No raises for state leg­is­la­tors, panel says

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

A call to raise the salaries of New York state law­mak­ers was re­jected Tues­day by a com­mis­sion charged with re­view­ing whether the $79,500-a-year pay should be in­creased for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Spe­cial Com­mis­sion on Leg­isla­tive, Ju­di­cial and Ex­ec­u­tive Com­pen­sa­tion has been re­view­ing leg­isla­tive salaries since ear­lier this year, when sev­eral law­mak­ers broached the idea of a raise. Demo­cratic As­sem­bly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, spoke out on be­half of many law­mak­ers last month, when he called a pay bump “long over­due.”

But the idea fell flat Tues­day when Demo­cratic Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s three ap­pointees on the seven-mem­ber com­mis­sion said they wouldn’t sup­port a pay hike partly be­cause no law­maker spoke in fa­vor of an in­crease at the com­mis­sion’s meet­ings. They also said the Leg­is­la­ture first should act on ethics re­form.

“Those seek­ing in­creases have an obli­ga­tion to make their case ... to the pub­lic they are elected to serve,” said Fran Reiter, a Cuomo ap­pointee on the com­mis­sion.

Al­though many leg­is­la­tors sup­ported a pay raise, the prospect comes at a po­lit­i­cally touchy time after more than 30 law­mak­ers have left of­fice fac­ing al­le­ga­tions of crim­i­nal or eth­i­cal wrong­do­ing since 2000.

New York law­mak­ers haven’t got­ten a raise since 1999 — when a 38 per­cent hike took ef­fect — but they still make the third-high­est leg­isla­tive salary in the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures, Cal­i­for­nia state leg­is­la­tors earned $97,197 a year in 2015, while law­mak­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia drew $85,338. In con­trast,

law­mak­ers are paid $7,200 per year in Texas, the sec­ond largest state; and $29,697 in Florida, which dis­placed New York as the third most pop­u­lous state two years ago.

Mem­bers of the New York com­mis­sion ap­pointed by the state Leg­is­la­ture ar­gued the cur­rent salary hasn’t kept up with the cost of liv­ing and pre­vents many New York­ers from con­sid­er­ing leg­isla­tive ser­vice.

Com­mis­sioner Ro­man Hedges, ap­pointed by Heastie, said law­mak­ers have to serve their con­stituents year-round, not just dur­ing the six months they spend in Albany in ses­sion.

“It’s only part of the job,” he said. “We ex­pect them to be avail­able . ... That’s why we elect them.”

Law­mak­ers could con­vene

a lame-duck ses­sion be­fore the year ends to vote on a pay raise or ap­point a new com­mis­sion to con­sider the ques­tion.

Cuomo has sug­gested con­stituents might be more sup­port­ive of a pay in­crease if law­mak­ers passed tough ethics re­forms to pre­vent cor­rup­tion or re­stricted law­mak­ers’ out­side in­comes.

“You ask the peo­ple of this state, ‘Do you think the New York state Leg­is­la­ture should get a pay raise?’ [and] peo­ple over­whelm­ingly say no,” the gov­er­nor told re­porters Tues­day in Rochester.

Not­ing that law­mak­ers are free to pass a pay raise for them­selves dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Cuomo said: “Let them stand up and say: ‘We de­serve a

raise, and I’m vot­ing for a raise.’”

Leg­is­la­tors have ac­cused Cuomo of try­ing to use the pay ques­tion as lever­age to force the Leg­is­la­ture to act as he would like.

Heastie and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader John Flana­gan, a Repub­li­can, re­leased a joint state­ment ex­press­ing their dis­ap­point­ment with the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion. They said any de­ci­sion about a pay raise should be based “pri­mar­ily on eco­nomic fac­tors.”

“It is un­for­tu­nate that the gov­er­nor’s ap­pointees ... once again felt the need to de­mand leg­isla­tive ac­tion in ex­change for an in­crease in com­pen­sa­tion,” they said. “This is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able and far ex­ceeds the man­date of the com­mis­sion .... ”

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