No raises for state legislators, panel says
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 .... ”