On July 3, Dutchess County Executive (and Republican candidate for governor) Marcus Molinaro signed a law clearing the way for his salary and those of other county elected officials to be raised in any year instead of requiring a vote during election years. Prior to this change, politicians were required to face the voters the same year they approved any salary change.
The resolution vaguely titled, “A local law governing when the salaries of certain elected county officials may be fixed,” was proposed by Molinaro and its effects were explained on the floor of the legislature by his Assistant County Executive Chris Baiano during June’s committee meeting.
This isn’t the first time Molinaro has worked to raise his salary.
“As Tivoli taxpayers might recall, Molinaro has a history of enriching himself at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Elisa Sumner, Chair of the Dutchess County Democratic Committee.
In 1993, the year before Molinaro joined the Tivoli Village council as trustee, the mayor of the tiny municipality received $4000/year. He became mayor in 1995 and by 2006 his compensation was nearly five times as high at $19,373.47. Tivoli has less than 500 homes while the nearby Village of Red Hook, which paid its mayor just $3,000 in 2006, has more than 900.
The salary law was approved by 13 Republican legislators during the June 11, 2018 full board meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature. Every Democratic legislator and one Republican opposed the change. The final vote was 13-10.
During the June 11 meeting, Legislator Barbara Jeter-Jackson (D-Poughkeepsie) asked the chamber if someone could explain why this change was necessary or good. Her query was met with silence from the assembled proponents and administration staff.
“Another example of the rubber stamp Republicans in the Dutchess County Legislature,” said Sumner. “They couldn’t explain why they were passing it but they went along with it anyway.”
Molinaro’s law was sponsored in the legislature by Chairman Gregg Pulver (R-North East), Assistant Majority Leader Don Sagliano (R-Pleasant Valley) and Legislator Jim Miccio (R-Fishkill). None of them answered Legislator Jeter-Jackson.
“Good government allows for its people to participate in it and holds elected officials accountable. This new law is the opposite of good government,” said Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park).
For decades, the law required that votes to change salaries could only happen during election years before July 15 to allow the voters to weigh in immediately on the decision. For example, legislator salaries could only be voted on in odd-numbered years (not in 2018) and salaries for elected officials with four-year terms like county sheriff, county clerk and county executive could only be voted on once every four years: the year they face the voters.
Under both the new and old laws, any salary changes would not take effect until after an election and the next term begins.
“Why fix what’s not broken?”, said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon). “As it stands, the law makes any change in salary come closer to an election, so any increase we decide on, we’ll have to answer for. Why hide that by moving it to an off-cycle year?”
“I voted no because I refuse to be an accomplice in the effort to hide votes on salary increases for elected officials,” said Minority Whip Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “If anybody feels an increase is justified, they should be ready to make their case to their voters.”