Gov. Andrew Cuomo pins Senate stipends on DiNapoli

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday questioned state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's role in paying out stipends to state lawmakers for committee positions they didn't actually hold, saying it was up to DiNapoli to determine whether it was legal.

Cuomo was asked by reporters Thursday about the controversy surrounding the Senate stipend payments, which were shuffled by the Senate's Republican leadership in a way that led at least eight senators to receive extra pay in recent years.

The governor pointed to DiNapoli, the state's fiscal watchdog and a fellow Democrat with whom Cuomo's administration has frequently clashed.

"It's the comptroller's opinion whether or not that was legal," Cuomo said following an event in Manhattan. "If it was not legal, the comptroller shouldn't have done it. If it's not legal, the comptroller should call up and say, Whoops, I made a mistake, I need the money back.'"

Documents submitted by the Republican-controlled Senate to the state Comptroller's Office listed the senators under committee chairmanships that paid more than the chair positions they actually hold, inflating their annual pay that is set by law.

That includes includes Sens. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, Erie County; Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats, Chemung County; and Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, though Helming has said she hasn't yet cashed the stipend checks and will return them.

Counsel for Senate Republicans contends the payments are fully within the law, arguing that Senate leadership has wide authority to determine who gets what stipend.

DiNapoli's office approved the stipends based on the documents submitted by the GOP, and has said there is "no basis" to take back the money "at this time."

"When our office receives a payroll request that has been certified by the Senate, or any state entity, we make the payment," DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman said earlier this week.

In response to Cuomo, Freeman said the Comptroller's Office "is not a court of law."

"This issue needs to be decided by the Senate itself or the legal system," she said in a statement.

Cuomo's administration and DiNapoli have sparred over the years, with DiNapoli issuing several critical audits of the administration's economic-development programs. Cuomo's administration has dismissed the audits as being unfair and politically motivated, a charge denied by DiNapoli's office.

The most recent audit came Wednesday, with DiNapoli criticizing Empire State Development -- the state's economic-development branch -- for missing or ignoring various public reporting requirements for its job-creation programs.

On Thursday, DiNapoli released a report critical of state budget approved April 9, saying it includes $10.5 billion in new state debt and has billions of dollars in lump sum spending without full transparency.

On the stipend issue, Cuomo said DiNapoli's actions suggest the comptroller believes the payments are legal.

"The comptroller of the state signed the check or funded a payroll or whatever he did," Cuomo said. "He either did it legally or illegally. His position is it was legal."

Lawmakers make a base salary of $79,500 before receiving the stipends for leadership positions, which range from $9,500 to more than $40,000, depending on the position.

But while they can hold both a committee chairmanship and a conference leadership post, lawmakers can accept only a single stipend, which leaves some higher-paying committee posts unpaid.

So the Senate GOP instead gave those stipends to vice chairs of committees, since they pay more than other committees the senators actually do chair.

In some cases, the difference was only a couple thousand dollars, such as O'Mara, who received the $15,000 stipend for the transportation committee chairmanship, where he is vice chair. O'Mara chairs the environmental conservation committee, which would have come with a $12,500 stipend.

Gallivan, meanwhile, received the $18,000 stipend for the education committee. He chairs the crime and corrections committee, which carries a $12,500 payment.

Lawmakers are also permitted to earn unlimited private income, which Cuomo railed against Thursday.
"None of it looks good," Cuomo said. "The part-time position where you can make outside income doesn't look good. People get this."


 

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