A proposal to raise the pay of New York state lawmakers has become an issue in the fall elections, with many challengers saying legislators don’t deserve more money following a wave of corruption arrests.
A state commission is now considering whether to recommend increasing the legislative salary from $79,500 per year, a figure that hasn’t changed in nearly two decades. The commission’s decision is expected shortly after next month’s election, and will take effect automatically unless lawmakers vote to block it.
Several candidates for the Assembly and Senate have denounced the potential increase — as well as the supposedly independent process behind it — in light of the Legislature’s inability to address in any meaningful way the rash of corruption that has plagued Albany in recent years. More than 30 lawmakers have left office facing allegations of criminal or ethical misconduct since 2000.
“People are really struggling and the idea of a very significant raise for lawmakers … it’s another example of Albany’s legal corruption,” said Sara Niccoli, a Democratic state Senate candidate in a Hudson Valley district. Niccoli wrote to the commission this summer urging it to reject an increase. “Lawmakers created this process (the commission) to give themselves a raise while still being able to deny that they want a raise.”
“Are we as a people this gullible?” said Republican Senate candidate Christopher Davis, who is running for an Albany-area seat. “Corruption case after corruption case … This is ridiculous.”
Some incumbent lawmakers — particularly Assembly members from New York City — have pushed for the increase as a necessary response to the rising cost of living. And while being a lawmaker is technically a part-time job, members of the Legislature say the many obligations outside of the six-month session make it more like full-time employment.
“I have long stated that a pay increase is warranted considering that the vast majority of public servants are hardworking and dedicated, and a pay increase will help us to attract and retain quality individuals,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx said last month in a statement voicing his support for a pay hike.
But with the election a month away, few incumbents are talking much about their desired raise on the campaign trail. And many are saying they think a pay raise is a bad idea. Niccoli’s opponent, Republican Sen. George Amedore of Rotterdam, said the Legislature was never meant to be a full-time job.
“Let them evaluate it,” he said of the pay raise commission. “I just hope they determine there shouldn’t be a pay increase.”
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed three of the seven members on the commission, said last month that he will weigh in on the issue once the commission submits its final recommendation due on Nov. 15.