December 27, 2018

The Update Desk: Another Look at Albany Pay Raises

We've got another update on the already updated plan to raise the pay for elected executives, legislators, and appointed commissioners in New York.

Some background: NY has commissions decide on pay raises; in 2016, salaries for judges were increased but not for the governor and legislators.You can follow that process by starting at the end, with this post from December 2016. A new, smaller commission took another look this year. A raise was a forgone conclusion; the only question was how it would work. This post talks addresses some of that.

The Commission recommended getting rid of 'leadership lulus' for all but 15 of the legislators, as well as strict limits on outside income (beginning in 2020). In return, there are  pretty significant increases - $50,500 over three years for the legislators, with the governor, other executives, and appointees also get a significant bump on the same schedule.

As I noted in that post, we've not heard the last of this. And we haven't, as we saw in the local papers in Syracuse and Buffalo.

First, from the Post-Standard article,
Three state lawmakers from the Syracuse area say they will oppose a plan to make the state Legislature the highest paid in the nation because they don't like the strings attached to the deal.
Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski, first elected in 2002), noted that the "whole thing is a little dubious" and that an unelected commission shouldn't have been the decision-makers. He also noted
I do have a philosophical problem with a full time legislator. We don't need a professional legislature. I do like the diversity we have now; it allows people to have outside experiences. Once you have a full-time legislature, that becomes your job and you have to justify your existence by passing more bills. 
Senator Bob Antonacci (R-Onondaga, just elected in November) and Assemblyman Gary Finch (R-Springport, serving since 1999) were of like minds on the issue.
Antonacci: We want people to come up, do their work, and go back to the private sector. To ask people to give up their private sector interests could be tough to do. You're going to end up with professional legislators. 
 Finch: It prevents a enormous amount of talented people who know what it's like to work in New York, and meet a payroll, from serving in the Legislature... 
Where do other CNY lawmakers stand?  Senators Patty Ritchie (R-Oswegatchie, elected in 2010) and Rachel May (D-Syracuse, just elected) and Assemblywoman Pam Hunter (D-Syracuse, serving since 2015) generally support it.

Out in Buffalo, there were similar concerns.  Here's Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst, in the Legislature since 2009, with prior elected office back to 1989) on the outside-income ban:
It's reflective of an attitude which is elitist and doesn't appreciate the fact that there's a value to individuals with real world experience working in government.
The commission was composed of longtime Democratic Party insiders, and, according to the article,
Some were privately wondering whether this wasn't part of a plan to drive more Republicans out of Albany and put their legislative seats into the hands of Democrats. 
Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R-Jamestown, elected in 2010) believes that only the Legislature and the governor can give lawmakers a pay raise, and that having 'current' real-world experience is necessary:
So, those unemployed other than their legislative position with no business background or private sector employment would be eligible to serve and everyone who's a successful business person and who understands the challenge of operating in the private sector would be banned from serving unless they gave up their business. 
For his part, Buffalo Senator Chris Jacobs (2017) thinks the focus should be on full transparency on outside income.

Here are some thoughts from someone who has real world experience living, working, and voting in NY:
  • No one mentioned the inherent risk with legislators being able to pass laws that can directly influence their outside income. If not limits, what?
  • No one mentioned that that the legislators have long told us that they work full time on our behalf, and we have no idea how busy they are when they're not in Albany. If they're working full time, they wouldn't need outside income; conversely, if' they're not working full time, why do they need a raise?   
  • Assemblyman Finch noted that he wouldn't have been able to support his family on just his legislative salary (some $17,000 higher than NY's median income, not counting lulus and per diems). But that kind of 'real-world experience' - making ends meet when you simply don't have enough money - is not the kind of experience that our leaders should have?
  • As to Sen. Jacobs' suggestion that we focus on 'full transparency' rather than limits, would he support a move to stop reporting income in overly broad, multiple-hundred-thousand-dollar ranges, which in and of themselves are far beyond what many New Yorkers earn?
Barring a miracle, the initial pay increase - and the elimination of lulus - goes into effect on Tuesday.

We'll have to wait to see if any of this is challenged, if anyone actually refuses the raise, and whether they'll pass bills that allow them to work around the outside income limits as recommended by the Commission. 

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