September 11, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v3)

Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times
When we last visited Albany, I had looked at the pros and cons of giving everyone in the Leg a raise.

I promised we’d talk about the proposed increase, and take a look at the Commission that’s been charged with making the decision on any salary increase.

The Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation was formed to lend an air of independence to decisions on how much our elected officials, including judges and District Attorneys, and our managerial bureaucrats in state government get paid. The Commission gets pulled together every four years (starting in June 2015) to make salary recommendations for these folks, who otherwise would not receive a raise. For example, and as a reminder as you look at this issue, Legislators are working now for the same base pay as they earned 19 years ago.

The thinking is that having an independent commission would be better than having these folks raise their own pay whenever they felt like it. A cynic might question the 'independence' of the group; of the seven members, three were appointed by the Governor, one each by the President Pro Tem of the State Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly, and the remaining two were appointed by the Chief Judge of the NY Court of Appeals - but that's the way of the world in politics.

Judicial wages were tackled first, in case you're wondering; over a short period of time, we'll see judges in New York paid on a par with their federal counterparts.

For the Legislature, there's an increase in the general neighborhood of 47% being discussed.

A frequent argument for giving politicians and bureaucrats a raise, and one that the Commission is trying to deal with, is that we need good people in these positions. It seems important to discuss that when we're talking about lawmakers and managerial folks - and never important to discuss that when we're talking about public employees or raising the minimum wage. I mean, where was the clamoring for ‘good people’ to make the coffee or grab the donuts or flip a burger or offer fries with that? 

A couple of commission members have been vocal on this issue. Roman Hedges, Ph.D., an appointee of the Speaker of the Assembly, has some personal experience with the ‘good people’ thing, which he shared.
We need people who are smart enough, who are knowledgeable enough, who have learned enough that they shouldn’t be listening to their senior staff as the only source of information. They shouldn’t be listening to lobbyists as their only source of information. They should be listening to the people that elect them. They should be listening to their colleagues. They should be thinking for themselves. They should be drawing on all of those influences. They should be smart enough to sort through all of that stuff and read complicated things. And I think that is not a part-time thought, whether it’s a Commissioner or a Governor or a Legislator. I think that is not a part-time vocational idea. I think that is an investment in a career. It is really hard work.
As someone who has spent 20 years as a senior Legislative staff person, I would like to think that the people I have worked for were smarter than I was and that they listened to the advice I gave them but took it as advice and not as direction. I would like to think that when I interacted with lobbyists I didn’t have to worry that the people I worked for didn’t know enough to interact with even more sophisticates than I did.. And I think we are talking flavors like the ones I just outlined, to me that puts me in the right realm, that is going to attract good people.
Those ‘flavors’ Hedges mentions? He’s not talking ice cream, he’s talking gravy: that 47% figure I cited at the top of this post.

Fran Reiter, one of Cuomo's appointees, has experience in Albany and in New York City, in the Giuliani administration, and she seems unconvinced by Hedges' argument. 
The issue about, that you raised, Roman, which I do find interesting and probably take some issue with, is whether or not rewarding legislators so they stick around is something that, that is real in terms of what we see which is most legislators aren’t going anywhere. That the ones we have now get re-elected time after time after time after time. The public is wholly dissatisfied with them, if you could read the mail we get, and yet they keep re-electing them over and over and over and over again. Rather than exercising their right to vote for somebody else. But I haven’t seen a shortage of people who want to be state legislators. I may be wrong about that, but I certainly haven’t seen any evidence about it. Nor, does it appear that those who are serving now, though many of whom are serving for a very, very long time, are leaving because of this issue. 
Two sides of the coin: we need to have a good salary so good people will want to be legislators, vs. we don't seem to have a shortage of people running, and lots of these folks get elected over and over again, even though no one likes them. (How sad is that?)

In reality, there has been some turnover in recent years.
  • Only 36 out of the 150 in the Assembly - a mere 24% - have been in office more than ten years, and only 21 of the took office before 2000.  
  • In the Senate, it's 24 out of 63, or 38%, who've been around more than ten years; only eleven who were around before 2000. 
But are we to assume that all of these new folks are 'bad people' who are not capable of sorting "through all of that stuff" and "reading complicated things" that Roman Hedges describes?

Or maybe they're good people, not pad people. but they're not the best people, because they're willing to work part time for a base salary north of $79K, roughly $20K higher than the median household income in New York state?

One thing that's certain: it would be very hard to convince me to give any really significant raise to these folks given their part-time status, and their per diems for travel to Albany, and the 'lulus' many of them receive for taking some kind of leadership role, to mention just a few things that would influence my vote.

The Commission is trying to deal with those issues too - and I'll take a look at those in the next MBIA post.