Top Lawmakers Dispute Cuomo Pay Limit Claims

ALBANY (AP) -

Top lawmakers are pushing back on Gov. Andrew Cuomo over a proposal to boost legislative pay in exchange for limiting moonlighting.

With Cuomo’s support, a state commission recently approved new restrictions on how much money lawmakers can make from side jobs. But top lawmakers from both parties say those limits were never part of a deal they negotiated with the Democratic governor.

This year Cuomo and top lawmakers negotiated and approved a plan to create a commission to decide whether lawmakers deserved their first salary increase in 20 years.

The commission approved a significant raise this month — one that would increase salaries from $79,500 a year to $130,000 over three years. But in an effort to address corruption, the commission also approved new restrictions on how much lawmakers can make from jobs outside the legislature.

Legislative moonlighting has long been a conduit for bribes, giving businesses and groups with matters before the state a way to funnel money to supportive lawmakers. The new restrictions, which would go into effect in 2020, cap the income lawmakers can make from outside jobs at 10 percent of their total salary.

Cuomo has praised the limits, but many lawmakers have questioned whether the commission had the legal authority to make the change, which has the effect of state law. And now, the leader of the Senate’s Republicans and the Democratic speaker of the Assembly say the limits on outside pay were never discussed when they agreed to the pay commission.

Republican Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island, the outgoing leader of the Senate, said Cuomo is trying “to rewrite history.”

“Despite what Gov. Cuomo now says, he knows that he, Speaker Heastie, and I all agreed that the compensation committee’s sole responsibility would be to examine and set the appropriate pay level for legislators and others who had gone two decades without a pay raise,” he said in a statement. “He knows that he gave the Speaker and I his word.”

The issue will likely be settled in the courts after a conservative government watchdog group, the Government Justice Center, challenged the unelected commission’s authority.

Cuomo has defended the commission and said lawmakers shouldn’t be surprised by the limits on outside pay.

“What we agreed to was in the law,” he said last week.

Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx agrees with Flanagan’s account.

“I don’t care what the governor says publicly — the three of us agreed that the commission’s purview … wasn’t really outside income,” he said in a radio interview last week. “We think that they overreached. And now the courts will figure it out.”