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Thomas Barraga vote for mortgage fee draws GOP criticism

Suffolk Legis. Thomas Barraga on July 9, 2013.

Suffolk Legis. Thomas Barraga on July 9, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Republican lawmakers in Suffolk are unhappy that Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) joined Democrats to pass a new $300 mortgage fee — which allowed a vulnerable Democrat to vote against the hike.

The fee increase on mortgage instruments, projected to raise $33 million a year as Suffolk County struggles with budget deficits, passed Dec. 20 with the bare minimum 10 votes in favor. Two incumbent Democrats in competitive seats — Legis. Sarah Anker, of Mount Sinai, and Legis. William J. Lindsay III, of Bohemia — joined four Republicans and Working Families Party member Kate Browning, of Shirley, in opposing the fee hike. Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) was absent.

Lindsay and Anker both are in districts that favored Republican Donald Trump by more than 20 percentage points in the presidential election. Minority Republicans hold 6 of 18 county legislative seats.

“I wish Tom would vote a little more often with the caucus on the issues that are important to us,” said GOP caucus leader Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, of Lindenhurst.

McCaffrey said he believed without Barraga’s vote, one of the Democrats would’ve voted in favor of the fee increase.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said Barraga should be kicked out of the GOP caucus. “He’s voting with the Democrats and allowing them to vote ‘no’ so they can use it on their campaign material,” Trotta said.

Trotta said the employment of Barraga’s daughter, Elaine Barraga, by County Executive Steve Bellone in the county law department represents a conflict of interest. Barraga has said his daughter is “fully qualified,” noting that she served as an attorney for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority before the county job.

Barraga has said the recurring fee would help close the county’s deficit. Barraga, barred by term limits from seeking re-election in 2017, didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.

Anker, who won her 2015 race by 17 votes, said she voted against the fee after hearing from unhappy residents.

“I voted the conscience of my constituents,” she said. She had no alternative to replace the revenue from the mortgage fee.

Lindsay said eliminating the fee increase would force his colleagues to consider spending cuts, like freezing elected officials salaries, although he declined to specify how he would fill such a large budget hole. He said Barraga’s vote “made it easier” but didn’t change his vote.

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