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Cuomo Dangles Pay Raise For Lawmakers In Exchange For Passing His Agenda

Mike Groll

Governor Cuomo, D-N.Y., is pressuring state lawmakers to come back in December for a special session that includes a number of reform items to address recent corruption scandals. He says in exchange, they could potentially be rewarded with a pay raise.   

Cuomo is trying to convince state lawmakers to return to the Capitol before the end of the year to hold a special session. The governor is seeking some reforms, including changes to the state’s procurement process for contracts, saying he wants a “tighter system.”  A former top aide and several former associates have been indicted for bid rigging, bribery and extortion in connection with upstate economic development contracts, including the Buffalo Billion, a situation that the governor calls “sad.”

The governor says the special session could also lead to a long awaited pay raise for lawmakers. Cuomo has been arguing with the legislature on whether or not a special pay raise commission needs to be reauthorized in order for it to vote on a possible salary increase for the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office before the end of the year. Cuomo says if the legislature believes that a reauthorization vote is needed, then lawmakers should return and do that.

“I’m saying to the legislature, ‘That’s great,’” said Cuomo. “’What’s even better, is if you do the people’s business when you come back.’”

The pay commission was supposed to act independently of politics, but, when it met shortly after elections, commissioners appointed by Governor Cuomo refused to vote on a pay raise proposal. They did say, though, that they would back a “modest” salary increase sometime in the future, if the legislature decides to remain a part-time body and a “substantially higher” increase if lawmakers change their status to full-time and adopt strict limits on outside income. Cuomo has been pushing for that change. Both former leaders of the legislature are awaiting prison sentences on corruption convictions involving their outside income.

Cuomo says his agenda for a special session also includes freeing up money to build more housing for the homeless and extending the state’s human rights law to protect more people against hate crimes.

A spokesman for the state Assembly downplayed the likelihood of a special session, saying, in his Twitter feed, that the governor and lawmakers “haven’t discussed any of that,” but Speaker Carl Heastie’s spokesman Mike Whyland  says Assembly Democrats are “always willing” to talk about “issues important to New Yorkers.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought the charges against Cuomo’s former top aide and other associates as well as the successful prosecution of the former legislative leaders, confirms, after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, that he will be keeping his job when the new administration takes over in January.

Bharara said on C-SPAN after a meeting at Trump Tower that he presumes Trump asked him to stay because of the “great work” his office has been doing.   

“I agreed to stay on,” said Bharara on C-SPAN, who said he would continue to work “independently, without fear of favor.”

New York's senior U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, who originally recommended Bharara, a former staffer, for the post, says he's “glad” Bharara is staying on, and calls him “one of the best U.S. Attorneys New York has ever seen.”

Cuomo did not offer a comment.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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