Budget Review director Maurice Chalmers said in a report that...

Budget Review director Maurice Chalmers said in a report that although County Executive Edward Mangano has taken steps to increase revenues and cut expenses, "the county has lost its financial flexibility to absorb uncertainties." Credit: Howard Schnapp

Have you heard the joke about the Nassau County Legislature? The one where lawmakers tried to remove a proposed tax hike from next year's budget, then turned around and voted huge pay increases to the county's two election commissioners?

Not only did legislators lard out 31 percent salary boosts, they made them retroactive to July 1 -- more than two months before Nassau's financial control board lifted the wage freeze it had imposed on the county's appointed employees. Yes, board of elections commissioners are appointed.

Now, raises to two commissioners, no matter how hefty, are not going to break the bank. But the principle stinks. The legislature tried to strip out the 3.4 percent tax hike proposed by County Executive Edward Mangano and replace it with speculative revenues and gambits prohibited by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. After NIFA called foul, lawmakers gave up. At the same time, they were veering in the opposite direction by voting -- unanimously -- to raise election commissioner pay from $128,000 to $168,000. Increases the next two years will bring the salary to $180,000 for these already plum patronage positions.

As for the retroactive part of the raises, outside and in-house legal counsel for Nassau, as well as county Comptroller George Maragos, warn they might not be legal. The state comptroller's office says they violate the state constitution.

In a financially struggling county whose workers endured three years of frozen wages, the retroactive increases violate one's sense of fairness and flunk the smell test.

Alas, that's nothing to laugh about.


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