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Democratic lawmakers back off cut to Bellone budget

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby of the legislature building in Hauppauge is seen on Aug. 14, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Suffolk Legislature’s Democratic majority Wednesday backed off its proposed amendment to cut $1.5 million from County Executive Steve Bellone’s budget to fill vacant positions, even though Republicans said it would deepen the budget hole and be used to fill patronage jobs.

Lawmakers defended the last-minute change to their budget amendments after Bellone aides said they now expect more revenues than when the budget was released in mid-September from tax map certification fees. They project a $778,000 increase this year and a similar amount in 2018.

In an often testy and partisan 90-minute meeting the day after the election, lawmakers also restored funding for public health nurses and anti-tobacco programs and authorized borrowing an additional $5 million from a county sewer fund to partially offset lower sales tax projections.

“It’s totally irresponsible to kick the can down the road. We have to learn how to say no,” said Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Amityville), GOP caucus leader, also warned that Democratic additions to the budget will go for patronage jobs and worsen the county’s fiscal plight because the county is already facing a lawsuit for charging fees that go far beyond the cost of providing county services. However, Democrats countered the tax map fee lawmakers are using to fund the positions is not the subject of that suit, the tax map fee has not been raised, and was capped to keep condominium projects from being overcharged.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), deputy presiding officer, also noted that the new administration in the Suffolk district attorney’s office may require funding to fill vacancies, saying hiring “qualified capable prosecutors” or probation officers does not amount to patronage.

Joining Republicans, however, was Legis. Alfred Krupski (D-Cutchogue), a member of the legislative budget committee, who said he backed removing funding for vacancies to help preserve other critical county services. As for funding DA jobs, he said, “I only hope the new district attorney will run his office efficiently.”

Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, said, “Since the county executive’s proposed budget already reduced salaries across many departments, it was important to restore these additional cuts to meet the county’s daily operating responsibilities.”

The partisan battling between lawmakers went off far afield of budget issues. Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley) attacked Trotta for collecting both a police pension and his $100,000 salary. Trotta said he lost $50,000 in pay to take his legislative job.

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