October 16, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v5)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
Let's refresh where we were when we last visited Albany, before my vacation and before we were so rudely interrupted by those corruption charges against developers, lobbyists, and Mario Cuomo's third son.

I had been talking about the deliberations of the Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation, and touched on the legislative session's accomplishments and the challenge the Commission faced in part one, the pros and cons of giving the Leg a raise in part two, and that godawful 'good people' discussion in part three.

I had been waiting for an update from the Commission on the part time vs full time legislator discussion, which was to have taken place in September, I thought at a meeting on the 13th. Instead, the group had a public hearing on the 22nd.

Per the meeting transcript, they didn't get all that much accomplished, sad to say, and they didn't spend all that much time on the hours our elected officials work; rather, they focused on information from folks within the NYS Budget Department who noted they're having difficulty recruiting people to work for the many and varied commissions in New York, because the pay is so lousy.

Roman Hedges, an appointee of the Assembly Speaker and the one who has been putting numbers on the table, has upped the ante from a 2.2% salary increase across 17 or 18 years. The new numbers are based in part on comparison with California, which pays their commissioners (and their legislators) a heckuva lot more than we do here.
If I said that's the number, then my 136 ($136,000) for A commissioners goes to 240 ($240,000). Well, wow, that's a pretty big number increase, but as an annual number it's 3.2%. It's not a big percentage increase. It's a pretty startling number, so I guess I would reframe my observations of last time as how about something in the range of 200 to 240 as the range that we should be considering for the A commissioners and everything else should be proportionate; the Legislature, lieutenant governor, governor.
James Lack (appointed by the Senate Majority Leader) seemed amenable.
I think a lot of the things he's (ed note:Bob Mujica from the Budget office)  and Roman is saying makes a lot of sense, and obviously, vastly increases the numbers we've talked about, and I don't mind thinking about it. I'm certainly not going to finish the thinking of those thoughts today in doing so. I've said we just got this letter. It is very interesting, it is very good... I'd like some time to digest it and we'll have to come back and discuss it. We have almost two months (a recommendation is due this year) and I think it's a very, very good idea.
On the other side, as has been consistent, sits Fran Reiter (one of Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo's appointees). Reiter has been asking for people from the Leg to come and justify why they need a raise and has expressed frustration that so few of them seem willing to defend themselves on this issue. In comment she prepared before the September meeting to have read into the record, she notes, after talking about the level of participation from interested parties in the discourse on judicial raises,
The events surrounding our investigation of potential legislative salary increases have been very difficult...To date, we have heard from only three legislators, one of which who testified in support of a salary cut. We have neither heard nor received written testimony from the leadership of either the Assembly or Senate making an institutional argument for a salary increase. During the time of these hearings, it appears that more legislators are making public statements against the raise than for it. And some legislators are actually saying they won't accept it, said why would this Commission ever recommend it. At the same time, public sentiment via testimony and written submissions has been unanimous in its rejection of any legislative salary increase.
Based on all we have heard, it is my opinion that there is no possible justification for this Commission to recommend any legislative pay raise, whatsoever.
She's not completely giving up though -- she's willing to try one more time to get input from the people who stand to benefit from the monster pay raise that's being considered, and which has now grown a full percentage point per year over 18 years.
Therefore I am requesting that we reach out formally to the leadership and members of the New York State Assembly and Senate and invite them to provide the input so sorely lacking from our deliberations. Among the basic issues that need to be addressed if we are to consider a pay raise:  Do you believe the annual salary and/or allowances of members of the Legislature warrant an increase? If so, why and how much. And to what extent should dues and travel expenses be considered?
Gary Johnson, another of Cuomo's appointees, agreed with Reiter.
... it's a political process. And right now we find ourselves in the circumstance where what we've heard from the electorate is that they are opposed to legislative pay raises. And we've essentially heard from the Legislature silence. So the Legislature's position is essentially the status quo at this point, and I don't think -- I mean, even though we will not stand for election ourselves, nor go out of existence when we make this report, we have to be responsive to the electorate. And if that ball is going to be moved at all, I think it's necessary for the Legislature to weigh in and make a case for why this is appropriate and why it is something that the electorate perhaps needs to be educated to understand why it is an appropriate thing to do to raise legislative pay. 
On and on it went, for a while longer, ultimately landing that a formal request would be made to the State Senate and Assembly to put some cards on the table, if they dared do so during an election year, and decisions would be made after that, whether or not anything came or anyone else came forward.

I say "anyone else" because one junior Assembly member, Rodneyse Bichotte, submitted a letter addressing how difficult is it to make ends meet on the salary, and volunteered to testify in person, which is what Reiter has been looking for. She'll have the chance to do that, hopefully, at the next meeting.

I'll take a deeper look at Bichotte's letter in the next post.  And, by the way, I'm close to offering my recommendations, too.