Last week, the Suffolk Legislature voted against millions of dollars of fee increases introduced by County Executive Steve Bellone (over $40 million in fees increases were proposed). It’s great they prevented the executive from hitting us with even more fees after having been hammered with millions in fees last year.
But to be consistent, the legislators should have blocked the increases when they were proposed in the executive’s budget last fall. Instead, they passed the executive’s budget with the fees included to help balance it. Now that this money has been incorporated into the base, they are opposing the fees from going into effect.
It’s great that we won’t have to pay these fees, but the skittish officials have blown a huge hole in the budget. It’s similar to what they did to my last budget. I proposed saving tens of millions of dollars by privatizing the Suffolk nursing home. The legislature gladly accepted the savings that came with this proposal (and used that money to fund many of their projects). However, when it came to actually selling the nursing home, they balked – creating a hole in the budget.
The county budget had already been in big jeopardy, because the executive incorporated $60 million in savings predicated on the speculative idea that the state would grant permission for the county to borrow money to pay for retiring employees for their unused sick time. This was a mistake in two ways. One, it’s terrible to even consider bonding, and paying interest, for these costs. (It’s one of the things that put Nassau in the brink of bankruptcy.). But secondly, it was risky to incorporate that much money based upon a speculative state approval that would probably never transpire.
County Executive Bellone has rightfully claimed that the legislators should find offsets for the fees that will no longer be forthcoming. One proposed offset suggested is the elimination of step increases for non-union employees. I am in total agreement with the executive.
Steps are additional salary increases that public employees receive every year in addition to their negotiated salaries. Union employees have had these steps built into their negotiated contracts. Traditionally, non-union political appointees never received these double raises. That changed a few years ago when legislators, under the leadership of then presiding officer, Bill Lindsay, pushed through a bill that provided these double raises to their staff and other political appointees. I vetoed the bill, but was overridden overwhelmingly by members of both parties.
The Center for Cost Effective Government, for which I serve as Executive Director, has been seeking to greater educate the public about the Triborough doctrine, which provides these guaranteed step increases, even after a contract has expired.
The certainty of the raises significantly diminishes incentive on the part of the union to provide any “give” in the “give and take” of negotiations with management. Getting that changed in Albany will be tough. But getting steps eliminated for county political appointees is within our grasp if the county legislature would just do the right thing.
It won’t make up for the tens of millions in lost revenue for the fees, but it would be a noble start and a message to the over beleaguered taxpayers that the giveaways will be curbed.
Levy is Executive Director of the Center for Cost Effective Government.. He served as Suffolk County Executive, as a NYS Assemblyman, and host of “The Steve Levy Radio Show.”