Tuesday, February 8, 2011

With 14 Gone, Shirley Huntley Tops List Of Senate Democrats’ Staffer Layoffs by Chris Bragg and Laura Nahmias - City Hall News

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Most Democrats have had to lay off a staffer or two in the transition from the majority to minority party in the Senate.

Then there is State Sen. Shirley Huntley, of Queens, who has lost nearly three quarters of her staff. According to a comparison of recent Senate payroll records to those released on Friday, Huntley lost 14 of her 23 staffers. These represent the latest, and most sizable to date, round of Senate Democratic payroll cuts last month.
Though far from the Senate leadership, Huntley had one of the largest payrolls. Now, Huntley said, she was scrounging for money to try and hire a few part-time employees to attend community board meetings and other events.
She blamed the Senate Republicans for her and her staff’s plight.
“All I can say is that we were nicer to them than they were to us,” Huntley said. “These are people who weren’t involved in politics—it was a job. Now a lot of people are unemployed and they have no place to go. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Huntley paid nearly $34,000 to the 23 staffers in the first two weeks of January, which translates to a rate of about $879,000 annually. Huntley now has a payroll just over $8,000 every two weeks—a rate which translates to $208,000 annually.
Now in the minority, Democrats have been asked to trim their total payroll from about $40 million to $27 million. Each senator is being asked to get individual payroll costs to $350,000. For senators who had smaller staffs to begin with, that translated into fewer cuts.
Huntley insisted, though, that each and every staffer had been needed.
“Some people have larger staffs, and some people don’t care about staffs. I have 300-some thousand constituents and my staff served all parts of the district,” Huntley said.
Minority Leader John Sampson had 24 staff members before the transition and now has 15, not including central staff. The Senate Democrats were forced to cut 130 positions total.
Even some of the Senate Democrats’ higher profile staffers have been let go. Tom Connolly, the Independence Party vice-chair, is gone from the payroll of State Sen. Carl Kruger. Connolly had been with Kruger’s office since 2007, when then-Majority Leader Joe Bruno gave the Brooklyn Democrat the chairmanship of the Social Services Committee. Jason Koppel, the chief of staff for Kruger, confirmed the departure.
Connolly did not return a phone call seeking comment.
But not all Democrats have had to cut back. State Sen. Jeff Klein, who is part of the four-member breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, before the transition had 19 staffers and a bi-weekly payroll of $34,600. Now, Klein has two fewer staffers, but his bi-weekly payroll has actually jumped by more than $1,000 a month.
When the Democrats took the majority in 2008, the Republicans had to make cuts also, but Democrats note that they allowed GOP staffers until April 1 to leave the payroll.
Democrats are still hoping the GOP majority conference will decide to equally allocate resources, although a measure introduced to equally allocate resources in the senate Rules committee was voted down last week. Adding to the Democrats’ problems is their overspending while in the majority, including on 56 different employees for former State Sen. Pedro Espada, according to payroll records.
The Senate Democrats will have to make another round of cuts if the GOP does not allocate more resources to the conference.
“We’ve made significant payroll reductions to bring spending down to appropriate levels,” said Austin Shafran, the spokesman for the Senate Democrats. “Further reductions are ongoing, and greatly depend on whether the Republicans will be as equitable with resources.