A pay commission for New York’s statewide elected officials recommends a hefty increase to the salaries of the governor, state senators and Assembly members, 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’ $79,500-a-year salary, they think a raise is warranted.
Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson proposed that the raises for senators and Assembly members begin in January at $110,000 a year, and that they increase to $120,000 a year by Jan. 1, 2020, and $130,000 by Jan. 1, 2021.
"They have families to take care of," said Thompson, who added that even though the position of senator or Assembly member is officially part time, in practice, it is a full-time job.
The commission also recommended that the governor, who now earns $179,000 a year, receive a phased-in pay increase to $250,000 a year by Jan. 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, a former state comptroller and now president of the SUNY Board of Trustees, recommended that the outside income for lawmakers also be strictly limited to 15 percent of their total salary. He said 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.
The stipends, also known as lulus, currently range from $9,000 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, said the salary increases match the inflation rate over the past two decades. But he said 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 Cuomo also face jail time on corruption charges.
Horner said even before the pay raise recommendation, New York’s governor and Legislature were the third-highest paid in the nation, after California and Pennsylvania. 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, Dec. 10.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified before the commission on Nov. 30, where he said he did not think any pay raises for lawmakers should be linked to other measures. A spokesman for Heastie said 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 want to enact other reforms.