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Commission Recommends Substantial Pay Hike For Governor, NYS Lawmakers

Hans Pennink
The New York State Capitol in Albany

A pay commission for New York’s statewide elected officials recommends a hefty increase to the salaries of the governor, state senators, and assemblymembers, but there are some strings attached. 

The four commissioners, all current and former New York State and New York City comptrollers, say after 20 years with no increases to lawmakers $79,5000-a-year salary, they think a raise is warranted.

Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson proposed that the raises for senators and assemblymembers begin in January, and increase to $110,00 a year, and that they increase to $120,000 a year by January 1, 2020, and $130,000 by January 1, 2021.

“They have families to take care of,” said Thompson, who said even though the position of senator or assemblymember is officially part-time, in practice it is a full-time job.     

The commission also recommends that the governor, who now earns $179,000 a year, receive a phased in pay increase to $250,000 a year by January 1, 2021.

The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller would all earn $220,000 a year by 2021, under the proposal.

Commissioner Carl McCall, former state comptroller and now president of the SUNY Board of Trustees, recommends that the outside income for lawmakers also be strictly limited, to 15 percent of their total salary. He says state lawmakers should adopt the same rules as in Congress, where honoraria are also banned.   

“We really have to make sure that we send a signal to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.

State government has been engulfed in a corruption wave in recent years, and two former majority party leaders are facing prison time for illegally using their political influence to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside income.

The commission also recommends that the Senate and Assembly end the practice of giving additional monetary stipends to their members. Currently, the stipend system, also known as lulus, range from $9000 to $30,000, and are awarded at the discretion of the leadership in each house for committee chairs and leadership posts. Critics say the lulus create a reward and punishment system that leaders can use to control their members.

Blair Horner, with the government reform group New York Public Interest Research Group, says the salary increases match with the inflation rate over the past two decades. But he says the commission could have done more to address corruption.

“We believe that the committee should have used more of its authority to deal with the problems of corruption in government generally,” Horner said. “Corruption is not narrowly focused in the legislative branch. There are problems in the executive branch, too.”

Several former aides and close associates of Governor Cuomo also face jail time on corruption charges.

Horner says even before the pay raise recommendation, New York’s governor and legislature were the third highest paid in the nation, after California and Pennsylvania. Now, they would jump ahead of those states if the raises go through.

“The governor will be the highest paid governor in the country, and the legislature will be the highest paid legislature in the country,” Horner said.

The commission will issue its final report Monday December 10.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified before the commission on November 30, where he said he did not think any pay raises for lawmakers should be linked to other measures. A spokesman for Heastie says the speaker will wait to comment until after he’s seen the final report.

Earlier on Thursday, the incoming leader of the Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said in a statement that her members back adopting the same limits for outside income as the current rules in Congress, and also want to enact other reforms, as well.

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.