Pay raise for NY legislators faces fight

ALBANY -- State lawmakers will find out next month whether they will get their first pay raise since 1999. The outcome remains uncertain.

A state panel tasked with recommending a pay raise for the legislative and executive branches continues to squabble over what it will do.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has recently stoked the flames by questioning whether the state Legislature has made the case for a salary bump to the seven-person commission, which includes three of his appointees.

"You will need my appointees and judicial appointees to approve it," Cuomo told reporters Sept. 27. "They said the Legislature hasn’t made the case, so they were not going to recommend the pay raise."

The salary for the state Legislature is $79,500, and most of them get additional stipends for leadership posts and $172 a day when they are at the Capitol for lodging and meals.

Some lawmakers are pressing for their first raise in 17 years, particularly downstate where there is a higher cost of living compared to upstate.

The commission is considering as much as a 47 percent pay raise for lawmakers, to $116,900 a year – a $37,400 a year hike – that would be in line with rate of inflation during the years they haven’t had a raise.

There would be similar percentage increases for state agency commissioners, raising their pay from about $136,000 to $200,000.

A campaign issue

The issue has played out on the campaign trail because all 213 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot Nov. 8.
Some candidates and incumbents have shunned the salary increase, saying they wouldn't accept it if elected.

The state Legislature, which by the state constitution is listed as a part-time job, is already the third highest pay in the country.

California state lawmakers make $100,000, and the pay is $85,339 in Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"My priority is easing the burden on our taxpayers, not adding to it with an excessive pay increase for elected officials," Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, said in a statement Aug. 13.

His Democratic opponent Sara Niccoli has also opposed a pay raise in the swing district that stretches through the Capitol region and south into Ulster County.

The state Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation has until Nov. 15 -- a week after Election Day -- to make its recommendations.

Its recommendations will be binding, unless the Legislature votes to reject the panel's report.

Panel debate

The commission has battled over whether lawmakers should get a pay raise, particularly over whether the legislators themselves have been forceful enough in urging the panel to adopt a higher wage.

"Given how little input they've had, if we took a vote today, I would not vote for a legislative salary increase," Fran Reiter, a commission member appointed by Cuomo, said at the commission's last meeting Sept. 22.

Roman Hedges, the Assembly's appointee on the commission, disagreed, saying the whole reason the panel was set up is to avoid lawmakers setting their own pay scale.

State lawmakers can vote to increase the legislative pay rate, but only for next elected Legislature. And efforts to pass a change have failed.

So the commission was set up last year to consider new salaries for the executive and legislative branches -- following the same steps that were done when judges were given their first raise since 1999 in 2012.

Cuomo, too, might be in line for a pay raise. The governor's current salary is $179,000.

"I think the whole point of setting up a commission was to make it so that the agency heads and the Legislature and the governor and the comptroller and the attorney general and so forth didn't have to publicly say anything -- that we were making the decision on their behalf," Hedges said at last month's meeting.

Case made

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, wrote Wednesday to the commission to press the case for a pay raise.

"A raise in compensation is warranted; indeed, it is long overdue," Heastie said.

The speaker noted that the judiciary received an increase earlier this year and in order to maintain an appropriate balance of power among the branches of government, statewide officials and legislators should have their salaries increased proportionately as well based on the inflation rate since 1999.

He cited the financial burdens on the 101 Assembly members from New York City, Long Island and Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.

“Ironically, while the compensation rates for legislators have declined in real dollars, the complexity and demands of the position of a New York state Assembly member have dramatically increased,” Heastie said in the letter.

Cuomo has talked about the need for higher salaries for his commissioners, saying the current salary makes it difficult to recruit department heads while some deputy commissioners make more than their bosses.

"An increase in the salaries of these commissioner positions is warranted in order to maintain the talented public servants we currently have, and to be competitive in attracting the most talented individuals in the nation to New York state government," Cuomo's budget director, Robert Mujica, wrote to the commission Sept. 21.


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