Jan 5


Putting legislative pay raises in perspective

The New York Legislature just gave itself a huge pay raise that far outpaces inflation and the salaries of state lawmakers in neighboring states. Good government groups maintain too many loopholes remain that create the potential for misconduct.

Updated: 11:18 a.m.

State legislators were generous with themselves beyond the $32,000 a year raise they approved last month. The legislation also included loopholes that good government groups are characterizing as weak on ethics and conflicts of interest.

What’s more, the raises, justified by supporters as compensation for inflation, far exceed increases in the cost of living.

Reinvent Albany compared the provisions of the legislation with recommendations made in 2018 by a state compensation commission that considered pay raises for legislators, among other state elected officials.

“The bottom line is that the law giving the Legislature a huge pay raise includes very weak controls on conflict of interest and leaves massive loopholes for ‘family businesses’ and fiduciary business relationships that invite pay-to-play,” Reinvent Albany said in a statement issued Wednesday.

John Kaehny, its executive director, added: “The Legislature helps oversee about $300 billion in state spending. They should be paid as professionals, which also means being held to professional ethical standards.

“We heard way too much whining about how limits on outside income would be so unfair. Boo hoo,” he continued,” “New York legislators should serve one boss – the public.”

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, described as “weak” the ethical safeguards built into the legislation. He also criticized the continued allowance for legislators to earn outside income, albeit with some limits.

“What they approved is no where near as restrictive as the Congressional limits on outside income,” he said.

Legislative pay has increased dramatically since 1998. Lawmakers had been paid  $57,500 annually to that point. The salary jumped to $79,500 in 1999, then to $110,000 in 2019. 

The latest raise, approved Dec. 22, boosted pay to $142,000, making New York legislators the highest paid in the nation, surpassing California ($119,000).

As of last year, most state’s paid their legislators less than $50,000 a year; the annual salary in New Hampshire is only $100.

Supporters said the latest raise was intended to compensate for the higher cost of living. The series of raises since 1998 far outstrip inflation, however. The salary of $57,500 then would be worth $97,122 in today’s dollars.

The legislation did, however, place limits for the first time on how much lawmakers can make from other jobs, with numerous exceptions. 

Critics maintained the raises were excessive and that the legislation did not sufficiently address concerns about outside income, ethics and conflicts of interest. The Legislature has been rocked by a number of scandals which resulted in the convictions, among others, of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate President Joseph Bruno.

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Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the legislation into law after the Senate and Assembly approved it, largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

Sen. Tim Kennedy was among a handful of Democrats who broke ranks and voted against the raise. Likewise, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly’s deputy speaker, also voted no.

The roll call vote in the Senate is here, that of the Assembly here.

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