October 30, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v7)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
I shared excerpts from a letter written by Assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte to the  Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation in v6 of this series.

Bichotte noted, among other things, that there's a pretty significant difference in how much it costs to live in New York City than it does in other areas of the state.

That difference was recognized in the decision of the Legislature earlier this year when they crafted the law on the minimum wage, which I explained a few months back. In a nutshell, the new minimum wage in New York State will not be the same for all minimum wage workers, will rise faster in areas where the cost of living is highest, and may never reach the full amount the legislature established this year.

Why? Well, if I remember correctly, the Republican-controlled NY State Senate acted responsibly and realized that things are not exactly the same across New York, and that it doesn't necessarily make sense to pay everyone exactly the same. The cost of living here in Syracuse or in Binghamton, Geneva, Tonawanda or Malone simply is not the same as it is in NYC or in the nearby commuter counties, and people who live and work there should earn more money for the same work as folks up here. As Bichotte pointed out, state employees are reimbursed similarly.

I believe that's an appropriate way to address the pay raise for the Legislature. In fact, I think it's the perfect way to address the pay raise issue, regardless of what percentage of increase is ultimately considered reasonable by the esteemed committee.

Here's how it would work:

  • State Senators representing districts in New York City would see their salaries go up incrementally starting in January 2017 and reaching the full raise approved by the Commission beginning in January of 2019. 
  • New York City Assembly members would see a slightly smaller initial increase in January of 2017, and they would reach the full raise beginning in January 2020, a year after their Senate counterparts. This mirrors the large business/small business distinction for New York City employers included in the minimum wage law.
  • Senators and Assembly members who represent Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties would see their salaries rise beginning in January 2017, but not reach the full amount until January 2022. 
  • For those representing Senate and Assembly districts in the rest of the state, things will be very different. The first incremental increase will still occur in January of 2017, but it will be a much smaller increment. By January of 2021, these legislators would be increased to 83.3% of the amount paid to their NYC counterparts, as is the case with the minimum wage ($12.50 upstate compared to $15 downstate).
  • The rate for the upstate members would continue to increase on a schedule set by the Director of the Division of Budget, provided that an analysis by the Department of Labor determines that the economy can support the increases and has not been ruined by the incremental increases already experienced. 

As I said, this salary structure would work regardless of what percentage the Commission eventually decides is appropriate. 

We know that, at least in recent years, the number of legislature members who have outside income has dwindled. Common Cause reported that some 60% of those elected before the 2014 elections had no outside income, and only about 17% reported outside income between $50K and $515K (a range that truly defies description), so there's likely more justification for a significant bump that there was when we had a higher percentage of folks in that high outside income bucket. 

In exchange for the big bump in salary, which will bring with it the formal designation of 'full time' legislators, let's also ask that monthly time sheets be filed by all of the legislators. 

Not down to the nitty gritty - these folks are adults, after all - but let's see them at least track all of the town hall meeting they hold, all of the community events and meetings they attend, and things like that. I'm thinking it would be pretty easy to verify that they did this stuff, because most of the time there's media coverage, and there's always an 'official' photo for the campaign brochure or for a quick note to a constituent. 

Yeah, even a cynic like me can see the need for a raise, give how long it's been since the salary was increased. However, I do not support making up for all that lost time in one swell foop, as my Dad would say.  And since the Legislature and our Sonofa Gov have established the clear precedent that it's OK  - and even, dare I say, logical  - to make geographical delineations and different incremental changes in the minimum wage, we should apply the same logic to how we pay the people who made that decision.  

I know the folks that represent me are doing the same work as the people who represent folks in NYC and the surrounding area - no disputing that. But there's also no disputing the fact that it's more expensive to live downstate than it is upstate, and if an across-the-board increase was wrong for the minimum wage, it's wrong for the legislature.

So let's celebrate the minimum wage increase logic, and put that economically thoughtful thinking into practice for any raise given to our elected representatives.