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Morinello, Ceretto joust over Assembly pay raise

NIAGARA FALLS – Angelo J. Morinello is challenging his opponent for the Assembly, incumbent John D. Ceretto, to agree to donate to charity any 2017 salary increase lawmakers receive, as Morinello said he would do if he is elected.

Ceretto said he opposes a raise for state legislators but wouldn’t commit to what he would do with a raise if it comes.

He also noted that Morinello didn’t turn down any pay increases when he was a Niagara Falls City Court judge for 14 years. Morinello said that was a case of “mixing apples and oranges.”

Ceretto, a Democrat, and Morinello, a Republican, are running in the 145th Assembly District, which covers Grand Island and most of western Niagara County. Ceretto, a Lewiston resident, is seeking his fourth term.

Ceretto said he cost himself $9,000 last year when he switched parties from the Republicans to the Democrats. That’s because as a Republican, he received a bonus for being the GOP’s ranking member on the Assembly Parks and Recreation Committee. Because there are so few Assembly Republicans, almost all get bonuses for committee or leadership titles. As a Democrat, Ceretto is too low on the totem pole to qualify for such a title.

The base pay for state legislators is $79,500 a year, which hasn’t changed since 1999. The Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo agreed to form a salary commission to examine possible increases. The commission is supposed to report a week after the Nov. 8 election. Its proposals will become law unless the Legislature votes to reject them.

“I don’t think we should get a raise at all,” Ceretto said. “I didn’t vote for creation of the commission.”

Morinello said legislators may receive a $37,000 raise. That figure is based on reports that some commission members want to approve a raise that would be equal to the inflation rate since 1999.

Morinello was earning about $152,500 a year when he retired as a judge at the end of 2015.

“My opponent has been getting raises as a judge. Did he donate any of that to charity?” Ceretto asked.

“I’m appalled he would even consider comparing a full-time judge to a part-time legislator,” Morinello replied. “We were on call 24 hours a day. I did overnight arraignments, special sessions.”

Asked about his charitable giving, Morinello wasn’t specific. “I give tons of money to charity,” he said.

Ceretto, who said he considers himself a full-time legislator, wasn’t specific either. “Right now I give lots of money to charity with my current income,” he said. Pressed on what he would do with a raise, Ceretto said, “Probably continue to do the same thing I’ve been doing.”

Morinello said, “The answer is, he’s hedging, and he will not give that raise to charity.”

The State Comptroller’s Office said its attorneys are researching whether individual legislators are allowed to reject pay raises, but they definitely can make automatic payroll deductions to certain charities, or write the checks themselves. Either way, they would receive an income tax deduction for charitable giving.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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