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Queens legislators finally get paid

From April 1, when the budget was due, until its passage on Aug. 11, members of the state Assembly and Senate did not get paid."I'm fortunate in that I come from a very small family - me," said state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights). "So I dipped into savings, spent less money, forestalled some bills, stuff like that."For state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck), the lack of income posed real difficulties. "In order to pay my bills I had to borrow money at an interest rate," he said in a late June interview. "I don't get a lot of sympathy on that, but my wife has certainly noticed. There has been a strain in my bank account."And for state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), "I was more frugal than I would normally would be."She added that she has learned to earmark money for these seasons of withheld income. "I plan for it. I knew this was going to happen, so I set aside money that I anticipated needing from my savings," she said. "In a sense I was raiding my rainy day fund."Last Thursday state politicians received their overdue paychecks, which Stavisky said were about $27,000 each after taxes. The state budget is resilient enough to handle all these checks being cashed simultaneously, the state comptroller's office said. The annual base salary for state legislators is $79,500 pre-tax."The state budget was about $100 billion, and the paychecks are about $7 (million) to $8 million," said Jeffrey Gordon, spokesman for the state comptroller. "It's a lot of money but not compared to the amount of money that is in the state coffers. There's no impact. "The withholding of paychecks until a budget is passed has been state law since the late 1990s, when Gov. George Pataki enacted it as a tactic to force state lawmakers, famous for partisan contention, to meet the deadline. The governor, Stavisky pointed out, did receive his paychecks on schedule.Some believe that since this year's budget was more than four months late, lawmakers are not sufficiently motivated."I think they should fine us if we don't pass the budget," Sabini said. "Obviously this isn't working." He said that he was not actually suggesting fining lawmakers for a late budget, but he was worried the annual April 1 deadline no longer has meaning. "I'm not proposing it," he said. "I'm not advocating abolishing (withholding paychecks). It's just perhaps we should be in a position where the deadline means something."Stavisky fears that the practice makes it hard for average citizens to run for the state government if they have "children in college, mortgages to pay.""It's an important point that in a sense we're turning our back on Jacksonian democracy and turning towards a legislature where only the independently wealthy can run," she said.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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