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Nassau committee votes to nearly double lawmakers’ pay to $75,000

Legis. Francis Becker on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015,

Legis. Francis Becker on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, discusses a pay raise for Nassau lawmakers, who voted to boost their salaries from $39,500 to $75,000 beginning in 2018. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau legislative committee voted unanimously Monday to nearly double the annual pay of county lawmakers from $39,500 to $75,000 beginning in January 2018.

The legislation passed only three days after the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state monitoring board in control of the county’s finances, threatened to impose spending cuts if Nassau officials are unable to show that they are meeting quarterly revenue goals.

The pay hike bill, introduced by Legis. Fran Becker (R-Lynbrook) and co-sponsored by all 18 other county lawmakers, cleared the seven-member GOP-controlled Rules Committee Monday and will go before the full legislature on Dec. 21.

Becker, who is retiring at year’s end, said legislators have “enormous responsibilities” and work long hours at the job, often taking calls from constituents at home at night and on weekends. “Everyone wants to be compensated fairly,” he said.

The pay hike would kick in Jan. 1, 2018 — after the 2017 legislative elections — and would be followed by annual automatic raises of either 4 percent or the increase in the regional consumer price index, whichever is less.

Lawmaker salaries come from the legislative budget, which has enough funds to absorb the hikes, officials said.

The salaries of the part-time Nassau lawmakers have remained at $39,500 since the legislature was created in 1996 to replace the county board of supervisors.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) called the pay increase “long overdue. If you want to attract good people then let’s give them the salary to do it.”

E.J. McMahon, president of the independent Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, said lawmakers have done nothing to warrant a raise.

“Look up the word ‘oblivious’ and find a picture of the Nassau Legislature,” he said. “They have earned their chapter in the annals of taxpayer outrage.”

Gonsalves conceded the pay hike “may not be popular” and that the timing, coming as the county struggles to balance its budget, is not ideal. “Everything is bad timing,” she said.

As presiding officer, Gonsalves gets the $39,500 salary and a $28,000 stipend, while Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) gets his base salary and a $24,000 stipend. Lawmakers are expected to re-approve the current stipends early next year.

Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) noted that county legislative salaries have been stagnant for two decades while “other areas throughout the region and state make upward of twice as much.”

Suffolk legislators’ pay this year is $99,783 and is scheduled through an automatic CPI increase to rise to $100,272 next year. Several Suffolk lawmakers do not take the full salary.

A commission in 2007 recommended that Nassau legislative salaries rise to $70,000. But the then-Democrat-controlled county legislature refused to bring the issue to a vote after two lawmakers refused to support the hike.

In 2010, the late presiding officer Peter Schmitt, a Republican from Massapequa, proposed salary hikes for himself and other legislative leaders shortly after the GOP won back control of the chamber. Schmitt backed away from the plan after heavy opposition from Democrats and local community.

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said the control board has no say over legislative salaries.

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