The 5-2 vote of the Cayuga County Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee to change the way time is calculated to assess retirement credit for the 15 member Legislature, has a number of people shaking their heads in wonderment of why the Legislature would even discuss this matter now. The measure, that still needs the full Legislature’s approval on Tuesday, would adjust a part-time legislator’s work week from 35 to 30 hours — though it is not clear if that can be legitimately justified for every Legislator. Not only is the timing on this poor, but the rationale of the arguments should be questioned.
The handling of this issue seems par for the course — quite often questions regarding the operations of the county revolve around the personal priorities of members of that body, from mileage reimbursement to quick resignations and re-appointments for pensions or to skirt the now voided term limit law. In each of these cases, it should surprise no one that there is public outrage and a lowering of expectations of the type of government that taxpayers get for their tax dollars.
This recommendation brings into question what some local leaders mean when they say they will do “more with less.” Did they really mean fewer hours and more pension benefits just for themselves? It is not clear if they even grasp the national and state economic picture, that see rising deficits on the one hand from Washington and a horrific 2010-2011 spending plan on the other from Albany.
Two items worth noting are the impact on the county and state budget fronts and also how “low pay” seems to be an argument for the change. In the first case, the argument is that this will not impact the local budget. Fine, but it will clearly impact New York state’s. With a state pension system in crisis, it is hard to believe that elected officials would even consider additional burdens on it.
Just as importantly, whether the $10,100 base salary for part-timers is “low” may be just a matter of perspective. Privatized Certified Home Health Agency workers and outsourced janitors may not think so. Nor may other part-time county workers who aren’t treated the same. The way to address “low” pay is to vote to increase pay, not a backdoor change.
The timing on this couldn’t be more fortuitous, at least from a political perspective, since this is being done more than a year before half of the members of the county Legislature are up for re-election and the other half two years after that. By that time, if there is any taxpayer hostility, the Legislature knows that it will likely have dissipated.
Cosentino is a former mayor of Auburn and can be contacted at email@example.com