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Capital Region State Lawmakers Weigh In On The Pay Raise

Composite photo by Dave Lucas/WAMC

It looks like New York's 213 state lawmakers are getting a pay raise despite some last-minute hopes the package could be modified.

A 63 percent increase will be phased in over three years. Lawmakers currently make a base salary of $79,500, and can also earn stipends for leadership roles and per diems for traveling to Albany.

That changes on New Year's Day when legislative pay jumps to $110,000 with increases in 2020 and 2021 that will eventually bring the total annual salary to $130,000.

But there's a catch. 

Lawmakers will be limited as to how much they can earn from jobs outside state government, set at 15 percent of their base public salary beginning in 2020, in line with rules for members of Congress. That directly impacts Republican state Senator George Amedore, who owns a family construction business in the Capital Region, and Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald, who runs Marra's pharmacy in Cohoes. Here's Albany Democratic Senator Neil Breslin:    "What's happened once again is too many politicians have become involved to determine and tell legislators what they can do and not do. I think George Amedore and John McDonald bring a dimension of different interests to the legislature and we need that dynamic. I really believe that they do a good job and we can have other people and if we limit it to only people who use this as their full-time job, we lessen the pool and the quality of the legislator is not as good."

North Country Republican Senator Betty Little agrees.   "I think it's very very difficult to say that you don't want professionals and people who are in business. I think they know more about the economy and what's going on in the communities and what people are dealing with, and they bring a lot to the legislature."

Officials say about a third of lawmakers earn significant amounts of money from outside work. Capital Region Democratic Assemblywoman Pat Fahy says it doesn't look like lawmakers will return to Albany before the new session to make adjustments to the pay raise:   "My understanding is there will be an effort to try to make some changes. How successful those will be I don't know. I do empathize with those who do have very legitimate outside businesses. I think it helps to have some diversity among our members and to bring as much experience as possible.  People like John McDonald and Senator Amedore and others bring a wealth of experience and bring a very healthy business perspective to the body. These are not easily solvable problems and I should note that in every other state there is an allowance for outside income, so it is just a matter of having as much transparency and disclosure as possible. No matter what changes come January first or after, we still need to be ever more vigilant in terms of transparency, disclosure and ethics reform."

Senator Amedore has been hoping the legislature could reconvene so members could vote the pay raise commission decision down.   "That's really up to the leaders and the governor to make a decision," Which doesn't appear likely. McDonald says both houses would have to come back in a short window:  "With the transition of the Senate I don't think there's an appetite with so many members leaving. So it's one of those things where the pay raise looks to be going into effect." 

All agree changes could still be introduced when legislators convene for the new session.

When the pay raise is fully phased in at $130,000, lawmakers and the governor stand to be the highest paid in any state.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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