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EDITORIAL: Arbitration system is ready for overhaul

If you're fuming about your stagnant salary and rising tax bill, the generous contract awarded to Suffolk County cops probably make you feel used. But the proper target for your anger isn't the cops. It should be the arbitration system.

Arbitrators pay too much attention to awards to other well-paid police unions and too little to the county's real ability to pay. Result: a taxpayer-crushing game of leapfrog. In this case, the result was 3.5 percent annual increases for 2008 to 2010, adding up to a 10.5 percent total hike. The salaries drive up fringe costs, too, and the county just can't afford it all.

After a 1966 transit strike, the 1967 Taylor Law banned strikes, but didn't provide for compulsory arbitration. In 1974, the legislature gave that mechanism to police and firefighters. They've done much better than other public employees, a report by the Empire Center for New York State Policy said.

This simply can't go on. State lawmakers won't adopt radical change, like requiring a public vote on large increases, but they should consider alternatives. They could try last-best-offer arbitration, which compels the arbitrator to choose one of the two, so both sides have to think twice about seeking too much. Or define "ability to pay" more realistically. Or Albany could also force local legislatures to impose settlements, as they do with civilian public sector unions.

On this subject, the State Legislature giveth, but it seldom taketh away. In times like these, that just has to change. hN