© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Blair Horner: Albany Considers A Pay Raise

Should New York’s legislators and state government heads get pay raises?  Asking that question usually has people grabbing for their pitchforks and torches.  Pay raises for politicians has as much popular support as the plague – which is why there hasn’t been one in New York in nearly 20 years.

Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers know that proposing a pay raise is far too close to political suicide, so last year they created a commission to study the idea and make recommendations. 

The commission has appointees of the governor, the legislative leaders, and the courts.  The commission held a hearing n New York City last week and it was reported that they are considering a 47% pay hike.  According to media reports, under consideration is a plan to raise the base salaries of state legislators from the $79,500 they make now to as much as $116,900.  Many legislators also get additional pay tacked on to that $79,500 base for things like chairing a committee.

Before you reach for torches, let’s examine some of the arguments for and against raising public officials’ pay.

New York pays its state lawmakers comparatively well: the governor gets the third highest salary ($179,000) in the country (Pennsylvania is tops, followed by Tennessee) and our legislature gets the third highest salary (behind California and Pennsylvania) for what is technically a part-time job.  So what’s the argument for pay increases?

Supporters argue that state elected officials haven’t had a pay increase since 1999, which is a long time.  No one would like to experience that.  Of course, for many Americans, pay has been stagnant for a long time.  Still no one wishes for pay freezes for decades.

In recent times, Albany has been able to get some important things done.  During the Cuomo years, budgets have been more or less on time.  Big issues – no matter what you think about them – have been tackled: property tax cap, personal income tax reforms, marriage equality, minimum wage increases, gun control, and funding increases for education.

Still, polls consistently show that New Yorkers are deeply unhappy with the performance of the state’s elected leaders.  A chief argument against the pay increase is that the governor and the leaders seem incapable or not interested in stemming the plague of corruption that has gripped the Capitol. 

Just this year, the former heads of the Assembly and Senate were convicted in federal court on corruption charges and expelled from their legislative seats.  You would think that Albany’s “Watergate moment” would be followed by major reforms.  But nothing.

Major scandals followed by a failure to enact significant corruption-busting reforms should not be rewarded with a gigantic pay hike, to the highest in the nation.

That’s not to say no pay raise should ever be considered.  Most New Yorkers would consider it reasonable for public officials’ salaries to be adjusted by a truly independent commission.

The commission idea makes sense, if it’s genuinely independent.  An independent commission would not only be free from political meddling, it would make its recommendations based on objective analyses conducted in a public manner. 

Whether this commission meets those standards remains to be seen.  The majority of the pay raise commissioners were picked by the governor and the legislative leaders.  Sounds like a commission that could be taking orders, not one designed to be independent.

New Yorkers have seen far too many commissions that serve at the beck and call of the political establishment.  Time will tell if this commission is free to conduct and follow objective analyses.

The commission has to wrap up its work no later than November 15th – which is, of course, right after the elections.  The commission is accessible for public comment via email at:  nyscompensation@gmail.com.  

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content