AUBURN | A Cayuga County legislator is proposing a change in legislative compensation that would save taxpayer dollars spent on health insurance but increase lawmaker wages.
Legislator Hans Pecher proposed a plan via a last-minute agenda item at the county's Government Operations Committee Meeting last Tuesday night. The plan would eliminate legislator health insurance compensation and increase legislator salaries by $2,650 — establishing a base salary of $12,750. The net savings would be nearly $10,000, Pecher said.
Legislators in Cayuga County earn $10,100 annually with the exception of the chairman, who earns $30,000 annually. Legislators who chair committees earn an extra $2,000, majority and minority leaders earn an extra $750, and the vice chair of the Legislature earns an extra $1,500 annually. The last time legislator salaries were increased was in January 2007. Wages went up $100 to compensate for health insurance premium cost-share increases. It was the first raise in more than 11 years.
Six of the county's legislators — Paul Pinckney, George Fearon, Steven Cuddeback, Steven Barski, Tim Lattimore and Cynthia Aikman — receive health insurance compensation benefits ranging in cost from $6,000 to more than $12,000 a year.
Two legislators — Joseph Runkle and Michael Didio — receive the minimum amount in health compensation, less than $400.
Seven legislators — Tucker Whitman, Michael Chapman, David Axton, Mark Farrell, Hans Pecher, Joe Bennett and Patrick Mahunick — receive no health insurance compensation at all.
For the 2013 budget, Pecher predicts current legislator health insurance costs to increase approximately 2-percent to a total of roughly $56,000. In his proposal Pecher suggests cutting the $56,000 in annual health insurance costs down to nothing while increasing pay by $39,000 and dividing it among the legislators evenly. Doing so would result in approximate savings of $9,364 for Cayuga County taxpayers.
“People are saying that it's not fair; well I don't think it's fair to others who are getting very little. Is that really fair?” Pecher said. "I think this is a much fairer way than we've done it before and it gets rid of the stigma that's out there in the public that we're here just to collect health insurance benefits.”
Many of the county's legislators weren't so receptive to the proposed plan.
Legislator Michael Didio immediately discouraged the idea. “Personally I don't think it's time to be making these changes. I don't think it's a good move,” Didio said. “I think we need to leave it alone and after the first year we can take a look at it.”
Legislator Paul Pinckney agreed with the philosophy but said he's not in favor of Pecher's brand of it.
“I love this job and I'm still excited to be a legislator but I feel like I earn every nickel and I don’t want to go backwards,” Pinckney said. “If we can form it in some other way I'm open minded to that. But I'm certainly not going backwards because I believe that this is getting harder and harder down the road to get people to run for these positions.”
Legislator Mark Farrell offered an alternative to the discussion by suggesting that a resolution be created to go into effect Jan. 1, 2016. The future date would create an even playing field like Pecher suggests and still offer benefits to those who expect them.
“I agree that we've got to do something different," Farrell said, "but you shouldn't take benefits away from someone that ran for office and thought that that's what they were going to acquire.”
Pecher plans to move forward with the proposal and hopes to have a resolution at the Legislature meeting on Oct. 23. The time to act is now, he said, when legislators are already thinking about the budget.
Legislators will review a tentative budget in early November and a few more times before making any final decisions. The deadline for a decision on the 2013 budget is Dec. 20, 2012. Once the budget is finalized and salaries are advertised, making changes to legislator salaries would have to wait another year, something that Pecher said he doesn't want to see happen.
"Legislators have gotten an increase in compensation because health costs have gone up. This plan helps to prevent that," Pecher said. “We're trying to preach not having any increases, yet if we keep the health plan the way it is, we will see an increase where it's not really necessary."
He added: "I'm just trying to do something that would level the playing field and make if fair for everyone.”