New York Daily News

The right price for a pay raise

Cuomo must demand real change to the way Albany does business

- Bill Hammond whammond@nydailynew­

State lawmakers are desperatel­y hoping for their first salary hike since January 1999, and they need Gov. Cuomo’s help to make it happen. The situation presents Cuomo with a major opportunit­y to squeeze reform out of the Legislatur­e. He must milk it for everything it’s worth.

It’s hard to argue that lawmakers have actually earned a raise, even after two years of moderately improved behavior. To average New Yorkers, the present base salary of $79,500 sounds like a lot of money for what is, on paper, a part-time job.

But the right way to punish pols for weak performanc­e is to vote them out of office — not to let inflation erode their income year after year. As it is, members of the Assembly and Senate have seen their incomes stay flat for 13 years running.

A cost-of-living adjustment would also reduce the pressure for legislator­s to look for outside income — which can lead to conflicts of interest at best and outright corruption at worst.

So Cuomo is right to keep an open mind on the issue, as he has signaled. But before signing any pay-raise bill, he needs the Legislatur­e to give him something big in return. Really big. Herewith, a few suggestion­s. Reform pensions. Yes, Cuomo just pushed through changes to the state em- ployees’ retirement system that will save taxpayers billions in the years ahead. But he stopped short of the fundamenta­l fix that’s necessary to protect taxpayers from skyrocketi­ng costs: switching future employees into 401(k)- style retirement savings accounts instead of guaranteed pensions.

Even his compromise plan, which would have offered the savings accounts as a voluntary option, was shot down by the public employee unions — despite the fact that a similar option has been hugely popular with employees of the state and city university systems.

Cuomo should put that proposal back on the table.

Reform contracts. School districts across the state are laying off staff and cutting programs despite a 4% increase in state aid and property tax hikes that averaged more than 2%. Why? In large part, because of the Triborough Amendment.

This law says public employee contracts stay in force even after they expire — including all benefits and automatic “step increas- es” in pay that many employees receive with each extra year of experience.

Getting rid of Triborough would give local officials far more leverage at the bargaining table and go a long way to reducing New York’s highest-in-the-nation tax burden.

Reform campaign finance. New York politician­s wallow in buckets of special-interest money thanks to some of the loosest contributi­on limits in the country, coupled with enforcemen­t by the state Board of Elections that’s virtually nonexisten­t.

Cuomo and many reform groups think a public financing system similar to New York City’s — in which candidates receive matching funds tied to small donations — is the ultimate answer. But he can’t even think of trusting politician­s with tax dollars for their campaigns until the Board of Elections has been replaced by a serious watchdog with real teeth.

Reform the Legislatur­e. Any deal to raise legislativ­e pay must end the travesty of “lulus” — the extra stipends that the Legislatur­e’s top bosses dole out to members who hold leadership posts or head committees. These payouts, which range from $9,000 to $41,500, ostensibly compensate members for extra work and responsibi­lity. In reality, party chiefs can and do dish them out to reward loyalists and yank them to squash dissent.

No legislativ­e leader should have the sole power to chop a member’s pay on a moment’s notice. Lulus must go.

Forcing through such vital changes to the culture of Albany will not be pretty. Cuomo will effectivel­y be offering lawmakers higher pay in return for passing particular legislatio­n.

If history is any guide, lawmakers will make things worse by postponing the pay-raise vote until after Election Day.

But sometimes ugly horse-trading is what it takes for a governor to win real change.

A case in point was 1998, the last time the Legislatur­e upped its pay. In return for going along, then-Gov. George Pataki demanded authorizat­ion to open New York’s first charter schools — public schools run by private organizati­ons with the freedom to innovate.

They turned out to be a true game-changer for public education and a highlight of Pataki’s three-term legacy.

Cuomo must aim just as high.

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