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Schmitt proposes rescinding legislature pay raises

Bowing to a variety of pressures, the Nassau County Legislature's presiding officer, Peter Schmitt, said Friday that he will propose rescinding the raise in salary Republicans gave him, his deputy and the Democratic minority leader on Monday.

The raises caused an outcry against Schmitt - and to some degree, the Republicans - with a Democratic-led news conference decrying them on Tuesday, saying the GOP ran a campaign last year on cutting spending. Then, Republican County Executive Edward Mangano sought his county attorney's opinion - that has not yet come - on the raises' legality.

And on Wednesday, responding to a request for help from the Democrats, Republican County Comptroller George Maragos said he would freeze the raises at least until the county attorney's ruling.

But Schmitt said he doesn't care one whit about his Democratic colleagues' comments on the raises he sponsored, and cited three reasons for his reversal.

"First, our county executive faces a predicted shortfall of $89 million in sales tax receipts to Nassau County for 2009," he said in a statement. "Second, I am influenced by the announcement that LIPA has rescinded its plan to give 2 percent raises to its employees this year. Lastly, the U.S. Department of Labor has reported that the average increase in compensation for U.S. workers reported in 2009 was the lowest in decades."

But according to four Republican sources, Schmitt's decision follows a meeting at GOP headquarters Thursday. Called by chairman Joseph Mondello, it included Schmitt, Mangano and selected other top county and town officials to discuss the raises. One source said all elected officials at every level of government had been "getting an earful" from their constituents about the raises.

In the meeting, the officials did their best to convince Schmitt that the raises were a bad move in the current climate, but left the decision to rescind them up to him, sources said.

Friday, Schmitt decided he would call for a vote to rescind the pay increase that Republicans, in an 11-8 party-line vote Monday, approved for Schmitt and other top lawmakers. Other legislators did not get raises for the part-time job. The full legislature will meet again Feb. 22.

Democrat Minority Leader Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove, who had led the charge against the raises and had vowed not to keep hers, said: "It sounds like Rip Van Winkle just woke up. I'm glad that my colleague has come to his senses."

Schmitt said he had talked to many residents about the raises - "they weren't angry about it," he said, "in fact, they understood that we [legislators] are woefully underpaid, still I feel that it is not the thing to do in this economic climate."

But Schmitt added that, when economic times get better "we will look at it again."

Mangano, a longtime colleague of Schmitt, had only a brief comment on the legislator's reversal: "presiding officer Schmitt's statement speaks for itself."

State and Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs said, "Just because Peter Schmitt dropped the cookie, when his hand got caught in the cookie jar, doesn't make him honest. This just shows the people of Nassau will have to keep a very close eye on their wallets with this new Republican leadership."

Pat Nicolosi, an Elmont activist and civic leader said: "It's great that Mr. Schmitt's giving the money back, but he showed his true colors by seeking it."

With Celeste Hadrick

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