the proposed 2017 budget amounts to just 0.58 percent, or a $582 raise for the 18 lawmakers and the five other countywide elected officials. In all, the raises total $16,441 on top of the $2.83 million they collectively earn.

Lindsay already takes less than a full salary — $98,260 this year — as does Democratic Legis. Al Krupski of Cutchogue. Republican Legis. Tom Cilmi of Bay Shore voluntarily takes $96,570 this year.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) says he sees little support among lawmakers to freeze salaries.

“My colleagues take their obligations very seriously,” he said. “And we have shown leadership in the past being the first to take a lag payroll to share the responsibility in these tough fiscal times.”

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), leader of the Republican caucus, said Republicans are “ready to make sacrifices, but it has to be part of an overall plan” to rein in costs. “This is just symbolic and a little bit of grandstanding,” he said.

Paul Sabatino, a former chief deputy county executive, called Lindsay’s initiative “almost laughable” because it doesn’t take on larger fiscal woes: “It’s like trying to shoot an elephant with a peashooter,” Sabatino said.

Part of the problem with Lindsay’s initiative is that he is proposing a freeze for legislators that will not take effect until 2018, after their current terms are up.

While Lindsay said he would consider a budget amendment to force a vote on taking money out of the budget, he could not do it until next fall when legislators consider the 2018 budget. Any budget amendment would have to be accompanied by changes to the current local law.

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