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NYSNYS NEWS: After a year of scandal, prison sentences and no ethics reform, NYS legislators in line for a big pay raise.
NYSNYS News
NYSNYS NEWS: After a year of scandal, prison sentences and no ethics reform, NYS legislators in line for a big pay raise.

By Kyle Hughes
NYSNYS News

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 10) -- After a year of bribery scandals, federal convictions, and failure so far to pass ethics reform, there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow -- the first legislative pay raise since 1999.

Thanks to a 2015 law passed in the middle of the night as part of the state budget that year, a special commission is at work on recommendations on raises for legislators and other state officials. The panel is due to make recommendations by no later than November 15, one week after virtually all members of the Legislature will be easily re-elected to new two-year terms.

The NYS Commission on Legislative, Judicial, & Executive Compensation, which recommended a $29,100 pay raise for state judges on Christmas Eve 2015, is schedule to meet on June 28 in New York City to talk about a new round of raises. State Supreme Court judges' pay will go from $174,000 to at least $203,100 by the time raises are phased in by 2018.

"It is amazing when you think about it," NYPIRG lobbying Blair Horner said Thursday. "Apparently, the worst corruption in New York State history results in no meaningful reforms and a big hike in pay.  Only in New York!"

Under the 2015 law, the pay raises for legislators, statewide elected officials such as the governor, and state agency commissioners are virtually automatic. If a raise is recommended, it takes effect on January 1, 2017 unless legislators return before the of the year to reject the recommendation and pass a law to change it.

Legislators now earn $79,900 a year, not counting per diem payments and leadership lulus, and their new pay is likely to be much higher. New York City Council members raised their pay to $148,500 earlier this year -- a 32 percent raise.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) has said a salary in that range would be fair if legislators are not permitted to have outside jobs. There's no indication that any push to make the Legislature a full-time job is under way.

Heastie said the pay commission that will make recommendations is an independent group.

"We're not having a discussion on a pay raise," Heastie said a press conference in February. "We passed that in the budget last year and it will be in the hands of the pay commission. It's not up to the Legislature."

Friday, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) agreed. A pay raise decision "is independent of the Legislature" under the 2015 law, a spokesman said.

If history is any guide, a legislative pay raise will bring salaries to more than $100,000. The 1999 pay raise totaled 38 percent, and a comparable raise this year would bring Senate and Assembly pay to $110,262.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California state legislators now earn $97,197 a year, while lawmakers in Pennsylvania get $85,338. In contrast, lawmakers are paid $7,200 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.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed frustration this week when asked if legislators would pass ethics reforms before the 2016 session ends on June 16.

"They don't want to pass it," Cuomo told reporters in Niagara Falls after listing ethics as his top priority for the end of session. "They have not wanted to pass it for years. They have said that 18 different ways. I've threatened them, cajoled them, tried to charm them, told them jokes. They do not want to pass ethics reform."

"They have time left to do it and I'm hopeful that they will, but this has been a conversation that's been going on for years," he added. "At the same time, they will say -- the Legislature will say, we have passed more ethics reform than ever before. Which is also true which is why this is complicated."

Cuomo's office issued a statement Friday that held out hope for some action on ethics. "As the Governor has repeatedly said, ethics reform remains a top end of session priority," spokesman Rich Azzopardi said. "We are continuing to fight for this and do not think the Legislature would want to face voters without taking action."

Three of the seven members of the Compensation Commission are Cuomo appointees, with two others named by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals. The Senate and Assembly each have one appointment.

The Cuomo appointees dissented from the recommendations on judicial pay, supporting smaller raises. They cited the need for fiscal restraint, which Cuomo has made a priority in his five years as governor.

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